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Explore More to Live Better Now

Five ways to leverage the life-giving power of new places and experiences.

Explore More to Live Better Now

Post Summary

  • We explore less today.
  • But exploration is one of the best things you can do to live in the moment, learn new things, experience awe, and more.
  • We'll cover the benefits of exploration and five ways to explore more so you can live better right now.


  • Like all Monday posts, this post is free and fully accessible to all subscribers.
  • But full access to Wednesday and Friday posts is for Members (free subscribers get a decently long preview but not the entire post or audio).
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Podcast version of this post

The post

Humans are great explorers. We come from a long line of ancestors who bravely entered the unknown to improve their lives.

It happened like this: Roughly six million years ago, our ancestors stood upright and began to walk on two feet.

This allowed us to cover vast distances while carrying items. We began slowly expanding our territory, looking for food and resources to live better.

Researchers from Yale say our extensive foot travels created an epic exploratory feedback loop:

  • The more our early ancestors explored, the more resources they could get, especially from food.
  • The more resources they could get, the more they could fuel the development of their amazing brains.
  • The more their amazing brains developed, the more they could figure out how to explore new territories.

For example, our sharper minds allowed us to dream up abstract ideas like hollowing out big trees and turning them into boats. We traveled rivers and coasts and eventually set off into the oceanic unknown, landing on new islands like Australia.

Our species, homo sapiens, is arguably the best and bravest human explorer of all.

The Nobelist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology Svante Paabo told National Geographic this:

No other mammal moves around like we do. We jump borders. We push into new territory even when we have resources where we are. Other animals don’t do this. Other (ancient human species) either. Neanderthals were around hundreds of thousands of years, but they never spread around the world. In just 50,000 years we covered everything. There’s a kind of madness to it. Sailing out into the ocean, you have no idea what’s on the other side. And now we go to Mars. We never stop.

Exploration made us us. And we all still have that exploratory DNA—scientists have even discovered a gene called DRD4-7R that is linked to exploration.

  • Now, the bad news: We don't explore like we used to.

Research shows most of us slip into a predictable routine. We have predictable patterns around where we drive, eat, and get basic services, and who we talk to.

When you do the same thing over and over, your brain goes into what UK researchers called "autopilot mode." This is because you know what to expect, how to respond, and don't have to pay attention to the present moment.

Instead of being in the moment, your mind is elsewhere. The autopilot effect even speeds up our perception of time.

And even though technology allows us greater opportunities to travel and experience new things, we rarely venture into the true unknown anymore.

This is because we can learn about any new situation before we enter it. We have a vast internet database to plan our visit and know what to expect in "new" places and experiences. The internet is like our middle man filling us in on exactly what's to come—we plan, we read reviews, we anticipate what's coming.

And this changes our experience. The famed psychologist Thomas Zentall told me that humans get deeper rewards when we do something truly new to us.

The research suggests bringing back authentic exploration can be good for us:

  • A study in Frontiers in Psychology noted that new experience can give you a different worldview that lessens anxiety and improves happiness.
  • Another team found that doing new things slows down your perception of time. The scientists wrote, "We found that … people remember duration as being shorter on a routine activity than on a non-routine activity.”
  • Other work shows that people who experience more newness in their lives, whether through exploring the world or new ideas, are significantly less likely to experience dementia as they age.
  • And, of course, it turns off the autopilot mode and forces you to be present.

Exploration doesn't have to be a big deal. The ways you can explore are more simple and vast than you might think.

1) Walk a new part of town

It doesn't matter if you live in New York City, or Neah Bay, Washington, population 865.

The place where you live is more interesting than you think. You just have to go out and find it.

Consider one 2% reader comment in this post. The reader had lived in her small town her entire life. And then an opportunity for exploration arose.

We live in a town that has 3,000 people and is a total of 1,800 acres ... Yesterday evening, a dog got loose from his collar near our house so I went to help look for him ... When you are looking for something or someone, even a small area can become vast. Perhaps it's a good thing to keep in mind when we explore close to home. We always think our home areas are boring because we know them. But there is a very good chance that even in a small town, there are areas you've never touched.

Yet we rarely go there to experience the possibilities our world offers. Especially on foot.

Do this

Pick somewhere, anywhere, in the town or city where you live. It could be a neighborhood—a specific pocket of culture—or a nearby state park. Walk it on foot.

Put your cell phone on airplane mode and pay attention to the open world. Take it in. Learn and experience something new. Be there.

2) Eat at a new restaurant—without researching it

I used to be a restaurant recon master.

I'd scrutinize the menu beforehand, view the photos, and read the Yelp reviews.

