What I Learned by Wearing a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM)

For the past 14 days, I’ve been wearing a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) while testing every possible food I normally do and don’t eat combined with different types of physical behavior.

I learned a lot and changed my already over-optimized diet as a result.

What is a CGM?

As the name suggests, it’s a system made of a sensor and a reader/smartphone app that continuously measures your blood sugar throughout the day and night.

It’s mostly used by diabetics, but with the recent rise of both, a number of startups promoting CGM use, and overall wellness awareness (pandemic silver lining), it has become rather popular among non-diabetics as well.

Why would non-diabetics use CGM?

As Dr. Peter Attia (@PeterAttiaMD) mentioned in his recent AMA episode, higher glucose variability and higher peak glucose levels are associated with accelerated onset of disease and death, even in non-diabetics. Studies show that higher glucose variability in non-diabetics is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s diseases, cardiovascular death, frailty, cancer death, and all-cause mortality compared to lower glucose variability. And CGM provides almost instant metabolic data so you can make changes in your diet and lifestyle to reduce the likelihood of a surprise diagnosis later in life.

Given my obsessions with health and data, I ordered the Abbot FreeStyle Libre CGM as soon as I got to a country that allowed me to do that without a doctor’s prescription. If you’re in the US, you can use Levels – they use the same Abbot device but pair it with their great app for more insight into your metabolic health.

The system is incredibly easy to use. Apply the sensor to the back of your arm (it doesn’t hurt, I promise), download the app (or buy a separate reader if your phone doesn’t have an NFC chip), pair them, wait a few hours for a sensor to calibrate (mine took almost 24 hours to calibrate properly, keep that in mind), and you’re good to go. Each sensor lasts only 14 days, so if you want to use it for recommended 28 days, you’d need to order two of them.

It is recommended to maintain glucose levels between 72–110 mg/dL (4.0–6.1 mmol/L), limiting post-meal glucose rises to less than 30 mg/dL (1.8 mmol/L) from pre-meal levels, and maintaining average glucose of 100 mg/dL (5.5 mmol/L) or lower.

Over two weeks, I managed to keep my average at 4.7 mmol/L (85 mg/dL):

Average Glucose Levels – Continuous Glucose Monitor


While staying in the target range 68% of the time, which isn’t too bad given that I intentionally experimented quite a lot.

Time in target range – Continuous Glucose Monitor

My estimated hemoglobin A1c was 4.6%, which is almost perfect.

Hemoglobin A1c – Continuous Glucose Monitor

I say “almost,” because based on this observational 2011 study that found a continuous increase in the associated risk for all-cause death throughout a broad range of hemoglobin A1c values, I’d prefer to keep my HbA1c below 4.5, even though based on the adjusted HRs and this study, anything below 5.0 seems to be good enough.

Crude incidence rates and adjusted HRs for all-cause mortality according to category of baseline glycated haemoglobin

As you can see, at hemoglobin A1c <4.5, there are only 5.7 all-cause deaths per 1000 person-years, with an absolutely dramatic increase to 24.5 deaths at ≥6.5 HbA1c.

Over the course of these two weeks, I kept a journal where I documented most of the meals and glucose readings.

Glucose Log – CGM

Some of the results were expected—yes, most foods with a high glycemic index will spike your glucose—but there were quite a few things that surprised me and changed my behavior as a result.

1. Not all fruits are the same.

I’ve heard lots of conflicting opinions about fruits. Even though I love fruits and never felt a sugar rush no matter how much I’d eat, it was interesting to see that some fruits which are considered to be the “good” ones would spike my blood sugar, but it would stay within the normal range after eating some other, supposedly the “bad” ones.

Fruits that spiked my glucose: cherries (8.4 mmol/L / 155 mg/dL after eating only 150g, even though its glycemic index is only 20), oranges, apples, strawberries, apricots, grapes.

Fruits that didn’t have as much effect, keeping my blood sugar within the normal range: bananas, pomegranate, raspberries, blueberries.

Behavioral change: eliminate all fruits that significantly elevate my glucose levels from my diet, keep eating the ones that don’t.

2. Almost any type of pasta is bad.

I’ve tested the wheat flour, rice, egg, and buckwheat pasta. The only one that didn’t spike the blood sugar as much was the soba made from buckwheat, which isn’t surprising given that it has the lowest glycemic index (56) of all.

Behavioral change: I used to have a side of pasta with my standard Mediterranean roasted vegetables at dinner, now I either have soba or don’t add it at all.

