10 Slightly Odd Things I Want To Do
Life is too short to stick to a few well-known things and follow a path laid out for you by others. I've always felt that with such a puny serving of breathable days on this rock, it's worth throwing yourself into new, crazy-esque (or even full-blown crazy) things. In doing so we find new ideas, better habits, fresh perspectives, and if nothing more, we get to watch ourselves continually be challenged and see ourselves grow and improve.
For me this philosophy has always given me energy and purpose, especially when there's "favorable asymmetry" (to use a Taleb-ian expression), when the risk of things going horribly wrong has had its lunch stolen every day this week by the chance that some crazy pursuit might just meet any of the above criteria.
So with that said, this post is a list of at least 10 slightly odd things I want to do (or have recently done) in pursuit of the above. Hopefully it provokes a few ideas, or failing that, substantiates to a reasonably high degree the claim that I'm not sleeping enough.
1. Move out of a season
It's not unusual to move out of apartments, cities, and sometimes even the country we live in. So, why not seasons? For people who live in places that have miserable winters, or extreme summers, why not move out of a season?
The positive effects of the pandemic in terms of remote/hybrid work have made something like this doable for the kind of people, like me, who'd happily forget that the British winter ever existed in the first place – which is, of course, only theoretically possible due to its steadfast reoccurrence every summer.
I'm happy to report that I did this during Winter 2021/2022. I moved to the Canary Islands for 3.5 months, returning to a not-too-shabby Spring... so far. I'm not the kind of person who's severely affected by seasonal miseries, but when the sun is shining on a blue-sky day I feel significantly happier and more positive. Almost every single day was like that in the Canaries, and I intend for this to become my new annual habit.
2. Spend an extended amount of time without my first language
It's widely accepted that the original (strong) form of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is a step too far – language doesn't entirely determine or constrain how we think. A weaker version of the ideas, however, are much more likely to be true. In some cases, the weaker version has already been shown to be true.
Different languages can make us think about different things. We pay attention to things in one language that we might not in another. Some people think about time differently, while others develop very specific abilities such as knowing where they're facing due to placement in the language being relative to the world instead of the speaker. Lera Boroditsky's talk on this subject is excellent, if you're curious.
I've always thought it would be exciting to leave behind English and live with another language for a while. Would the other language make me think, behave, or feel different? Charlemagne famously said "to have another language is to possess a second soul" – could I sell just one to the devil and keep the other? Would my ability in the language, due to absolute necessity, rapidly improve? All of those questions intrigue me. What sort of effect would doing something like this have on me?
During the pandemic I moved to Barcelona for 3 months. You're probably asking "Hold on a sweet god damned minute, how did you learn Spanish/Catalan quickly enough?" Oh, you weren't? Well, the answer to your regretfully nonexistent question is that, while in Barcelona, I spoke only in Esperanto. Yes, you're right – the constructed language consisting of completely regular grammar made up by a Polish ophthalmologist in 1887. What do you mean you didn't say that? This is getting silly now.
My level of Esperanto was reasonable having started learning a couple of years before. During that time I met lots of new Esperanto-speaking friends from all over the world – some who spoke little-to-no English. Many of them happen to live in Barcelona, and so I moved there specifically to spend time with them. Among us Esperanto was the common language, with everyone speaking it to a good degree. I did, of course, also very occasionally use the words con, café and leche, but not necessarily in that order.
It was an awesome experience. The first, and most predictable result is that my Esperanto ability grew to be fluent within a really short period of time (maybe after the first month). I began having dreams in the language. I used the language to discuss everything from shopping, making plans, etc. to drunkenly discussing politics, philosophy and dealing with intimate relationships. Thoughts now flow from my brain and elbuŝiĝi (to come out of the mouth) in Esperanto with no effort, and with no English layer acting as a translator or intermediary. It was such a cool experience that I did it all over again 6 months later and returned for 2 months.
Unexpected results? A few people have told me I now sound Spanish when speaking Esperanto. A few people think I'm weird. A few people are right.
3. Eat the same food every day for one month
Was that a rhetorically groaned "why?" or a real one? Let's go with real.
