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The Best Books, Podcasts, Articles, and Products Of 2019

Every Monday I send a short email with a collection of the most fascinating finds from my week that includes books, podcasts, articles, videos, and more. I call it “The Curious Letter“.

Today is the last Friday of the year, and I’ve made a collection of the best three books, three podcasts, three articles, and three products that I discovered in 2019.

It was incredibly challenging to pick only three in each category, so I also added a few honorable mentions, and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.

📖 Top 3 Books of 2019

1. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

This fanfic by AI researcher and writer Eliezer Yudkowsky is the best book I’ve read this year, and it’s now in my top-30 books of all time.

It’s alternate-universe Harry Potter where Petunia has married an Oxford biochemistry professor, and young genius Harry grows up fascinated by science and science fiction. When he finds out that he is a wizard, he tries to apply scientific principles to his study of magic, with sometimes surprising results.

It’s not just a fanfiction, but also a platform where Yudkowsky bounces off complex ideas in a way that’s accessible and fun.

This book is brilliant and thought-provoking. You will laugh, you will want to cry, you will root for the characters. But more than anything, you will learn a lot.

As one of the reviewers said, “Anyone who is a Potter series fan and a rationalist, an economist, a libertarian, a devotee of reason and science, or just a nerd, will love this work,” and I couldn’t agree more.

I immensely enjoyed it in audio, but it’s also available in PDFEPUB, and even as a podcast.

2. Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

I thought a lot about whether should this book by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh or “Awareness: Conversations with the Masters” by Anthony de Mello take this spot.

Even though they are both a masterpiece in its own right, “Peace Is Every Step” has had more influence on me this year.
It helped a great deal to go through a rough time, return to the fullness of the present moment, and gain back seemingly lost peace of mind.

It is a beautifully written book, a calming balm for the soul, and a rallying cry for compassion. If you’re looking for guidance in living a more mindful, peaceful life, and ready to see the world differently, read this.

3. Nonviolent Communication: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships

Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication helped me to reflect deeply on how I use communication in my everyday life. Its core ideas sound obvious yet hard to implement without very conscious effort.

Every time that we communicate with other people, we can either build a deeper connection, understanding, and compassion or simply ignore them and create further disconnection.

He argues that all frustration and anger are about unfulfilled needs; hence our communication should be about getting to the core of those needs. And even though it sounds simple and obvious, it turns out to be incredibly difficult, since we not only cannot properly communicate those needs but often we don’t even know what needs do we have.

This book may save the relationship you have, improve the future ones, and make your life much better as a result.


Honorable mentions:

  • Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall
  • Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don’t Have To by David Sinclair
  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David J. Epstein

 

📻 Top 3 Podcasts of 2019

1. Naval Ravikant – How To Get Rich

That was the easiest pick of all because the sheer amount of wisdom packed into this episode is unmatchable by any other podcast known to me.

Even though it’s based on the tweet-storm from 2018, the podcast came out in 2019, and this updated version also includes all the Q&A episodes they did after the tweetstorm and 10 minutes of unreleased material on finding time to invest in yourself — at the end.

2. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – Supernova in the East (Part I, Part II, Part III)

Each episode of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is a masterpiece. He takes you deeper into the subject matter than you could’ve ever hoped for.
Dan’s meticulousness, attention to detail, and his way of diving into the episodes of history and re-contextualizing them in a way that modern listeners can relate to, make this a must-listen for history aficionados.

The “Supernova in the East” series tells the story of Imperial Japan’s side of World War II, it offers a different perspective on Japan’s role in the notorious events of the war, including the Rape of Nanjing and the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

3. The Tim Ferriss Show – Jim Collins – A Rare Interview with a Reclusive Polymath (#361)

Some of you may know that The Tim Ferriss Show is my favorite podcast. It was the first one I’ve subscribed to back in 2014, and I’ve listened to every single episode ever since.

This year, the most influential episode for me was Jim Collins’ interview.

They talk about tons of different fascinating concepts, including “who luck” – the luck of the right people that intersect your life plays in the journey, “the flywheel effect” – building momentum until a point of breakthrough and beyond (I even made the whiteboard notes about that and had it next to me during my three months in Mexico earlier this year), and many others.

3.1 The Portal – Tyler Cowen – The Revolution Will Not Be Marginalized

I’m going to cheat here by adding another podcast, but I have to include “The Portal” by Eric Weinstein.
It is one of my recent finds, and it has quickly become one of my favorite podcasts.

Every single episode is fascinating, thought-provoking, and makes you feel dumb as you appreciate the sheer scope of knowledge and intellect of Eric and his guests.