3. Rice has the worst effect on my blood sugar.

Yes, given its glycemic index of ~70, it shouldn’t surprise me as much, but no matter what type of other food I’ve tried during these two weeks—pastries, candies, pasta, cake—nothing could compare to what rice did to my glucose levels: it increased it to the record 10.7 mmol/L or 193 mg/dL!

Glucose spike after eating rice.

Behavioral change: forever eliminate rice from my diet.

4. Wheat flour in any shape or form causes the longest blood sugar spikes.

I’ve already mentioned the terrible effects of pasta and rice, but products made of wheat flour—bread, pizza, cakes, wraps, cookies, pastries, bagels, etc.—take the first place for the glucose surge duration.

For example, the glucose levels would go back to normal only 20 minutes after the 40% increase caused by cherries, but it’d stay up for 1.5 hours (!) after eating the wheat flour sugar-free pastry.

What about whole-grain foods? Unfortunately, there was no difference.

Behavioral change: I stopped eating bread roughly six years ago, but now I’ve also removed all other types of wheat flour foods, even the supposedly “healthy” salmon or vegetable wraps.

5. A 30-minute walk normalizes glucose levels.

One interesting find was that a 30-minute walk could significantly lower both the peak and the duration of the blood sugar spike. It turns out that muscle contraction when you exercise is an effective mechanism that absorbs glucose without the corresponding rise in insulin. And you don’t have to exercise a lot to realize these benefits. As long as you aren’t completely sedentary after consuming some sugar, any movement helps.

Behavioral change: take a 30-minute walk after every meal.

6. Pairing carbohydrates with protein or fat doesn’t affect the glucose response.

Surprisingly, one of the most common recommendations, that consuming carbs (e.g., fruit) with protein, healthy fat, or both can bring down the glycemic index of the carbohydrate-rich food, and have a positive effect on blood sugar, didn’t work for me.

E.g., a single banana would raise my glucose levels to 6.1 mmol/L / 110 mg/dL, and pairing it with nuts (cashews, Brazil nuts, almonds) has had the same effect. Adding avocado, olive oil, and seeds to a single serving of whole-grain pasta also didn’t make any difference.

Here’s an interesting article and a study if you want to dig deeper into this.

7. Maintaining stable glucose levels during the night is very important.

I’ve had a few nights when my blood sugar would drop dangerously low – to 2.5 mmol/L or 45 mg/dL. As a result, my sleep quality was terrible, waking up was a challenge even after 8 hours of sleep, and I wouldn’t have enough energy during the day.

Why would I have hypoglycemia episodes at night?

The first reason was Berberine which I take used to take instead of Metformin on my workout days. I knew that Berberine lowers blood glucose but didn’t know that it does that so much to cause hypoglycemia.

The second reason was high-carb dinners. All nights with the lowest blood sugar, aside from the Berberine episodes, were the ones when I had rice, pasta, pizza, or any other high-carbohydrate meal for dinner.

These high-carb dinners caused my glucose levels to crash in the middle of the night – my body was going into emergency mode to wake me up.

Behavioral change: I stopped eating high-carb dinners and taking Berberine in the evening.

Continuous glucose monitor is simultaneously a behavioral and analytical tool that can track and uncover strategies and tactics which can save lots of time and money by preventing bad outcomes in the future.

Just like Oura Ring and Apple Watch changed my behavior towards sleep and fitness, drastically improving the quality of my life as a result, CGM has become a remarkable food consumption accountability tool and helped to even further optimize my diet and lifestyle during these two weeks.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet, so everything in this article is a personal experience and not medical advice. Always do your own research and talk to your doctor before doing any health experiments.

The Best Books, Podcasts, Articles, and Videos of 2020

Every now and then, I send “The Curious Letter,” a short email with one book, one article, one podcast episode, and one video that I’ve enjoyed.

Thanks to travel restrictions, this year, I’ve read more books, articles, and papers, listened to more podcasts and audiobooks, and watched more videos than in any other year before that.

This post is a collection of the best three books, three podcast episodes, three articles, and three videos that I’d discovered in 2020, along with a few random things that made this year better.

I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.

? Top 3 Books of 2020

“The Psychology of Money” by Morgan Housel

This book’s premise is that doing well with money has a little to do with how smart you are and a lot to do with how you behave.

A genius who loses control of their emotions can be a financial disaster, while ordinary people with no financial education can be wealthy if they have a handful of behavioral skills that have nothing to do with formal measures of intelligence.

It’s short—only 19 straight to the point chapters—but very enjoyable read with lots of stories and examples illustrating just how weird and complicated our relationships with money are, and practical advice on how to make it easier.

“Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey

Wildly entertaining, remarkably wise, and candid, this memoir brings you on a philosophical and inspiring journey of McConaughey’s life.

“Greenlights” tell us to continue along our path, not only in traffic but also in life. Sometimes we come to red and yellow lights, but through a combination of luck, skill, and different point of view, you can make them “greenlights.”

Using beautifully profound and engaging life stories, the author looks back over the first 50 years of his life and illustrates how some of his red lights turned green and how he has always kept his eyes open for the next green light.

As McConaughey says at the end of the book, “I hope it can be useful and lend a hand if you need it, that it might teach you something, inspire you, make you laugh, remind you, help you forget, and arm you with some life tools to better march forward as more of yourself.” – and I can confirm that it does all that and more.

Highly recommend listening to McConaughey himself telling this incredible story in the audiobook.

“A Promised Land” by Barack Obama

If you enjoy memoirs and biographies, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading this one.

It’s incredibly beautifully written—I’ve highlighted numerous passages and phrases simply because it’s rare to see such a masterful command of the language in modern non-fiction books nowadays. From his years living in Indonesia to a school in South Carolina, the author evokes the sense of place with a light but sure hand.

This first of two volumes starts early in his life, giving a glimpse of the family values that were instilled in him, charting his initial political campaigns, and providing a rare insight into the decision-making process that the 44th President of the United States, his team, and his family went through during his years in the White House.

The President himself narrates the audiobook, so I highly recommend it.

Honorable mentions:

  • “Hell Yeah or No” by Derek Sivers
    “Thoughts around what’s worth doing, fixing faulty thinking, and making things happen.” This is one of those extremely rare books with zero fluff and full of great points that you want to highlight entire chapters.
  • “The Almanack of Naval Ravikant” by Eric Jorgenson
    This short book has probably the highest highlights and notes to a number of pages ratio in my library. I’ll certainly be returning to the chapter on happiness until I’m ready to write my own.
  • The audio version of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” narrated by Stephen Fry is absolutely phenomenal.

? Top 3 Podcast Episodes of 2020

The Tim Ferris Show – My Healing Journey
(Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket Casts)

I never feature The Tim Ferris Show in my newsletter, even though it is my all-time favorite podcast, simply because everyone listens to it anyway. This year, Tim has released so many truly great episodes (I’ve listed seven of them off the top of my mind while putting together this collection) that I had to include at least one in the top three.

While I immensely enjoyed Jim Collins‘ and Seth Godin‘s second appearances, was inspired by Dr. Martine Rothblatt, pleasantly surprised by Hugh Jackman and Matthew McConaughey, this episode is easily the most important one.

In this conversation with Debbie Millman, he describes the most life-shaping, the most difficult, and the most transformative journey of his 43 years on this planet.

It puts your own childhood traumas into perspective, helps to realize that there is light on the other side, and that deep, lasting change is possible. I believe that the next decade will finally be the decade when mental health gets the attention and openness it deserves, and this episode might be just the tipping point.

Lex Fridman Podcast – Dan Carlin: Hardcore History
(Apple PodcastsSpotifyYouTube)

I love it when my favorite podcasters appear as guests on some of my other favorite shows.

Dan Carlin (@HardcoreHistory) is a historian and political thinker, and I’ve enjoyed listening to his “Harcore History” podcast for years (the “Supernova in the East” series made it my top 3 list last year).

Lex Fridman (@lexfridman) is an AI researcher at MIT, a great thinker, and the previous guests of his podcast (formerly called the Artificial Intelligence podcast) included Elon Musk, Stephen Wolfram, Jack Dorsey, Ray Dalio, Eric Schmidt, and many more incredible human beings.

In this wide-ranging conversation, they discuss ideologies of the US, the Soviet Union, and China, who was the greatest leader in history, what role violence plays in human civilization, trying to answer the questions of whether we will always have war, what is the future of podcasting, and much more.

Invest Like the Best – Nick Kokonas – Know What You Are Selling
(Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket Casts)

I think that Nick Kokonas is one of the most interesting people alive.

He is the co-founder of Alinea Group, including Alinea (named the Best Restaurant in America and Best Restaurant in The World), Next, Roister, and The Aviary NYC. He spent a decade as a derivatives trader, has co-written three books, and believes in radical transparency in markets and business.

There are so many gems in this episode that even if you’re not interested in restaurants, you’ll find lots of valuable business and life lessons.

You’ll learn why restaurants and even book publishers can be great businesses if you do them in the right way, why it’s so important to own something, the importance of taking the right risks, and much more.

