A. J. Jacobs
Journalist and Author
Journalist and author A.J. Jacobs has been called a "human guinea pig," a title he earned.
HARI SREENIVASAN: And now another in our Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask interesting people to describe their passion.
Tonight, we hear from writer A.J. Jacobs, an editor at “Esquire” and the author of several books, including “My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself.”
He explains his unique brand of immersive journalism.
A.J. JACOBS, Author, “My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself”: One of the secrets I have learned is self-deception.
If you pretend to be a little bit of a better person, you actually become a better person. It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting. I didn’t make that up, by the way, but I love it.
I have been called the human guinea pig, and I don’t mind. I think it’s a fine title. I’m a writer. And what I like to do is just dive into my topics, totally immerse myself, and change my lifestyle.
I have done dozens of experiments over the years. One I did was called, what would George Washington do? I followed the list of 110 rules of life that the father of our country wrote when he was a young man. Some of them you might expect, like honor your elders, others not so expected.
The second rule in this list is, do not adjust your private parts in public, solid rule. I have no problem with the rule, but I would have put it a little bit lower, like 85, 86.
I did one experiment called radical honesty, the idea that whatever is on your brain should come out of your mouth, no filter. That was one of the worst months of my life. I feel very lucky that I’m still married and I still have a job, because you can’t believe the number of lies that we tell on a daily basis.
I also did an experiment where I tried to follow all the rules of the Bible for a year. I had to wear no mixed fibers. I did stone adulterers, although I used very small stones, like pebble-sized, so no one got hurt.
My latest project, I’m helping to build a family tree of the entire world. I have learned about all these distant cousins, including Barack Obama, who is literally my fifth great aunt’s husband’s brother’s wife’s seventh great nephew. That is true and verifiable.
I actually think everyone should try experimenting with their lives. You don’t need to grow a huge beard and live by the rules of the Bible. You can try not gossiping for a week, or try to — a different toothpaste or a new way to get to work, anything to jostle the neurons and create these new pathways, and just make your life a little more interesting.
My name is A.J. Jacobs, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on my life as an experiment.
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