I’ve had to choose only one episode, and it’s a wide-ranging (it truly is) conversation between Eric Weinstein and Tyler Cowen – the economist, author of MarginalRevolution.com, and one of my favorite thinkers. It starts rather slow, but then the interview format turns into a brilliant conversation.


Honorable mentions:

 

📰 Top 3 Articles of 2019

1. The Story of Us – Wait But Why

Another easy pick for the top spot. Tim Urban’s Wait But Why is one of my favorite blogs, where each essay could easily be an excellent book on its own. His articles on procrastination, picking a life partner, AI, and, of course, the Elon Musk series, are absolutely brilliant, and my favorite reads on the internet.

“The Story of Us” series took him three years to write, currently has nine chapters, and appears to be his most ambitious project to date. He went deep into the “U.S. history, world history, evolutionary psychology, political theory, and neuroscience, through dozens of books, hundreds of datasets and articles, and into literally thousands of conversations” to write it, and I can certainly say the result was well worth it.

2. Rick and Morty and the Meaning of Life

“Knowing the truth, that nothing matters, can actually save you in those moments. Once you get through the terrifying threshold of accepting that, then every place is the center of the universe, and every moment is the most important moment, and everything is the meaning of life.” – Dan Harmon.

This essay by Daniel Jeffries goes insanely deep into the meaning of life through the lens of “Rick and Morty” (and yes, I obviously love that show) by asking the classical question that is at the heart of all the great stories throughout all time:

“Will you crumple in despair knowing the terrifying truth that life is totally meaningless, or will you saddle up the universe and strike out for a life of fun and adventure?”

P.S. You can start with this video by Will Schoder.

3. What the Hell is Going On? and Peter Thiel’s Religion by David Perell

These two long-form essays are remarkably well-written and present compelling arguments in a detailed way.

In “What the Hell is Going On?” David discusses how the shift from information scarcity to information abundance is reshaping commerce, education, and politics.

In the second essay, he is exploring the significance of religion through the lens of Peter Thiel – a person I’ve been particularly curious about this year. I’ve found an interesting introduction to Rene Girard and Mimetic Theory I wasn’t familiar with before, and lots of great points, such as:

“If you’re going to follow a role model, find one who you won’t compete with. Don’t look to your peers for answers. Find somebody in a different stage of life who you admire and respect. They should be somebody who defied the status quo and took an independent path.”

and

“When we pursue optionality, we avoid bold decisions. Like anything meaningful, venturing into the unknown is an act of faith. It demands responsibility. You‘ll have to take a stand, trust your decision, and ignore the taunts of outside dissent. But a life without conviction is a life controlled by the futile winds of fashion. Or worse, the hollow echoes of the crowd.”


Honorable mentions:

 

💎 The Best Products of 2019

1. Oura Ring

I’ve only got my hands on this ring this year, and I believe it’s the best and the most accurate consumer-level sleep tracker currently available on the market. It helped me immensely to understand better the importance of sleep and how my body works and reacts to certain activities so that I could have a better quality of life.

2. Waking Up app by Sam Harris (iOS, Android)

If you want to develop a real regular meditation practice or to level up your existing meditating experience, the guided 50-day course in this app is probably the best way to do so.

3. Notion

This year, I’ve finally organized all of my notes that were scattered between Apple Notes, Bear, and Google Docs, built an information-capturing system, and started building my second brain.

While there are dozens of apps you could do this in, after testing all of them, I’ve chosen Notion for its incredible flexibility, cross-device support, and powerful features.

What are the best books, podcasts, articles, and products that you discovered in 2019?
Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

If you enjoyed this post, consider joining “The Curious Letter” to get these types of recommendations every Friday!

How To Sleep Better: What Worked For Me After Years Of Continuous Experimentation

I’m a sleep nerd. There, I said it. I genuinely believe that a good night’s sleep is a foundation of a highly productive and happy life, and it’s great to see the trend of using sleep deprivation as a badge of honor is finally getting the bad reputation it deserves.

It wasn’t always this way, and I struggled with sleep my whole life. I would lie in bed not able to fall asleep for hours, wake up in the middle of the night for no reason, and snooze the alarm countless times every morning.

Now, I’m falling asleep in 5 minutes, waking up without the alarm, and my sleep score is almost always above 85.

Here are the things that worked for me after years of continuous experimentation to optimize my sleep.

– Keeping a consistent sleep schedule.

Going to sleep within the same one-hour window every day has had the most impact on my sleep, bar none.

The exact time usually doesn’t work because life happens, and “being late to bed” just gives you anxiety, that will ironically ruin your sleep. For me, the perfect window is from 10 pm to 11 pm, but you’ll have to find your own because everyone has a different circadian rhythm, and by sticking to the same sleep schedule, you’ll normalize yours.