Honorable mentions:

  • My First Million Podcast – even though it’s difficult to pinpoint a single episode, I’ve listened to almost every one of them this year. If you’re into business and ideas, you’ll like these casual discussions between Shaan and Sam about business opportunities.
  • Venture Stories – Building Mind-Controlled Bionic Arms with Tyler Hayes (Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket Casts). If this episode doesn’t inspire you to start working on something meaningful and fundamental, I don’t know what else might.
  • Business Wars Podcast (Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket Casts). This series goes into the stories of some of the greatest wars in business, such as Blockbuster vs. Netflix, Boeing vs. Airbus, and Sony vs. Nintendo — what drives these companies and their leaders, inventors, investors, and executives to new heights — or to ruin. I’ve learned countless lessons from listening to this podcast, and I highly recommend it.

? Top 3 Articles I’ve Read in 2020

Solitude and Leadership by William Deresiewicz

“If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts.”

This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read.

The author argues that solitude is one of the most important necessities of true leadership.

He starts by explaining what leadership truly means, talks about bureaucracies, why there’s a crisis of leadership in America and what to do about that, how to learn to think for yourself, and why multitasking is a terrible thing. He then explains the true meaning of solitude and why there would be no America without it.

68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice by Kevin Kelly

The timeless wisdom of the founding editor of Wired magazine and author of the famous 1,000 True Fans theory in 68 bits that he has shared on his 68th birthday.

Some of my favorites:

“The universe is conspiring behind your back to make you a success. This will be much easier to do if you embrace this pronoia.”

“When someone is nasty, rude, hateful, or mean with you, pretend they have a disease. That makes it easier to have empathy toward them, which can soften the conflict.”

“Don’t be the best. Be the only.”

100 Things I Learned in 10 Years and 100 Reads of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations by Ryan Holiday

“Meditations” was one of the “quake books” for Ryan Holiday, just as it was for me back in 2015, shaking everything we thought we knew about the world.

In this article, Ryan reflects on what he has learned in ten years, with one of the greatest and most unique pieces of literature ever created.

Honorable mentions:

Top 3 Videos I’ve Seen in 2020

Space: The Final Business Frontier

This mini-documentary is a part of a great series, “Gian Leap” produced by Bloomberg — the stories about entrepreneurs and visionaries taking that next Giant Leap and developing the entirely new industries in space.

It pairs well with the “Moon Shot” series, which explores some of the breakthroughs scientists are striving to achieve across multiple disciplines.

What Just Happened? by Casey Neistat

“So I woke up this morning, a 38-year-old guy, who is married and has three kids. When did that happen?”

In this important, and, as always, an incredibly high-quality video, Casey reminds us that time is not equal – the older you get, the faster it moves, and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might just miss it.

Richard Feynman: Fun to Imagine

Professor Richard Feynman is one of my biggest heroes. He was the greatest example of how someone can play the game of life and have fun while being one of the smartest and most accomplished people on the planet.

He was known as the ‘great explainer’ due to his ability to help non-scientists imagine something of the beauty and order of the universe as he saw it.

In this series, aired on BBC2 in July 1983, Feynman looks at the mysterious forces that make ordinary things happen and, in doing so, answers questions about why rubber bands are stretchy, why tennis balls can’t bounce forever and what you really see when you look in the mirror.

Honorable mentions:

  • You Will Never Do Anything Remarkable by exurb1a.
    “The greats didn’t know they were greats. They were just mortal humans who refused to bow to cynicism.”
    In this video, exurb1a talks about a few fascinating and remarkable people, including Sergei Korolev, who was grossly mistreated during his lifetime and largely still untalked of today, and Ignaz Semmelweis, who was an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures but was ridiculed by the medical community. He then explores what makes a great person of history and why you can definitely be one of them.
    “If one is cautious about pursuing an unusual path, it may help to remember that the cynics will be forgotten just as readily as your failures will be, too.”
  • The Future of Bioelectricity by Nasjaq
  • How Rockets Are Made — Rocket Factory Tour — United Launch Alliance

