Homework. VI.

There are a ton of homework assignments I have prepared for this blog. Some, I’ve already done. Others, I plan to, but haven’t yet. And then there are those like this one.

Inside of society, there are some things that are difficult just because they are accepted norms. Then, some things feel hard because they are based in biology. These are things that can make you feel extremely uncomfortable, even before you attempt them. I believe the following exercise to be one of these things.

We’ll discuss the assignment itself in a moment, but first, I wanted to point out a little of what these homework assignments are about.

I have always been a believer in doing things that are difficult. I do these things because they’re challenging, but also because they are like training for the mind. They help you prepare for important moments where you may flinch and do the wrong thing, the cowardly thing, by instinct.

When that time comes, I want you to look the right decision in the face, I want you to stare it down, and I want you to keep moving. I want this because I think that fundamentally, it will help you make better decisions, which will make you into a better person. And with a big enough group of better people, we have a better world.

To me, this quotes by Thomas Huxley really nails it.

“Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.”

That is what all this is about. Making the right decisions, whether you like them (at the time) or not.


For this week’s homework assignment, I would like you to face the wrong way inside a crowded elevator.

Although there is nothing inherently complex about this assignment, I assure you that, for most, it will be among the most difficult things you do.

Society aligns itself in certain ways. Your body reacts certain ways to stimulus inside society to keep everyone in line, to keep everyone moving in the same direction, to make sure that everyone feels comfortable.

Facing in the right directions has deep implications for people’s sense of personal space and comfort. By performing this assignment you are going against all of those things. It isn’t going to be easy. But that’s ok. You should do it anyway.

For this exercise, find any elevator in a crowded place this weekend.

When the door opens, wait until everyone else has entered or exited. Be sure to be the last person to enter, and when you do, face in the opposite direction as everyone else.

I probably don’t need to describe the feeling to you. It’s likely that you know exactly how it will feel.

Good luck with your assignment. Report back in the comments when you are done.





32 responses to “Homework. VI.”

  1. Kevin Avatar

    so I live in an area where there are more or less no elevators, like I’d have to drive for probably over an hour to find a crowded elevator. what would you recommend I do instead?

    1. Julien Avatar

      Kev, this is fundamentally about an invasion of other people’s personal space. You might try something like sitting at a total stranger’s lunch table at a mall, without saying anything. Very awkward.

    2. V Avatar

      Personally, I would rather sit at someones table at the mall – I do that anyway, than the elevator assignment, which I think would be very difficult. I will do almost anything, but that would be HARD! I feel people already treat me like I’m doing something awkward just by showing my face! If I turned around in the elevator, I think someone would scream!

  2. Patrick Avatar

    The most interesting part about this to me is that most people will attempt to pretend you aren’t doing anything unusual. It’s uncomfortable for them too. Perhaps more so.

    I had a sociology professor who made us do this to illustrate the same point. He also had us respond to questions literally and honestly for an entire day (e.g. “Hey, how are you?” and then given a full, often complex, answer). His goal was the same–to make us aware of unspoken social “rules” of interaction and coexistence.

    Also reminds me of Stanley Milgram’s experiment of asking NYC subway riders for their seats: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/14/nyregion/14subway.html

    1. Julien Avatar

      That’s great. Be warned, I may use it.

      1. Amelia Avatar

        I do this, amazing how many people has utterly no interest in what is actually happening in your life. Nice to watch their faces go stiff and see how long they are willing to continue the conversation.

  3. Justin Miller Avatar


    I remember having to d the same think in a college course years back. Totally interesting seeing the reactions on people’s faces when you broke down a simple question like how you’re doing. I could see the look in their face, “what the f@#*% did I just get myself into. It was totally interesting.


    Julian hit it on the head. Another option is going to a movie alone and instead of putting a seat I between you and someone just sit next to them. No words exchanged. Just sit and enjoy the movie. Better if you go see a crappy one that is nearly empty with plenty of seats

    1. Justin Miller Avatar

      Sorry Julien. Spelled the name wrong.