Your brain and body will know when they are supposed to shut down and relax, which will allow you to fall asleep quickly every day.

– No wake-up alarm clock.

I try to use an alarm to wake up as little as possible. If you need an alarm, you’re, by definition, sleep-deprived. You’ll never need it if you consistently sleep enough. Try to use the alarm only as a backup, and when you do, use the wake-up light alarm clock with sunrise simulation instead of the standard sound-based ones (they shock you into waking up, leading to sleep inertia).

– Blue light blocking glasses and f.lux after sunset.

There’s an ongoing debate whether blue light has a negative impact or not, but blocking it before sleep seems to work for me. I wear these glasses one hour before bed, they’re not fancy-looking but do the job and block 98% of blue light. And f.lux makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day. I’ve been using it for years, and I love it.

– No screens for at least an hour before sleep and no screens in the bedroom.

My bedroom is a strictly screen-free zone. No phones, tablets, laptops, or TVs allowed at all times.

The first apparent reason is that blue light from the screens may restrain the production of melatonin, and have a negative impact on your circadian rhythm.

But more importantly, the constant influx of information that you get from your devices is keeping your mind engaged, and tricking your brain into thinking that it needs to stay awake. Not to mention social media apps that are designed to give you a positive social stimulus and dopamine influx, which, again, directly inhibits production and release of melatonin, and makes it much harder to unwind.

Make your bedroom a place for sleep and sex only, and watch the quality of your life improves.

– Avoid caffeine after 1 pm.

That’s highly individual because people with a specific variation of the gene PDSS2 (also CYP1A2, AHR17, ULK3, and NRCAM, but that’s beyond the scope of this article) process caffeine more slowly than others.

You can determine your caffeine sensitivity by taking a DNA test (23andMe or similar ones).

You should also know is that the caffeine molecule is similar in shape to the adenosine molecule, which is a neurotransmitter, and it plays a significant role in a sleep-wake cycle. When adenosine binds to enough receptors, it signals the brain that it is time for rest. Caffeine doesn’t replace the need for sleep, but masks tiredness since adenosine can no longer do what it is intended to do.

The average half-life of caffeine in healthy adults is 4-6 hours, so if you go to sleep at 10 pm, a general rule of thumb is to avoid caffeine consumption after 4 pm.

– Cardio at any time during the day but at least a few hours before bed.

I’ve found that any type of cardio (running in my case) during the day does wonders to my HRV score. But you should avoid very late high-intensity exercise simply because it’s perceived by the body as a form of stress and stimulates the release of cortisol (also known as the stress hormone), and your body needs some time to return the cortisol level back to normal.

– Read a fiction book (physical copy) before falling asleep.

Reading a fiction book in bed before sleep has become one of my favorite rituals. My thinking is that non-fiction business books before bed stimulate your thought process, and you are ending up dwelling on the day-time issues. In contrast, fiction books invite you to a new world where you can actually “turn off,” stop thinking about what “you should’ve said or done,” and easily fall asleep.

– 20-minute meditation before going to bed.

I meditate with Headspace for 20 minutes before going to bed. I’ve been doing that for so long, that the Andy Puddicombe’s (founder of the app) voice now works as a trigger for my brain to wind down, and get ready to sleep.

– Chamomile tea with honey and apple cider vinegar.

I got this recipe from Tim Ferris (although he uses a different tea), and I’m also not sure about the biochemistry behind why this works, but it does work like a tranquilizer.

200mg of magnesium 30 minutes before sleep.

I take all of my supplements in the morning except for magnesium, which I’ve found is to be better taken in the evening before sleep. Sometimes I’d also take L-theanine after a particularly stressful day.

– No eating after 7 pm.

Nutritionists will usually tell you to wait two to three hours between your last meal and bedtime. This allows digestion to happen and the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine, which may prevent problems like heartburn and insomnia. Eating also prompts the release of insulin, which plays a huge role in shifting your circadian rhythm.

Lots of people recommend using weighted blankets (helps with anxiety), CBD oil (same thing), and Sleep With Me podcast.
I haven’t used the first two because they address the symptom (anxiety) and not the underlying problem. And I’d always prefer a good fiction book to a podcast, but you might be in a different camp.

You’ll also find lots of people saying that keeping the room temperature at 60-68°F (15.5-20℃) is optimal for your sleep.

I find this a bit misleading. There is no universal optimal because it depends on your sheets, body fat, clothing, body temperature, and humidity. The more natural rule of thumb is that you’re not supposed to be too cold (not shivering) or too hot (not sweat). One empirically-validated ‘hack’ is to wear socks – keeping your feet and hands warm prevents blood from shunting too much to the extremities, and keeps your core body temperature better regulated.

