Part of why I started traveling was so that I would be able to go through personal evolutions more quickly.
Travel allows you to take what you’ve learned and apply it more quickly. If you stay in one place you are subconsciously kept from making all the changes that you should. Personal habits and outside influences like friends and family — well-meaning as they may be — tend to treat you like you are and not how you want to be, and there’s not really anything that can be done about that.
When you move around, though, you are able to make positive changes as you learn since there are few habits and less consistency in surroundings and the people you’re surrounded by.
Step Into My Lab
I endeavor to speed up the process even more by constantly performing a series of lifestyle experiments in order to expose myself to extreme conditions. This has allowed me to figure things out that would normally have taken a whole lot longer to realize, and I’ve been happy enough with the results to continue to find new and interesting experiments to undergo.
But first, what do I mean by experiments?
Well, the major experiment that I’m working on right now is the Exile Lifestyle project. It’s not exactly normal to move to a new country every 4 months, much less to have a group of strangers to tell you where you’ll be going.
I’ve just completed an experiment wherein I didn’t wear black for 4 months. This was tricky, since a large portion of my wardrobe when I was living in Los Angeles was black.
I try not to use any paper products except for my notebook, sketchbook, business cards, and napkins/toilet paper. All of the books I read now are digital or borrowed, and most of my brainstorming, accounting and writing take place on my computer.
When I first moved to LA I decided to take up a ‘no TV’ experiment…I tried to keep up with pop culture without the aid of a TV. This was especially difficult since everything in LA revolves around the film and TV industries.
I’ve just completed another round of my minimalism experiment, where I reduce the number of items I own to as low as possible. I started by getting rid of all my stuff except what would fit into a relatively large carry-on bag, and now I’m down to a much smaller carry-on and a total of about 50 items that I own in the entire world.
These are just a few examples, but a lifestyle experiment can be absolutely anything, so long as it’s different from your normal way of living.
I’m not a big meat eater, but I’m planning on doing a raw food diet for a month very soon. I eat raw food from time to time, so this won’t be an enormous stretch for me (not like it would be for my buddy Carlos, who is on the Argentine red-meat diet), but it’s different enough that it will alter my perception for a while.
Checking the Results
And that’s the whole point: getting a different outlook on life, even if just for a short time. Even if you only see through that different lens for a month or a week or an hour, you’ve seen it and you won’t be able to un-see. Suddenly a whole new world of possibilities has opened up for you, and all it took was becoming aware of it.
By not wearing black, I was forced to figure out what other colors worked well with my style and coloration.
By using very little paper I figured out ways to live my life without consuming so many resources and in fact was able to streamline many of my processes by keeping my documents and details digital.
By not having a TV I was forced to talk to more people about what they enjoy watching and figure out ways to watch programs online so that I wasn’t completely lost in conversation.
By reducing the number of items I own to the absolute lowest count, I’m figuring out what’s essential in my life and what’s just clutter.
By traveling around so frequently I’m discovering more about myself than I ever could have guessed and learning how to deal with completely unpredictable situations calmly, rationally and with enthusiasm.
Preparing the Lab
I would encourage anyone who reads this to take up their own experiment, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
Don’t do anything so extreme that you won’t follow through. You would probably learn a whole lot by living the life of a homeless person for 6 months, but unless you’ve got some serious grit I doubt you’ll go more than a day.
Do something that’s within your reach. It’s great to dream, and there will be plenty of opportunities to achieve those dreams, but it may not be a great idea to blow all your money on a boat for the purposes of trying it out. Find someone with a boat and live on it for a while as your experiment, and then pull the trigger on the full purchase when you’re more sure of it later.
That’s an important point: experiments are just experiments, not major life changes! Anything you take up you can set back down if you don’t like it/can’t do it/can’t afford it/whatever. And that’s the whole reason you’re doing it: to see if it’s possible and if it’s something you want to strive for.
I’m probably not going to eat a raw diet for more than a month, but I might. How could I know? Maybe I’ll just enjoy the hell out of it and go full-blown raw all year round.
The more likely scenario, having done a few of these, is that I will learn some great raw dishes and integrate them into my current diet after the month is up. Which would be perfect! It’s rare that an experiment will completely shift your worldview (though it’s possible), but usually you get something out of it when all is said and done.
Update: December 11, 2016
This concept actually became the theme of my first TEDx talk, back in 2001.
Lifestyle experimentation is still a huge part of what I do, today. In fact, I barely even think about them that way anymore, because experimenting in little ways has become such an integral part of my lifestyle. It’s a wonderful way to not just stay intellectually engaged and challenged (adding positive friction to your life), but also to iterate more quickly, into a better and better version of yourself.