✨ Random things that made my year

  • TV: The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix, Ted Lasso on Apple TV+, and Soul on Disney+ were the best things I’ve seen on TV this year.
  • Fitness: Rowing after the Hugh Jackman’s recommendation, Power Abs programs by Kari Pearce (Fittest American Woman ‘18 & ‘19), a modified hanging challenge, and the resistance bands training were the highlights of everything I’ve tried.
  • Health: I easily quit caffeine for a few months, learned that the weight loss on intermittent fasting comes more from muscle mass than fat mass, have finally done the Viome Health Intelligence test, dove into biotech and longevity in particular, and continued my multi-year streak of not catching the flu.
  • Travel: Even though there were fewer trips in 2020 than in any other year since 2012, I was lucky enough to explore a beautiful island of Sri Lanka with my family before the pandemic hit, spend my birthday in a gorgeous Casa de Calhariz estate (my new favorite place in Portugal), and get the taste of country living in the most picturesque suburb of Noordhoek in South Africa.
  • Products: My extremely tedious quest of finding the most comfortable pair of shoes is finally over, thanks to Atoms. And the most comfortable office chair award, as well as thanks from my back, go to AKRacing.
  • Learning: Decision by Design by Shane Parrish, The Biggest Ideas in the Universe by Caltech physicist Sean Carroll, and MITx: 16.00x Introduction to Aerospace Engineering were the most impactful courses I’ve taken this year.

That’s all for this year. You can find my collection of the best things from the previous year here: The Best Books, Podcasts, Articles, and Products Of 2019.

What were the best books, podcasts, articles, and videos that you discovered in 2020?

Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

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3 Questions to Improve Your Everyday Life

The quality of questions you’re asking yourself determines the quality of your life.

You may not be aware of it, but you’re asking yourself hundreds if not thousands of questions every single day. Most of them direct our intentions, focus, and energy.

Questions can open our minds or close them. They can lead our energy toward positive ideas or help us to form negative, limiting beliefs.

Today, I want to share my three favorite questions with you that I ask myself multiple times a day. Questions that improved my focus, productivity, and quality of everyday life.

The first question helps me catch myself when I’d go astray and do easy things that don’t matter instead of focusing on what’s important.

Every time I start working on something, I ask myself:

1. Is this essential?

Remember that time when you knew you should be doing that one thing that actually mattered and moved the needle, like launching that ad campaign, making that phone call, or signing that client. Still, instead, you’d be “productively” procrastinating by researching, thinking about the best ways to do that thing, or creating dashboards in Notion. It’s okay; we’ve all been there.

The question “Is this essential?” gives you clarity, saves time, and makes it easier to achieve your end goal.

The second question I like to ask first thing in the morning, and it works as a reminder throughout the day.

2. What’s the most important thing for the day?

The concept comes from Peter Thiel – co-founder of PayPal, Palantir, Founders Fund, and one of the most interesting people alive.

At PayPal, he’d give everyone a single thing to focus on, only one problem to solve.

Most people tend to procrastinate on the most important and very difficult to solve A+ problems and work on B+ problems instead. So I ask myself, “what’s the one thing on my endless to-do list, that if I accomplished it today, would make the entire day a success?“.

Then I’d focus only on that thing until it’s done. And if after that I have time to tackle the second most important thing – great, I’d do that, and if not – the day is still a success, and I’d feel great about it.

The third question is all about peace of mind.

How often do you catch yourself thinking about some offhand comment that someone has made about you or your work? Going on and on in your mind about the fight that you’ve had with your friend or coworker? Or just getting angry about a canceled flight or a traffic jam?

Whenever I find myself in that downward spiral, I ask a simple question:

3. How am I going to feel about this in 15 minutes? 15 days? 15 years?

Answering this question helps me to almost immediately let go of what seemed to be an important problem that occupied all of my headspace just a second ago. And it works 100% of the time.

You’re not even going to remember that missed flight in 15 years, let alone care about it, so what’s the point of getting all worked up about it now?

Asking yourself helpful questions is great, but how do you remember to do that?

I’m a big fan of sticky notes, and I have a few of them with these questions, along with a few reminders around my workspace. So I’d actually see the questions multiple times a day without the need of reminding myself to ask them. You could also create a wallpaper for your phone or even a browser extension asking you a question whenever you open a new tab. That’d work just as well.

These questions gave me an entirely new perspective not just on my day but on my life, and I hope they’ll help you too.

What are some of your favorite questions that you ask yourself regularly? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

How to Quit Caffeine Without Withdrawal Symptoms

I’ve been drinking coffee every day for the past 15 years.

8 days ago, I stopped, fully expecting massive caffeine withdrawal with headaches, fatigue, decreased blood pressure, etc. – every symptom that I had before even if I skip only a day.

Imagine my surprise when there was none of it: no sluggishness, no headaches, but the same great energy levels and ability to focus.

How on earth did that happen?

One word: adaptogens.