    2. Ben Avatar

      “Another option is going to a movie alone and instead of putting a seat I between you and someone just sit next to them. No words exchanged. Just sit and enjoy the movie. Better if you go see a crappy one that is nearly empty with plenty of seats”

      That’s a great one. I got a little uncomfortable even reading it.

  4. Jarkko Helenius Avatar

    Hmm, interesting one. Unfortunately I live in the Finnish countryside so there really isn’t crowded elevators around, but once I get to one I’m sure to try this out. This homework-series is great!

  5. Naomi Avatar

    I actually did this one already this week, attending the Ford trending conference. Faced back upon a crowd from the Fundamentalist Christian conference group. It’s amazing what people will do to avoid eye contact.

  6. Marc Ensign Avatar

    Great exercise Julien! A few months ago I had done something similar where I faced everyone in the elevator and then when the doors closed I addressed the crowd. “I’m sure you are all wondering why I brought you here today…” My wife was mortified. I’m sure playing class clown was much easier than just standing there without saying anything so I can’t wait to try this one!!! Thanks…I’ll check back in when I’m done!

    1. Stephen P Smith Avatar

      I have done this very thing as well. I like to address the people and try to make them smile. The last time I did it I said,”Thank you for coming on such short notice.” and everyone started laughing. I suspect that this is more common than we might think.

    2. Marc Ensign Avatar

      Mission accomplished. It wasn’t that bad although I’m pretty comfortable being uncomfortable. Most people wouldn’t look me in the eye. They either stared at the floor, the floor number or the buttons. I think it was much more uncomfortable for them. I just stood there staring straight ahead with a big smile on my face. Definitely something I plan on doing again. It’s a great way to keep the saw sharp by pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.

  7. Joe Avatar

    Hi Julien. Elevator? When am I going to take an elevator? I guess there is one in my building at work, but it’s a 3 story building. I usually just take the stairs. Even if I took the elevator, it’s usually empty, because everyone else is taking the stairs.

    I do get a mild taste of this feeling you describe at the airport. I am the guy who always takes the stairs that run in between the up and down escalators. I am usually doing it solo, being watched by everyone on the up and down escalators. Occasionally, I am passed by a sprinting passenger, late for a flight, who can’t wait for the escalator. But that person has a reason. I am taking the stairs, at a leisurely pace, because I want to. And it feels like I am doing something wrong. But actually, I am the only one doing something right. Unless you have a disability that prevents walking, or you are hauling a thousand pieces of “carry on” luggage (oh, how I despise you people…), taking the escalator is pure laziness.

    If I do have the occasion to take an elevator in the next, say, year, I will try this.


  8. Gin Avatar

    reminds me this experiment xD funny, but truth http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttKPfSsRKkY

    1. Leito Avatar

      Same thoughts. I think this would work anywhere.

  9. Jo-Anne Avatar

    It is the strangest feeling and yes I have done it and you get some strange looks too but the feeling is like you have done something very wrong………lol

  10. derek Avatar

    So the purpose here is to force yourself to do difficult thing such as an act of anti-social behaviour? I believe there are more difficult things that one could attempt without being labelled as anti-social.

  11. Jason Woofenden Avatar

    These are powerful forces!

    Now I am more interested in how to mold these forces to improve people and society.

  12. Jim Avatar

    I partially did this today, as I was unexpectedly near an elevator. I wasn’t the last person in, so I moved to the corner, but remained facing in. It didn’t bother me at all, and everyone else in the elevator seemed ok with it.

  13. KJ Avatar

    I gave this a shot this morning in the packed elevator going into work (the company I contract for is one of around 20 in this building so it was pretty full). It might have been that I hadn’t had any coffee yet and my senses were completely dulled, but I didn’t feel awkward at all. The thing that struck me most was how uncomfortable others were. I even smiled at this guy and gave him the raised-eyebrow hello – he couldn’t find the floor quick enough. A bit different, to Jim’s experience above – perhaps because it was an office environment vs. not?

