Why am I travelling to Spain? Better weather is a plus, but I’ll miss out on all the great things happening back home. Why pay a bunch of money if I’m not sure it’ll be more enjoyable?

I haven’t travelled abroad since COVID hit. I want to travel abroad at some point in my life - culture clashes are a great way to learn more about myself. If I don’t travel now, when will I start?

It’s common to resist doing new things, dragging your feet and coming up with reasons to avoid taking that first step. Doing something for the “first” time is always the hardest - the second time is way easier. Doing a new thing opens up your option space, increasing the range of things you are comfortable doing.

Here’s another example of me increasing my agency in this way:

I live in Uppsala, a city located next to Sweden’s biggest city, Stockholm. I moved to Uppsala partially because I want to go to events happening in Stockholm. Great plan, poor execution. The first six months I lived in Uppsala, I didn’t attend a single evening event in Stockholm. Every time an event came up, I felt tired. The road is too long, the event might suck, and shouldn’t I take are of myself and stay home?

One day, I had enough. I decided to break the pattern. I went to an evening event, even though I didn’t feel like doing it. After attending that first event, the next ones were easier. I now visit Stockholm regularly, going to shibari evenings, clown performances and simply hanging out at friend’s places.


Flexibility and the Singularity

It’s common for people to get stuck in their ways as they grow older. Kids treat everything as new, while older people fall back on habit and prior experience. In our ancestral environment, this made perfect sense - build experience as you grow, and execute as you grow older.

In our modern world, this makes less sense. The world of today is not the world of your childhood - the rules are in constant flux. Acting out the patterns you learned during your childhood is no longer adaptive. To succeed in the modern world, it’s important to explore more, try new ways of being and acting, and stay up-to-date with the world around you.

Other people have written about the need to explore more. A popular text from a few years back is the live player, dead player article. The same theme pops up in discussions around exploring vs exploiting.


Staying Flexible - Practical Steps

Given the accelerating speed with which the world changes, it’s important to keep flexible - staying open to new ways of doing things. Life experience is still important, but should be treated as a reference library, rather than an operations manual.

So how do you stay flexible? Besides staying healthy to avoid dementia, I suggest trying out new things. Leaving your comfortable routine and entering a new context is likely to be unpleasant in the short term. Besides the uncertainty (“What will it be like?”), you are likely to lack the skills, awareness and knowledge needed to navigate the unfamiliar situation gracefully.

This Sunday I am going to a meetup event called “Comfort Zone Challenges”. A friend went to a similar event some years back and ended up walking around the city centre with a cucumber on a leash. I don’t look forward to going, which means it’ll likely be good for me. Social inhibition is a major agency block.

Working through uncertainty and resistance will sometimes bring about great rewards. And even if the event doesn’t provide much value, you are training yourself to stay flexible - available to future opportunities.

Some studies show that psychedelic drugs increase openness to experience. This effect might be one way to cancel out age-related stuckness. Bear in mind that psychedelics are illegal in most jurisdictions, require knowledge to use properly, and that you can end up too open.


Risk/Reward and Legacy Instincts

Some activities have a non-negligible risk of ending with death or other severe consequences. These can be fun, but might not be the best thing to get into.

The advice in this post is about things with limited downside potential and large upside potential. People’s intuitive risk profiles are usually way off - another consequence of the way the modern world has diverged from our ancestral habitat.

One key area where we tend to be overly careful is in the area of social risk-taking. Asking for things, entering new contexts and making bold proposals are all things that are under-explored.

The unintuitive dangers of modern life deserve a series of its own - as a society, we have expertly crafted an abundance of things which are pleasing in the short term, but damaging over time. Here I include the attention economy, unhealthy foods, gambling, and other addictive lures that readily snare unwary travellers. Besides the consciously crafted dangers, the world is full of risks that don’t register with our instincts - driving while tired, meeting new people during global pandemics, painting your walls with lead paint, etc.


Recap & Ending Notes

We have radically altered the world we live in, resulting in a mismatch between our instincts and the actual risk/reward landscape. We tend to settle in our ways as we grow older - adaptive for our ancestors, but maladaptive in our current era. One way to increase agency is by going out and doing new things.

We should look at the payoffs before committing, and opt for bounded potential losses coupled with unbounded potential benefits. The social realm is a good place to explore - our social instincts tend to be too risk-averse.

Do you know more situations where our instincts tend to be miscalibrated? Where we are overly risk-averse, or don’t care about actual dangers? How do you keep from getting set in your ways as you grow older?

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