There, I learned that PowerEater79132 said the place is kind of loud, that the salmon everyone talks about is actually quite overrated, and the chicken is, in fact, the star.

I'd learn the service is slow. And that the table near the window is best. And that ...

  • The point is this: I'd know every possible detail about my restaurant experience before I'd even had it.

A recent survey found that most people, like me, scrutinize menus and reviews online before going to a restaurant.

But this changes how we experience the place and meal—it becomes, in a way, predictable and known. And, therefore, less exciting.

Our experience gets altered by an online middleman who doesn't always have our best interest in mind.

University of Pennsylvania researchers wrote, “There is a systematic problem with many online reviews—they tend to over-represent the most extreme views,” the scientists explained.

Online reviews are tainted by the expectations, desires, and hangups of others—which don't always align with our own.

Do this

Pick a restaurant you drive by often or have heard of.

Go in cold. Don't read anything online—the menu, the reviews, or anything else. Just walk in, get a table, and maybe even have the waiter order his or her favorite dishes for you. Imagine that.

Sure, sometimes you'll get some subpar meals (this recently happened to my wife and me).

But sometimes you'll get some genuinely great ones. The two restaurants my wife and I frequent most often came through deciding to randomly drop in without doing any homework.

3) Watch a movie, read a book, or listen to an album without reading reviews

It's not just Yelp—we love all sorts of review sites. For movies, we have Rotten Tomatoes. For music, PitchFork, etc. For books, GoodReads.

More than 70 percent of people, for example, base what they watch on the Rotten Tomatoes score.

These sites all collect reviews and assign an average score to a work. For example, a movie might get an 81%, an album 6.7 out of 10, and a book 4.4 stars out of 5.

Numerical scores are simple and easily understandible. But they leave out all nuance and individual tastes.

The philosopher Matt Strohl explains that the best movies are often divisive. Some people love them; others hate them. Stroll points to a list of films that were initially panned by critics but became classics or cult hits.

For example, The Shining, Scarface, Rocky IV, Roadhouse, Con Air. More recently, the Amazon Prime series The Terminal List, based on the thrillers of Jack Carr, was disliked by critics but loved by audiences. 

The best books, movies, and music have people who like them and those who hate them. Meanwhile, it's the movies, music, and books that stay safe—the ones everyone likes but not many really love—that often get the highest scores on review sites like Rotten Tomatoes.

In other words, if you watch, read, or listen to movies, books, and music based only on what gets the highest scores, you may find a lot of stuff you like.

But you'll also likely miss the works you love—works that speak to you at a core level, for whatever reason.

Take my favorite band, The Grateful Dead. As Jerry Garcia, the band's unofficial leader, explained: "We're like (black) licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice."

If I'd decided whether to listen to the Dead based on reviews alone, I'd likely have read a lot of opinions of the black licorice haters—and would have never discovered a band I've come to love.

Instead, I'd be listening to a lot of vanilla. Which is a universally fine flavor, but also one that rarely moves and excites anyone.

Your move

  • Reach out to people you know who have tastes similar to yours. If you share a love of works that most other people don't "get," their recommendations will likely be stronger than what you'd find online.
  • Go to your local bookstore and walk the aisles, looking for a book that jumps out at you for its cover alone. Or ask the store clerk to recommend something to you.
  • Enter the bowels of Spotify or Apple Music. Listen to curated playlists of genres or artists you know nothing about. Try a few songs. Go from there.

4) See a musician or band you know little about

The people are one of the best parts of concerts.

Concerts bring out subcultures—dedicated groups of people you'd otherwise never interact with.

For example, my friend Mike Vallely was recently in town and invited me to see the pioneering punk band Black Flag. He's the lead singer.

I don't listen to Black Flag all that often. But the show gave me a moment to walk into that subculture—and I had an incredible time.

It put me inside a new energy and worldview. I met and bonded over music with new people who are totally different than me. 10/10. Would recommend.

Do this

Scan an aftermarket ticket app, like SeatGeek. Look for concerts coming to your town and snag tickets to an act that seems interesting.

What's the worst that can happen? Even if you don't love the artist's albums, most music becomes enjoyable when it's live.

5) Weigh in

How are you exploring?

See you in the comments ...

Have fun, don't die, explore.


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When I decided to accept sponsorships for this newsletter, GORUCK was a natural fit. Not only is the company's story included in The Comfort Crisis, but I've been using GORUCK's gear since the brand was founded. Seriously. They've been around ~12 years and I still regularly use a pack of theirs that is 11 years old. Their gear is made in the USA by former Special Forces soldiers. They make my favorite rucking setup: A Rucker 4.0 and Ruck Plate.

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