  14. Joe p Avatar
    Joe p

    Did the assignment. Actually someone asked me to turn around. I asked them why, and the answer?

    “don’t you know that your supposed to face the door?”

    I said, where is that rule written, I must have missed the memo.

    Then the person said….you are a fucking smartass mother fuc—-how about the rule then that says if you piss me off I kick your ass.

    Now, I am 6’3 and no wimp, but the lady next to me ALSO turned around and asked this guy if he was going to kick HER ass also. THEN the entire elevator turned and faced this guy!!!!

    talk about awkward!!!!! After I got off it was all pats on the back and comments about about how cool I handled it. I DID NOTHING other than face the wrong way and ask about HIS rules.

    Thanks for the assignment…….at age 51 it was something new for me for sure.

    1. AC Avatar

      Thats awesome… Face the other way, get your ass kicked (not that he would have or could have)…

      Talk about a societal shift, great homework…

  15. Pete Avatar

    Does escalator count? I had a great opportunity to do it on a long, very crowded escalator. So I turned around and in fact, nobody noticed. Of course I had to turn again before I reached the point where stair ends 🙂 So does it count or not?

  16. dennis Avatar

    Well, I’ve done it few times by accident – and the lady from the control room made jokes about me being in love and not thinking about anything else 🙂

  17. Joe Avatar

    Did this today during my first day of residency at the hospital. Was riding up in an elevator with my director and co-residents. I entered the elevator last, and decided to just go for it. Felt awkward at first, but the audacity of being different grew on me. Something I definitely plan on doing again. Julien, thanks for helping me push my boundaries and break out of my comfort zone. Looking forward to whatever homework assignments you may have in store.

  18. Kim Avatar

    This is one of the funnest ways to get real quick. I’d about doing this a few years back and have done it ever since. It consistently disorients people out so much they lose pretension or posturing. Sometimes I mention “Isn’t it rare to actually face others in elevators?” which mostly results in nods but sometimes in quite lively conversations, albeit commercial length ones as elevator rides are quite short. It’s also interesting to try on public transportation. Thanks for all you do, Julien!

  19. sylvain Avatar

    Did it, twice. Looked at my smartphone as soon as the door closed the first time. FAIL!

    But second time was the right one. And as others said previously, it made everyone else in the elevator feel much more uncomfortable than it did to me. They simply couldn’t look at me in the eyes, and all started at the floor digit, the floor, etc.

    Kinda enjoyed this actually. Will redo once in a while.
    Loving these homeworks Julien. thx.

  20. Sami Avatar

    I’ve been doing this every time I get into an elevator now, crowded or not. The interesting thing is no one says a word. Not even my mom has turned and asked what I’m doing or why I’m standing like that. The first time I did it, I couldn’t help but grin to myself. I think I might do this every time I go on an elevator. It’s a little harder when the elevator has multiple doors but I’m sure there’s a way to get around that. Maybe start dancing around or something. Thanks for the homework, Julien!

  21. Les Dossey Avatar

    Hey Julien,

    I just found you via Chris Penn’s almost timely newsletter.
    Love the look of your site and the breaking pattern theme of your life.

    I became a student of the pattern interrupt when studying sales training with David H Sandler and NLP with Richard Bandler.

    The PI is very effective for waking people up, prospect, client, friend and getting them to tune into and pay attention to the moment at hand.

    My favorite elevator PI is to find a crowded elevator and wait just outside arms reach for it to load up and just as the doors are closing, yell hold the door please as I stick my hand through the crack and look up and into the eyes of the patrons and then ask… gasping for air – could someone help me because I’m late for an appointment and I can’t find the elevator.

    I just signed up for your newsletter and will be excitedly waiting for the 1st one to hit my inbox, in the mean time I’ll amuse myself by sifting through your archives.

    Only the Best,
    Les Dossey

  22. Stephanie Heath Avatar

    It was okay. It was kind of awkward. It wasn’t completely crowded but I definitely felt myself getting hot and feeling uncomfortable. The other people didnt seem to mind at all. Shrug. Thanks!

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