I’ve been adding a mix of adaptogens to my morning cup of coffee – Chaga, Reishi, Moringa, Tulsi, Ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng, Amla, Rhodiola, and Schisandra – for a month before quitting cold turkey.

Here’s why that worked.

The caffeine molecule is structurally similar to our brain’s adenosine, which protects us by slowing nerve cell activity, and basically tells the brain when it’s time to rest or sleep.

Due to its similar structure, the adenosine receptors get blocked with caffeine molecules, keeping them from signaling tiredness. The excess adenosine then signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormone), even further increasing your alertness. In other words, by consuming caffeine, you are deliberately putting your body in a stressed state.

After a while, your brain adds more adenosine receptors to compensate for the caffeine, which results in a so-called “caffeine tolerance,” i.e., you need more coffee to get the same effect.

Caffeine also indirectly increases the amount of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good) and serotonin (a natural mood stabilizer) in your brain by blocking their reabsorption into your body. This is why caffeine is addictive. You get used to the elevated dopamine and serotonin levels and miss them without a caffeine boost.

So when you skip your morning coffee, your brain gets flooded with adenosine, the dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain drop, and, as a result, the brain’s chemistry becomes unbalanced, leading to all those nasty caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

This is where the adaptogens come to the rescue.

Adaptogens are natural compounds and plant extracts that help normalize your body’s functions under stress and have been used for thousands of years in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.

They help your body to “adapt” (hence the name) to resist better physical stressors like exercise or mental stressors like studying.

Adaptogens also reduce mental fatigue, improve physical endurance and stress resistance, help with workout recovery and anxiety disorders.

When used correctly, adaptogenic herbs normalize your body’s functions rather than stimulate or suppress them.

While caffeine destabilizes your brain’s chemistry leading to withdrawal symptoms without another dose, adaptogens help to balance it out, so you can quit drinking coffee without the consequences.

If that wasn’t enough, Ashwagandha, Schisandra, Eleutherococcus, and ginseng have been shown to extend the life span in some animals, and Rhodiola to strengthen the endocrine system, including the thyroid and adrenal glands (the same ones that caffeine is tricking into releasing extra cortisol).

Some people are concerned by the scarce of scientific research, but the beauty of adaptogens is that they have been proven remedies in human trials for at least a few thousand years.

Excitement, Passion, and Disgust

How often do we find ourselves in a perpetual quest to discover something that excites us, something that we are passionate about?

The curious thing is that you can make yourself get excited about virtually anything. Once you realize that, the concept of “passion” becomes arbitrary.

The more excited you are about something -> the easier it is to learn about -> the easier it is to do -> the better you are at it -> the more excited you are about it. It’s a self-reinforcing loop.

By that logic, it is possible to use the excitement to get boring and tedious stuff done.

Don’t want to do taxes? Get excited about taxes. Don’t want to do the chores? Get excited about the chores.

The easiest way to get excited about a subject that you want to work on, chores, or habits you want to form is to over celebrate every time you do them.

Do boring stuff -> over celebrate it to get dopamine rush -> feel good about doing boring stuff -> get excited about doing it again.
That’s where the first loop kicks in if you’re using it to get excited about something you want to work on.

You can easily reverse this concept and use it to break bad habits.

If you want to break a bad habit or stop consuming something – sugar, coffee, alcohol, etc. – simply change your perception of it. Where the head goes, the body follows, and our perceptions precede actions.

We don’t do something that we don’t enjoy, let alone something that disgusts us. Let’s say spiders disgust you. You wouldn’t pet one every day or even enjoy looking at it, would you? Yet, what is this feeling of disgust towards spiders if not a simple matter of perception about them in your mind? After all, they are not that different from many other living creatures that we feel indifferent or even affectionate about.

If you can feel disgusted towards spiders, you can cultivate the same feeling towards anything else, including your bad habits.

One way to do that is by first learning about your bad habit’s negative effects and then vividly picturing those horrible effects every time you repeat that habit. Do that enough times, and these vivid images will begin to associate with the product/action, changing your perception. For example, when I stopped eating processed sugar, I’d anchored the image of clogged arteries to any product that contained it. Now, I don’t see a donut, but a clogged artery, making it difficult for me to want to eat it.

If it’s difficult for you to play with imagination, the other way is deliberate overconsumption. You could buy five chocolate bars, a couple of cakes, a pint of ice cream, a bottle of soda, and eat them all at once. You’d feel absolutely horrible afterward, which is perfect. Anchor that feeling, write it down in vivid detail, play it in your head, hammer it into your head. Then recall this feeling any time you’d have a sugar craving. Don’t eat sugar? Great. This method works for any other bad habit, just as well.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of how our minds and behavior can be shaped in almost any way we want. If there are any thoughts, believes, actions, or habits that are impossible to change, I have yet to find them.