I’m assuming that if you read this blog, then it goes without saying, but without a healthy diet, nothing from this list would work. That is, at a minimum, no processed sugars, no soda, no alcohol, no junk food. So if you’re for some reason reading this while drinking Coca-Cola, start there.

Sleep tips for traveling.

How to preserve your established circadian rhythm when you travel full-time and change the time zones? Hard way – arrive at a new place, force yourself to live by the new hours for a couple of weeks, and your body will adapt in time. But, of course, there’s an easier way. You should start even before you reach your destination. Figure out what time you’ll be living in, and start living by that time while on the plane. That means you should sleep if it’s night time at your destination, even if it’s 10 am your current time.

My recipe to easily fall asleep on the plane:

  • Use a 100% blackout sleep mask (I recommend Manta Sleep);
  • Get a 100% natural cocktail of magnesium, l-theanine, and melatonin;
  • Use noise-canceling headphones (I recommend Bose QC35);
  • Stay hydrated before and during the flight.

Once you reach your new place, hit the gym, and do a quick workout within an hour of arrival. I don’t know the science behind it, but it almost always helps me to practically eliminate the jet lag.

Recommendations

People often ask me for the book, podcast, and gadget recommendations, so I put together a list of everything sleep-related that can help you to sleep better, and as a result, have a better life.

– Reading:

Start with a book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matt Walker.

A lot of people swear by this book, claiming that it’s changed their lives, and according to Google Scholar, it’s been cited more than a hundred times in academic papers. Walker goes more in-depth on some points I’ve made in this article and touches on CBT-i (the application of cognitive-behavioral therapy to sleep issues). The key point that Walker makes in his book is that you need at least 8 hours of sleep:

“After being awake for nineteen hours, people who were sleep-deprived were as cognitively impaired as those who were legally drunk… After sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours.”

Even though it’s a pop-science book, and there are quite a few factual errors, “Why We Sleep” has probably been one of the most important instruments to raise general awareness on the importance of sleep in recent years, which is all that matters.

After you finished with “Why We Sleep,” read the essay “Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’ Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors” by Alexey Guzey, that he has spent more than 130 hours over two months researching and writing.

He compares the facts that Walker’s presented in chapter one with the scientific literature, and does a comprehensive review of all the scientific and factual errors and an apparent invention of new facts by Walker.

The main point of the essay is to show that if you naturally sleep well and wake up with no alarm clock on less than eight hours, stick to that. People are different, and not everyone needs 8+ hours of sleep. There are lots of people who tried to sleep more after reading “Why We Sleep,” and that led to more awake time, frustration, worry, sleep-related anxiety, and insomnia.

– Podcasts to listen to:

  • Peter Attia, M.D. and Matt Walker, Ph.D. go in-depth on sleep, different stages and cycles, the dangers of chronic sleep deprivation, roles of REM vs. non-REM sleep, and much more. Basically, if you don’t want to read Walker’s book, listen to this podcast.
  • Think Your Way Out Of Insomnia by NPR – When you can’t sleep, your thoughts can be your worst enemy. In this episode, Stephen Amira, a psychologist at Brigham, and Christina McCrae, a clinical psychologist and CBT-I expert at the University of Missouri explain five key strategies to help break the spiral, based on what many believe is the most effective treatment out there: cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I.

– Sleep gadgets that I use:

  • Oura ring – this is the best and the most accurate consumer-level sleep tracker currently available on the market. Yes, it’s far from perfect, but if you don’t have access to a sleep lab, this is the best option. With a body temperature sensor, infrared LEDs, 3D accelerometer and gyroscope, it tracks your actual sleep time, sleep cycles (REM, deep, light), HRV score, resting heart rate, respiratory rate, and other things, allowing you to see how are you actually doing at a glance.
  • Manta Sleep Mask – the best sleep mask that I’ve tried (and I’ve tried lots of them). It’s highly adjustable, ridiculously comfortable, and offers 100% blackout.

– Sleep gadgets that I don’t use yet because they don’t fit into my suitcase:

  • Philips wake-up light alarm clock with sunrise simulation – I’ve mentioned this above, but will say this again – you shouldn’t use alarm clocks, but if you do, use this one instead of the annoying sound-based ones because they shock you into waking up, leading to sleep inertia.
  • chiliPad – basically a system to regulate the temperature of your bed. The best thing about chiliPad is that if you and your partner have different optimal sleep temperature preferences, you can easily set your own temperature for each side of the bed.
  • The Pod by Eight Sleep – the ultimate biohacker’s mattress. Combines chiliPad’s temperature control capability with sleep tracking and a premium memory foam.
  • White noise machine – I tend to stay in quiet places, but if you have a noisy household, the white noise machine can be a lifesaver. It creates a sound that remains consistent across all hearable frequencies, which consistency creates a masking effect, blocking out the sudden changes in noise that can cause you to wake up during the night – the snoring, dog barking, or a garbage truck rumbling down the street.

