The Pyjama Experiment

Welcome to 2016! This Tip on setting resolutions is based on an experience I had many years ago, but which has stayed with me. As a young boy I was erratic with a vivid imagination. My grandmother referred to me as the mad professor. After daydreaming my way through high school and failing English, my school principal had to be talked into letting me complete my final year. Thanks to a last minute study binge I passed and got a uni place studying Hotel Management. I hated it, dropped out and bummed around for a year, distracted, aimless and frustrated. On the advice of my grandmother I signed up for a 10 week Yoga course.

I’d always rebelled against the idea of discipline, deciding it was for “squares”. I wanted to be a creative individual and do what I wanted, when I wanted. In the third week of the Yoga class our teacher talked about self imposed discipline. He suggested this was a freeing thing that helped people to be more self-reliant and feel better about themselves. He recommended we pick one small thing in our lives, it didn’t matter what it was, and to do this carefully and consistently every day, paying attention to the process. Most of us were young and skeptical so he advised us to treat it like an experiment and make up our own minds, based on the results.

The experiment begins

I decided each morning after I got out of bed, to neatly fold my pyjamas. Initially, on most days, I wanted to leave them on the floor or just shove them under my pillow. But I’d remember the experiment, and so would smooth the pyjamas out on the bed, carefully folding the arms and legs into a neat package. On some mornings my pyjama folding felt like a creative process and I would admire my work of art before sliding it under the pillow. On other mornings it felt like a chore. 

On the third week of the experiment I thought I might as well include making the bed. Until then, I only made the bed when I felt like it. So after the pyjamas went under the pillow I started to pull up the sheets and blankets, ensuring they were also smooth and evenly balanced. I also started to notice each time I did this, I had a pleasant feeling of achievement and satisfaction. Surprisingly the rest of my bedroom started to naturally become more organised. 

New Year’s resolutions don’t have to be grand

At the end of the 10 week course we were invited to talk about our self-discipline experiment and what we’d learned. We laughed as we heard stories of people washing and putting away their dishes, ironing their clothes, cutting back on junk food or not automatically turning on the car radio. It was also interesting to hear how useful these small acts of self-discipline had been in helping people to feel more confident, relaxed and in control. 

Forty years later I now understand some of the neuro-psychological processes that produce these positive feelings when people apply self-discipline. And I smile at the “newly discovered” phenomenon of mindfulness, which has been practiced by people around the world for thousands of years. My wife also occasionally smiles at my mindful pyjama folding practice, which is still with me.

If you decide to choose a New Year’s resolution, it doesn’t need to be grand. A small discipline, when practised consistently and mindfully, can produce life changing results. Just ask my pyjamas.


Greg Nathan is a psychologist, author and an international expert on the franchise relationship. Connect with him on Google+ or Linkedin.

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