The Point of Diminishing Returns in Life

Have you heard the story of Tyler Cowen in an ice cream shop? It’s a very short one, and I love it.

Once at an ice cream shop, Tyler asked for the very smallest size of chocolate ice cream, but even the small one was too big. Then he asked for the sample size, had three bites, and got to the point of diminishing returns on his ice cream.

Most of the value of consumption is either memory or anticipation.

Simply by choosing sample size, you’d get both – anticipation of ice cream and memory of eating it – but no negative effects of eating too much.
In other words, you’d get the maximum value at the lowest possible price.

If you think about it, it works not only for consumption but also in many other areas of life.

You don’t need to push 400 pounds at the gym. After a certain point, adding more weight not only won’t increase the health benefits of exercising but will hurt your body.

You don’t need to make that extra billion dollars. (Unless you’re using it to send people to Mars, in which case, go right ahead). After a certain point, adding more work would only hut other areas of your life while decreasing the value of having more money.

Will visiting that 71st country on your list add any more value to your life? Probably not.

Before starting anything, find your point of diminishing returns and make a decision not to go over it. Get the maximum value at the lowest possible price.

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

Every Friday, 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 masterpieces in their own right, “Peace Is Every Step” has had more impact 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, 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.”


“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

I’m a sleep nerd. I genuinely believe that a good night’s sleep is a foundation for 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.

I’d struggled with chronic insomnia for most of my adult life, but now I’m falling asleep in 5 minutes, waking up without the alarm, and my sleep score is almost always above 85.

Oura Ring Sleep and Readiness Scores

This results from years of continuous experimentation to optimize my sleep, and here’s everything that actually helped me:

1. Keep 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, which will, ironically, ruin your sleep. For me, the perfect window is from 10 pm to 11 pm. You’ll have to find your own “perfect window” 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.

2. Don’t use a 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).

3. Use blue-light-blocking glasses & 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. 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 love it.

4. No screens in the bedroom and at least an hour before sleep.

My bedroom is a strictly screen-free zone. No phones, tablets, laptops, or TVs are 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 you get from your devices keeps your mind engaged and tricks 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 the 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.

5. Avoid caffeine after 12 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 that the caffeine molecule is similar in shape to the adenosine molecule, a neurotransmitter. It plays a significant role in the 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 12 pm.

6. Exercise any time during the day but at least a few hours before bed.

I’ve found that any type of high-intensity exercise, especially running, during the day does wonders for my HRV. Although, you should avoid very late high-intensity exercise 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 to normal.

7. Read a fiction book before falling asleep.

Reading a fiction book in bed before sleep has become one of my favorite rituals. I think that non-fiction business books before bed stimulate your thought process, and you end up dwelling on your daytime problems. 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. Bonus points if it’s a physical copy so that you wouldn’t stare at a screen.

8. Meditate before going to bed.

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

9. Drink chamomile tea with honey and apple cider vinegar.

I got this recipe from Tim Ferris, and it does work as a tranquilizer for me as well. Chamomile tea contains apigenin which helps to lower anxiety levels, and vinegar improves your blood sugar and insulin levels.

10. Take 200-400mg of magnesium 30 minutes before sleep.

I take all of my supplements in the morning except for magnesium, which I’ve found better taken in the evening before sleep. I mostly choose Glycinate or L-Threonate because they are absorbed more easily, while Citrate is considered to have a laxative effect. After a particularly stressful day, I combine it with 200mg of L-Theanine.

Magnesium blocks the activity of more stimulating neurotransmitters and binds to calming receptors, and theanine activates the GABA system, which reduces the activity of the neurons.

11. Maintain a healthy diet and don’t eat after 7 pm.

Nutritionists 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, preventing problems like heartburn and insomnia. Eating also prompts the release of insulin, which plays a huge role in shifting your circadian rhythm.

Bear in mind that nothing from this list would work without a healthy diet. That is, at a minimum, no processed sugars, no junk food, and no alcohol. And speaking of alcohol,

12. Avoid alcohol.

Unfortunately, many people falsely believe that alcohol helps them sleep better because it works as a sedative. What they don’t realize is that alcohol significantly affects the quality of their sleep.

Soon after falling asleep, your body enters a period of deep sleep, when it restores itself physically. Then, a typical sleep cycle includes REM sleep – the mentally restorative stage.