Whatever you do to improve your sleep, remember one rule – don’t stress too much over it.

Ironically, it may backfire and lead to a vicious cycle of ever-increasing worry about sleep, frustration, anxiety, and insomnia.

Take it easy, and gradually implement one change after another and see what each of them does to your sleep.

And, as always, if you have any questions, suggestions, or want to chat about what worked to improve your sleep, hit me up on Twitter or email me at hi [at] mgrev.com!

Oversaturated Markets Are A Myth

One of the most ridiculous things I hear people say is, “I’d love to do that, but this market is too saturated, I won’t be able to compete.”

Every single market is “saturated,” in one way or another, but that shouldn’t stop you from entering it if it’s something you’re genuinely interested in.
And if the market seems to be saturated, the only thing you should take from it is that there’s money in that space.

So how do you enter what appears to be a saturated niche and win?

There are a few ways that I know of and that I used for my companies and some of my clients.

1. Be consistently 20% better than the average.

It’s easy to look, for example, at the pet niche and say that there’s no way that it’s still possible to enter it and compete against such giants as Chewy and PetSmart.
But if you dig deeper, you can always find at least one area where you can do at least 20% better.
In a pet market, one of such areas would be personalized customer service.
It’s one of those paradoxical markets with one of the most passionate types of customers on one side, and one of the most faceless and commoditized suppliers on the other.
If you can show your customers that you genuinely care about their pets, and consistently provide a 20% better service, you’ll establish yourself as a strong player with a steady stream of returning customers.

2. Specialize.

Another way to enter a saturated market is deep specialization.
Specialization galvanizes support. It’s easy to share and remember.

Instead of being a generic web agency, you can focus solely on designing high-converting Shopify stores, and become a household name in e-commerce space.

Instead of being a fitness apparel company, and selling every piece of clothing imaginable, you can focus on creating the most comfortable pair of leggings.

Instead of being a graphic designer, focus on packaging design, know all ins and outs, and be the designer that people immediately think of when they create a new physical product.

Casper started by creating one great mattress instead of hundreds for every occasion; Spanx was born from the idea of footless, pantyhose-shaper; Allbirds began by creating the most comfortable pair of merino wool shoes.

You get the idea.

3. Change the game, create your own niche.

Creating your own sub-niche is a twist on the previous point.
Think of your strong skills and qualities and how can you combine them to create your own niche.

As Scott Adams, creator of wildly popular comic Dilbert, says:
“I’m a poor artist. Through brute force, I brought myself up to mediocre. I’ve never taken a writing class, but I can write okay. If I have a party at my house, I’m not the funniest person in the room, but I’m a little bit funny, I can write a little bit, I can draw a little bit, and you put those three together, and you’ve got Dilbert, a fairly powerful force.”

Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort.

Let’s say you’re a good developer, have some marketing skills, and know how to write properly. By combining these skills, you’ll be ahead of most developers, marketers, and writers.

Good at design, know a thing or two about dogs, and have a passion for fashion? Why not create the Outdoor Voices of the dog market?

Combining two or more skills that you’re at the top 25%, can propel you to the top 5%, and the better you are, the less competition there is.

The main point is that perfect competition only exists if you do the exact same thing as others are doing. Selling exactly the same product, providing exactly the same service, and creating exactly the same content.

And remember that “saturated” markets are good because they are harder to enter. And hard is good. The harder something is, the less competition you’ll have in the long term – everyone wants easy.

30 Lessons I Learned After Living In 30 Countries

Over the last five years, I’ve traveled to over thirty different countries and lived for at least a month in each of them. 

There are lots of people that do the same, but my definition of living in a new place is probably a bit different from the average one. 

I don’t meet other travelers, I’m not trying to find people from my home country, I’m not eating the supposedly safe food that I’m used to.

Rather, I’m always trying to immerse myself into the local culture: learn at least a few words in the local language, walk everywhere, meet local people, eat local cuisine, and learn about the place not just from the travel websites, but directly from the people that live there. 

That way, I can understand the place, the culture, and the people on a far deeper level, while learning much more about myself in the process.

Here are the things that I’ve learned over the past five years of exploring the world and myself.

