Many people believe that personalized health care will be the medical model of the 21st century.
We now understand our brains and bodies in new ways, thanks to new technology, like genomic analysis and MRI. We also have access to data about ourselves that simply wasn't available 10 years ago.
We can take advantage of these developments to improve our health by employing simple methods that enable us to figure out which strategies work best for each of us, as individuals.
Though the trend toward personalized experimentation for healing is new, the methods are enduring.
Basic research strategies, adapted for n=1 experimentation, are effective.
Though many people are excited about the potential of technology for this movement, biosensors and tracking apps aren't necessary.
A very effective n=1 experiment can be run entirely offline, using just paper and pen. That's often how we do it at our house.
Personalized (n=1) experimentation methods
Matthew and I developed this approach to n=1 experimentation together when he became severely disabled by an autoimmune disease eight years ago.
We combined our knowledge of research, systems analysis and continuous quality improvement and started to experiment on him, gradually refining our methods.
Today, he’s healthier than he’s been in a decade.
There are seven steps to the n=1 method:
What is my health goal?
What has worked for other people?
By doing [ x ] I hope to achieve [ this result ].
Here’s where I test my idea in real life. My real life.
Did that work out the way I expected it to? What did I learn?
I can share my results. Or not. It’s up to me.
I adapt based on new information.
This approach is designed to be effective even at simplest level. For really sick people.
When Matthew started, everything needed to be as simple as possible.
The n=1 approach is based on the idea that we are all unique.
We have all different backgrounds, goals environments, genetic templates, and microbial populations in our intestinal tracts (and on our skin). Therefore, to be most effective, our approach to healing needs to be tailored specifically to us.
There's another good reason to use an n=1 approach:
Most change efforts fail.
For most people most of the time.
One of the reasons is that we rush from ‘idea’ to ‘action’ without thinking things through and setting ourselves up for success.
The extra steps in the n=1 method are strategies to promote success.
Importantly, they also help ensure that experiments are safe.
Step 1: Challenge
The first step is to identify what you want to change.
That’s easy, right? You want to be healthy!
What does that mean, exactly?
Step 1 is where you get specific about the health change you want to achieve.
Step 2: Inquire
Step 2 is all about finding out what has worked in the past. Also what hasn’t worked.
There are four sources for a thorough Inquiry:
- What has (and hasn’t) worked for you in the past;
- What has (and hasn’t) worked for others;
- What the ‘subject matter experts’ think; and
- What the scientific research says.
The goal is to Inquire into at least three sources, so you have a fairly comprehensive understanding about what might work for you, in your situation.
Step 3: Idea
To start Step 3, take what you learned in Step 2 and complete this statement: “If [I do this thing], then [I hope to achieve this result].”
Once you have an idea written out in this way, you assess it. First, for risk. Then, assess what resources will be required and determine a reasonable time-frame for your experiment.
There are some bonus assessments you can do in this step, if you are feeling stuck or need additional support.
Step 4: Investigate
Healing is the main point of n=1 experimentation. The other main point is learning, so you can figure out what will support your healing. Planning for learning is part of Step 4.
In order to learn, you need a way to keep track of relevant information. Step 4 helps you to figure out what information you need and how you’ll get it.
Your tracking tools don't have to be high tech, just has to be easy to use. Paper and pencil works beautifully. An app that automatically tracks biometrics can be fun. The only thing your system needs to do is work, in your real life.
At the end of Step 4, you launch your experiment. Steps 1-4 help you to create the strategies you need to conduct it safely and successfully.
Step 5: Consider
Step 5 usually begins where your experiment ends. Though for a long-term n=1, you will be Considering periodically during your experiment to ensure that everything is on track.
You'll ask: Did that work out the way I expected it to? What changed? What can I learn from this experiment?
This is where you consider the results of your experiment, as well as any assumptions you may be making as you interpret those results.
Step 6: Communicate
The final step is communicating your findings.
This step is optional, but here are five reasons that you may want to take it:
- To document your progress. Sometimes it’s easy to forget where you started. And how far you’ve come.
- If accountability to others increases the likelihood that you will follow through with your n=1, you may decide to go public before and after your n=1.
- To learn more. The process of communicating about your n=1 enables you Consider your experiment and results again, sometimes leading to new insights.
- As a way to contribute to the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, that so other people can learn from your experiment.
- To be part of a community of people who are also committed to healing.
Step 7: Change
This is the troubleshooting step that you can insert at any time.
It enables you to adapt based on new information, and to track those adaptations, so you can keep learning for healing no matter what happens.
n=1 Workbook Kit
Matthew and I are working hard to create our first program, an n=1 workbook kit.
It is designed for people with autoimmune disease and other chronic health conditions and will be available in early September.
For more information (and free n=1 resources), sign up for the Biohack U newsletter here:
Get started now.
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