When your body is sedated with alcohol, it can’t reach these restorative stages of sleep because it has to process alcohol in its system instead, and you spend most of your night getting a lot of light sleep, which isn’t nearly as beneficial. So even if you sleep for 8+ hours after a few drinks, you will not wake up feeling rested and recovered.

13. Stay hydrated.

The better hydrated you are, the easier it is for your blood to circulate and deliver nutrients and oxygen to your body. Proper hydration improves HRV, resting heart rate, recovery, and thermoregulation; it helps lubricate joints, remove waste, and prevent infections.

The recommendations for how much water to drink per day vary, but the rule of thumb is ~1 ounce of water for every pound of your weight (or ~70 ml per 1 kg).

14. Keep an optimal room temperature.

You’ll 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.

15. Fix the underlying problem.

Many people recommend using weighted blankets and CBD oil because they help with anxiety, which in turn makes falling asleep easier. I haven’t used them because they address the symptom – anxiety – instead of fixing the underlying problem that causes it.

These underlying issues are different for everyone, but the most common ones are stress at work/school, relationship issues, emotional traumas, financial stress, and medical illnesses.

If you want a temporary bandaid to simply help you through a few nights, then sure, CBD oil and weighted blankets will help. But if you want to improve your sleep once and for all, then you’ll have to fix that problem that causes your anxiety.

Sleep tips for traveling.

How to preserve your established circadian rhythm when you travel and change time zones?

There’s a 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. 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 nighttime at your destination, even if it’s 10 am your current time.

My recipe for easily falling asleep on the plane:

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

Once you reach your destination, 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 eliminate jet lag.

Book, podcast, and gadget recommendations.

People often ask me for books, podcasts, and gadget recommendations, so here’s a special list of everything sleep-related that can help you to sleep better and, as a result, have a better life.


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

Many 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). In his book, the key point that Walker makes is that you need at least 8 hours of sleep:

“After being awake for nineteen hours, sleep-deprived people 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 in raising general awareness of the importance of sleep in recent years, which is all that matters.

After you finished “Why We Sleep,” read the essay “Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’ Is Riddled with Scientific and Factual Errors” by Alexey Guzey.

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

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


  • Peter Attia, M.D. and Matt Walker, Ph.D., go in-depth on sleep, different stages and cycles, the dangers of chronic sleep deprivation, REM vs. non-REM sleep roles, and much more. So 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:

  • Oura Ring – as far as I know, this is the best and the most accurate consumer-level sleep tracker currently available on the market. Yes, it’s far from perfect, but this is the best option if you don’t have access to a sleep lab. 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 sleep at a glance.
  • Manta Sleep Mask – the best sleep mask that I’ve tested so far (and I’ve tested quite a few of them). It’s highly adjustable, ridiculously comfortable, and offers 100% blackout.
  • Philips wake-up light alarm clock with sunrise simulation – I’ve mentioned this before, but will say this again – you shouldn’t use alarm clocks, but if you do, use this one instead of the annoying sound-based alarms because they shock you into waking up, leading to sleep inertia.
  • The Pod Pro / Cover by Eight Sleep – this is an entire sleep optimization system packed into a mattress. If you and your partner have different optimal sleep temperature preferences, you can easily set your own temperature for each side of the bed. Combine it with sleep tracking and a premium memory foam, and you’ll get an ultimate biohacker’s mattress.
  • White noise machine – I tend to stay in quiet places, but the white noise machine can be a lifesaver if you have a noisy household. It creates a sound that remains consistent across all hearable frequencies, which creates a masking effect that blocks out the sudden changes in noise that can cause you to wake up during the night – the snoring, dog barking, or 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 to see what each of them does to your sleep.

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]!

Oversaturated Markets Are A Myth

One of the 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 the 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 you can 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? Then, 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 past five years, I’ve traveled to over thirty different countries and lived for at least a month in each of them. 

Many people 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, and I’m not eating the supposedly safe food I’m used to.

Rather, I’m always trying to immerse myself into the local culture: learn at least a few words in a 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 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, their religion, and which language 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 open some new and unexpected sides of your personality. 

I noticed that language has an enormous influence on people’s character. The more facial muscles you need to engage in speaking 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 it 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 many 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 – 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 if it doesn’t work out. 

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

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

8. Experiences you have around the world can completely reform your whole identity. 

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 regularly, 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, making 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 disappointment because the ridiculously unrealistic pictures won’t exaggerate your expectations for some places.

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 it 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. 

Many 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 you 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 you are 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. Remember that you can always come back or 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 continuously travel, 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 and watch a bunch of 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 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 you can 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. 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,

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