Airport in Phuket Thailand

1. People are pretty much the same everywhere in the world. 

It doesn’t matter which part of the globe they live in, what is their religion, and which language do they speak. Most people are just like you and me with more or less the same problems, aspirations, and values. The sooner you can understand that the better your travels will become. 

2. Every country can be a new life.

You can try on a whole new personality in every country you visit. It’s challenging to build a new self around your family, coworkers, and old friends. The familiar places trigger the thought habits of the old you. This is why getting out of your comfort zone makes room for growth.

When you’re in a totally new context, surrounded by new people that never met you, you can be whoever you want, and try on a whole new and unique personality. 

There’s a chance you may end up finding something more suitable than the old skin that was projected mainly on you by your old environment.

3. Learning and speaking even a few sentences in a new language can help to open some new and unexpected sides of your personality. 

I noticed that the language has an enormous influence on people’s character. The more facial muscles you need to engage to be able to speak the language and the wider you have to open your mouth, the more open you generally tend to be. And vice versa. 

Examples? All Slavic languages can be spoken with the mouth almost closed, while you have to actively engage almost every facial muscle to speak proper American English. And the people are more closed off or open, respectively. The same goes for Brazilian Portuguese versus European Portuguese.

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, 2016

4. “Hell Yes or Hell No” rule doesn’t always work when traveling.

The best places I went to, the best experiences I’ve had, and the most interesting people I’ve met weren’t always a “hell yes” decision. In most cases, I’ve had doubts or straight up didn’t want to do that, go there, or meet with someone. 

If you have a chance to do something you haven’t done before, or to see a new place, just do it, it’s not a life or death decision, but could as well be one of the best in your life.

5. It’s generally safe in most places in the world. 

I’ve heard a lot of warnings and safety concerns when I went to Medellin, Cape Town, or Mexico City. 

You’d be surprised, but the only two places where I felt unsafe and something has actually happened were the small town in Russia and San Francisco. 

Use your common sense, be confident, act as you belong, and don’t flash any expensive items – in 99.9% of the time, you’ll be okay.

Public Transport in Gili Air island, Indonesia, 2015

6. You don’t really need a lot of stuff. 

After packing your suitcase for the hundredth time, paying for the excess luggage, and taking hundreds of flights, you begin to understand that you actually don’t need that much. Take only the essentials, and if you really need something you didn’t bring, simply buy it on the road. 

Yes, you can find any clothes, medicine, or an umbrella in almost any country.

7. Life is actually longer than you think. Don’t be afraid to try.

I’m astonished by how many things have changed and how many experiences I’ve had when I look back over the past five years. 

Yet, it’s been only five years. 

It’s okay to try to live in New York for a couple of years and see if it suits you. It’s okay to pursue a career you’ve always wanted to try and then switch to another one if it doesn’t work out. 

You don’t actually have to stick to things for the entire life, even if society tells you otherwise.

«New York is Always a Good Idea», TriBeCa, NYC, 2015

8. Your whole identity can be completely reformed based on the experiences you have around the world. 

Experiences change people. When you are in a different country every couple of months, and constantly going out of your comfort zone, those experiences are happening on a regular basis, compounding, changing your default set of beliefs, and reshaping you as a person much quicker than it may happen in regular life. 

9. The best time to travel is right now.

You won’t believe how many people told me that they always wanted to do the same. If you actually want to do it, just do it.

Helicopter Flight over Budapest, Hungary, 2016

10. Full-time travel is a part-time job.

What country to go to next? Which area is the best to stay in? For how long should I stay there – one, two, or three months? Most likely, you’ll spend about one-fifth of your time on planning, packing, flying, researching, and just thinking about all the organizational and unsexy things that no one talks about. A personal assistant helps, but you still have to be prepared.

11. Getting off Instagram is great for your mental health, and it makes your travel experience better. 

You have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes of those perfect pictures and videos of every “travel-influencer.” So stop measuring yourself against other people posturing, and start measuring against your past self instead. 

You’ll also avoid a lot of disappointment because your expectations for some beautiful places won’t be exaggerated by the ridiculously unrealistic pictures.

How will you know which places to visit? Ask locals – they always tend to have much better recommendations anyway. 

Gardens by the Bay aerial view, Singapore, 2015.

12. A set of rules always helps and saves a lot of time. 

For example, I don’t stay in studios, because I know that I feel much better when I have separate spaces for work, sleep, cooking, eating, and lounging. 

Or I always try to take either the first flight of the day or the last one, because later I’ll feel bad about wasting the entire day on flying if I don’t.

These little things add up and make the quality of your traveling life much better.

