Here’s an idea: The Malkovich experiment

This is my new series, exploring different questions and ideas I’ve thought of over the past few weeks, where I try to dissect and find answers that could help me think and act better. Click here to see my previous idea!

In the movie: Being John Malkovich, spoiler alert, people somehow find access to this famous actor’s subconsciousness and get to live in his body. It ends as you think it does, not too great for our main character. But it got me thinking, what if someone took control of our life, what’s the first thing they would change? I took this question from James Clear’s newsletter1 . Let’s keep our minds out of the gutter and keep this strictly a thought experiment.

For this experiment, let’s assume that someone driven has taken over your body. What would they change about your lifestyle? Would they clean up your room or tidy up your appearance? Assuming they have an understanding of what you do for work, would they make any changes like researching skills required to excel at your position? These are important questions to ask because if you wanted to be great or successful at your work or goals in general, you might have to implement these changes to reach them.

When I did this experiment, the first example I thought of is coming off a year of working/getting fired/ leaving 7 different jobs. It was a tough year of finding a place of employment that was meaningful and worthwhile. I graduated with a degree in business management and human resources management, and it was my sole goal to not be like other graduates and actually work in the field of my major. I forced myself to work in corporate settings and found it absolutely miserable. From dreading waking up to be completely spent by the time I left work, it was just a countdown of when the weekend was.

Things changed when I did a smaller scale version of this thought experiment and asked myself what would a smart person do? Well, anyone with a brain would not keep going to a place that makes you unhappy and perhaps goes to an area which you enjoy doing. The analogy I had in my head was if you wanted to quit smoking, you need to stop going to places where people smoke. I also understand that not everyone will be able to get away from areas that bring them grief, but you can always make small changes to make it tolerable until you can make that switch.

As I’ve switched fields, I found myself getting into a positive cycle of eagerness, exploration, and enjoyment. All this fed into me trying, learning, and experimenting with my work. Since I wasn’t in a constant state of stress, I could now think and expend energy on pathways of improvement. I looked forward to work and when I left, I desired to do more research in order to get better at my job. I saw how happy I was at work and how transitive it was through all aspects of my life. I was now a better friend, partner, and family member. I was overall a more joyful person to be around and it gave me more opportunities for different connections and employment possibilities. Like all things, you’ll start to stagnate, and that’s when it’s time to do the experiment again.

What if you get stuck?

Sometimes, you won’t be able to find the answer. Our lack of knowledge or imagination perhaps can’t provide a more “successful” person to take our place. But what of the opposite? Someone that won’t do anything or take the steps to be successful. We can avoid these setbacks by not doing what they would do. For example, if you were in a stagnant job, that kind of person would just let things be and ride it out until retirement. Who cares if there isn’t any intellectual stimulus? As long as there is stable pay, it should suffice. We can avoid this trap by doing the opposite. One way is to figure out what makes the job stagnant. Is it the people? Is it the lack of advancement? Lack of learning opportunities? Figure out what you want out of this position and take it to a boss that can make the necessary changes. If that can’t happen, perhaps you’ll need to look elsewhere. Point is, that we need to define what we need to have to happen.

Another way to look at it is instead of projecting a “successful” or a “non-successful” person, what if we ask the average person? It may hurt to admit, but an average person will just do what everyone else will do and expect things to be different. I certainly did that when I sought out the opinions of friends and family members. Everyone does this whenever they’re lost and need some guidance. Only bad thing is that the abundance of opinions doesn’t help. Especially if you ask someone that does not have any skin in the game. These people will blurt out opinions that they themselves would never do. if you must ask, be extremely selective and make sure their opinions matter. One strategy is to select an option from what an average person would do and then switch it to how a successful or non-successful person would approach it. Balance is your greatest friend.

On another note, when choosing someone to play each of the three roles, I like to envision myself playing those roles. Regardless of what decision I make, I want to take ownership of it, and not blame it on some celebrity actor or business person. We all have a tendency to default blame to another and not ourselves. But whoever you choose, you have to take action or be stuck watching others live it out for you.2

Have a great week,


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2 This is a reference to the finale of the Being John Malkovich movie. Watch it and you’ll understand.



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