13. Don’t count the countries you’ve visited. Count experiences.

Counting countries doesn’t mean anything. You haven’t actually been to the country if you only had a stopover for 12 hours, and went on a city sightseeing bus tour. You probably won’t even remember that after a year.

Do you know what you will remember though even after a decade? The experiences that you’ve had.

I’m a big fan of Jesse’s Itzler idea of building a life resume instead of a work resume, and what’s a better time to do that than while you travel?

Fireworks at Disney Land in Paris, France, 2016

14. It’s easy to get carried away. Get your priorities straight and keep a schedule.

I’ve met far too many people on both sides of the spectrum: the ones that go out and explore all the time while not getting any work done, and the ones that move to another country and the only thing they do is work. 

Needless to say that neither approach is sustainable long-term, so the best thing to do is to have a schedule. 

I tend to explore the surroundings on Saturdays and Sundays and work during the weekdays. It may sound boring but works for me.

15. It’s important to know when to stop and settle down.

At some point, the law of diminishing returns will kick in, and it won’t make any sense to continue changing countries every month. You need to catch that moment and start a new chapter of your life.

Village life near Baikal Lake, Siberia, Russia, 2016. © Max Grev

16. Wherever you go, you’ll probably spend the same amount of money as you usually do. 

Lots of people think that if they move to some country in South East Asia, they’ll automatically be spending way less money. 

And while this is true in some cases, most likely, you’ll end up adjusting your lifestyle instead, and spending the same amount you were back home, which is your in your comfort zone. For example, in Tel Aviv, I’d go out to eat a couple of times per week, but somewhere in Bali, I’d do that two or three times per day, and end up spending roughly the same amount of money.

17. Know why are you doing this. 

There were quite a few times when I wanted to move to another country, but after questioning myself about the reasons, the one thing that came up way too often was “to escape.” 

Escape from the problem I’ve had to deal with, escape from the unpleasant feeling I’ve been having lately, escape from the decision that I had to make. 

Moving is rarely the answer, you have to face these hard things and deal with them. If, on the other hand, the answer is to widen your perspective and shake the mundane, then, by all means, go for it.  

But know why you are doing this.

18. Don’t try to “see it all.”

In some places, it’s almost impossible to see all of the exciting things the country/city has to offer, and it’s okay, just remember that you can always come back, or simply stay a bit longer.

James Bond Island near Phuket, Thailand, 2015. © Max Grev

19. Not traveling is often harder than traveling.

This may not be true for everyone, but it sure is for me, and some people who’ve been doing that for a while. 

It’s hard to stop, and not hop on a plane to another exciting destination, but instead spend that time and energy on the exciting project that offers more long-term benefits, or with the great people that you’ve met in that place. 

When you travel all the time, moving becomes your default and considering other factors takes a conscious effort. 

20. Make an effort to keep in touch with the best people you’ve met.

Too often, people forget about someone they’ve met on a trip simply because they are from a different country. 

While it would’ve made some sense twenty years ago, the chances are that today, you spend most of the time with the people closest to you, online – on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, over email, or any other corner of the interweb. 

So why limit your circle of friends geographically, if you can surround yourself with the best people from all over the world?

21. Imagine yourself as the first explorer of the world. 

When you read dozens of travel blogs, posts on Tripadvisor, and watch YouTube videos about the country you’re planning to visit, you set certain expectations that may or may not ruin the experience. 

For your next trip, try to go blindfolded while keeping an open mind, and see what happens. 

The less you’re expecting, the more you can enjoy what actually happens. 

22. Learn to enjoy transient relationships.

Most of the relationships formed on the road will be very brief, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t enjoy every minute of them. 

Smile first, ask deeper questions, and be more open – that way these short interactions will not only be a great way to learn about the country but may as well become the highlight of your trip.

The Circum-Baikal railway, Baikal Lake, Siberia, Russia, 2016. © Max Grev

23. Keep a diary. 

There’s a hundred percent chance that you will forget almost all of the precious moments you have experienced and all of the lessons you’ve learned from your travels. 

Daily dairy in any format you prefer – text, video, audio – can not only help to remember those moments and lessons better but also help to understand and experience them on a deeper level.

24. Getting to know fewer countries well is better than visit more countries knowing nothing about them. 

25. Find out what’s the most popular area of the city you’re staying in, and never go there.

In most cases, this will be the part that was surrendered to tourists, which is never a good thing.

Find out where the locals go (the easiest way to start is by asking your Airbnb host), explore the residential areas, visit the local markets – that’s where the actual life happens, and that’s where you’ll start to understand the city you’re in. 

26. High-end travel gear and clothes are worth it.

I’ve been wearing the same set of t-shirts from Outlier and Wool&Prince for three years now, while I would’ve had to buy a new t-shirt from Zara or Uniqlo every couple of months. Oh, and they also lighter, need less washing, and don’t take up as much space in your suitcase. 

Those $300 backpacks? Also worth every penny for the peace of mind and the comfort they bring.

27. Some people don’t like to travel. And it’s okay.

Don’t try to impose your traveling religion upon everybody. 

Just as CrossFit is not the best sport for everyone or keto isn’t the diet that fits all, traveling isn’t the most appealing activity for lots of people. Leave them alone.

New York City Commute © Max Grev

28. Traveling alone is underrated.

Nothing comes close to how well can you get to know yourself than while traveling alone. The best ideas came to me while I was walking the streets of a new city by myself. The most fascinating adventures happened when I got lost while traveling alone. It’s also harder to build a deep connection with the city when you’re with someone.

29. Create rituals along the way.

I take my parents to wherever I am in the world for a month once or twice every year. I eat at the same restaurant on the first day I’m back in Cape Town. And I still buy magnets in every country I visit. 

The memories of those rituals you’ve created along the way will put a warm smile on your face down the road.

Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, 2016, MGrev.com

30. The magical country that will make you a new person doesn’t exist.

There’s a great piece on traveling by Ralph Waldo Emerson: 

“Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.”

Sunset in San Francisco, 2016

My 12 Favorite Problems

These are the questions that keep me up at night, inspire, and captivate me. The hard problems that I don’t yet have the answers to.

1. What are the most effective ways to increase lifespan, slow aging, and increase the number of years of high-quality life? How can I create new ways to achieve that?
2. What are the most cost-effective (monetary, energy, and time-wise) ways of starting and scaling new projects? What are the ways to automate it?
3. How can I fully automate a decision-making process that will make the right choice, at least 80% of the time?
4. How can I achieve a work-life balance so that both work and life can benefit from it? 
5. What are the best solutions to a transportation problem, not only within the urban areas but also between the cities and countries?
6. How can I increase the number of books I’m reading while maintaining the same high level of retention?
7. How far into the future is it the most optimal to plan?
8. How to pick a life partner?
9. How can I foster a sense of equanimity in any life situation?
10. How can I help people to be more curious?
11. How can I increase the daily deep work hours without losing the quality of sleep?
12. How can I help to create a culture that rewards long-term thinking?

If any of these problems resonate with you, or you’ve been working on solving some of them, reach out to me on Twitter, maybe together we will be able to find the answers.

Gallery

All photos © 2015-2018 Max Grev. Want to use them? Email me at max [at] mgrev.com.

Long-term thinking

In a long term, consistency always beats intensity.

And if you’re still not thinking long-term – you’re already loosing.

7 days without social media

I just had a week of “no social media policy.”

No Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat/Twitter/Reddit/any messenger/etc. Any related app has been deleted from my iPhone, either.

And it was probably the most productive week in the past few months!

Instead of thinking of some article I’ve just read or deciding on what picture I should post on Instagram, my mind was able to concentrate on what truly matters.

I’ve finally launched a few of those projects I’ve wanted to test for a while, read two great books, given just enough time to practice Spanish, journaled without any time constraints, the list goes on and on.

But probably the greatest part of this “don’t disturb mode” was that every time I’ve picked up my phone to check Instagram or to meaninglessly scroll Facebook feed, I’d open Anki app and practice Spanish vocabulary instead, simply because that phone checking habit was still in place, but those time consuming apps weren’t.

As a result, today, when I’m finally “allowed” to get back and post some stuff, I just don’t want to.

And it feels great.

Keep going

I always feel great right when I am starting to run.

First mile – “awesome, I did it!”. Second – “maybe it’s enough? I don’t feel very well”. Third mile past – “I’ll probably die if I’d run a 100 feet more. That’s enough!”.

Some of the times I’d stop there, feeling pretty awful, without any intention to repeat the same process the next day. But what if I keep going? Nine out of ten times, after passing a 3.5-4 miles mark, I’d open a so-called “second breath,” catch the “momentum” and finish my workout feeling even better than after the first mile, feeling accomplished and ready to run the next day.Mileage may change depending on one’s physical condition, but you get the idea.

Most of the blogs out there disappear into the silence after the first few posts.

Roughly 90% of all the podcasts on iTunes never get more than three episodes.

Your first 3-5 meditate sessions would almost always feel “meh, I don’t get it,” and most of the people would quit after that (or even after the very first one) and never try again.

What important is to keep going no matter how you feel.

Perseverance is your best friend in case if you want to achieve that “run every day” or “learn Spanish” or whatever else you have on that goal list of yours.

Catch the momentum and keep it going.
You’ll love the results.