I began thinking about trying this as a result of a series of thoughts and conversations about how much the modern diet has changed in such a small timeframe. Considering the amount of sugar, simple carbohydrates, and all the other synthetic compounds we eat, it worries me that our bodies are being asked to do something they're not best evolved to do.
Food supply in most parts of the modern Western world is so abundant that we can overconsume very easily. Add to that marketing and every other capitalistic mechanic to lower the cost of food (often the worst food) as well as manipulate us into the idea that we really need it ("breakfast is the most important meal of the day!") and it's no surprise it works. We overconsume. We eat a huge variety of things that create unpredictable and complex digestive, gut, and energy systems in our bodies.
And so I arrived at the question "how would I feel if I ate only the same food every single day for a month?" The two daily meals would have to be selected very carefully to balance macro nutrient needs and to provide the right balance of energy, while consisting of natural, healthy sources of food.
How stable would my digestion become? Would hunger become more predictable? Would my energy levels become very stable? Would I have more daily focus with such a simple eating routine? My gut feeling (see what I did there?) is that adaptation to many different food sources creates imbalance, as well as other potential health issues, where my body is striving to find and maintain stasis. I think it could be a challenging but interesting experiment.
4. Hit a 2x bodyweight bench press
Anyone who knows me well knows that if I'm not typing there's a good chance it's because I'm holding a bar. No, not "onto a bar". That was one time! Having a strict training routine and pushing myself to my physical limits has been an important aspect of my life for a while now. To read more about my thoughts on the gym, follow this lovely hyperlink that I was able to create thanks to Tim Berners-Lee.
While strength isn't my only focus, getting stronger is a great feeling. It's also a useful measuring stick for your progress over a longer period of time. Year on year, for example, I expect to see obvious improvements in strength if I'm training consistently and properly throughout.
The bench press is one of the four major compounds (along with deadlifts, squats and overhead press). For those in regular training, strength tends to correlate well with body weight, so measuring the weight you can move according to your own weight is a good way to measure your relative strength.
Achieving a 1x bodyweight lift is a huge achievement. Anyone should be proud of a 1x. 2x is a whole different level. To put it into perspective, the current raw bench press world record holder, Julius Maddox, pressed 355 kg last year. He weighs 200 kg, making his world record a 1.78x bodyweight press. At lower weight categories there are people who've surpassed 3x!
I'm way off a 2x, sitting around 1.5x right now, but each year of consistent effort and improvement gets me closer. Perhaps at 1.75x I'll begin training specifically to hit the 2x. The fact it's such a big goal from where I am today is exactly why I'm so motivated to try to achieve it. However, it being such a big goal means it'll take me a while to report progress on this one, unless it comes via the obituaries.
5. Breathe only through my nose for a month
The nose isn't just an alternative means for our face to take in air. Air breathed in via the nose is conditioned, which simply doesn't happen via mouth breathing.
Air breathed through the nose is just cooler. Not literally, of course. Everyone knows it's actually warmed and moistened, which is important for optimal function of the lungs. Not to mention that large particles are blocked from entering the lungs by nasal hair. If that isn't enough to get you excited, nasal breathing also causes the nose to add nitric oxide – the 1992 winner of Molecule of the Year – to your incoming air, improving everything from oxygen uptake and blood pressure to physical performance during exercise.
I try to remind myself regularly of the schnoz's superiority, breathing through my own most of the time. Having said that, maintaining such strict breathing as to never sneak a gulp via the southern alternative is harder than it sounds. In the gym and during sleep, for example, would require more effort to ensure I keep my mouth shut – something I've been known to struggle with.
I'm curious how I would feel after an extended period of time with strict nasal breathing, including during exercise and sleep (via creatively bankrupt product names such as "mouth tape").
Would I get sick less often? Would I feel better in general? Would gym performance improve with added nitric oxide during heavier respiration? Would I accidentally digest mouth tape? I'll report back once I can open my mouth again.
6. Live in Asia for an extended period of time
Having grown up in the UK and also spent time living in other parts of Europe, I'm very aware that my experience and perspectives are heavily influenced by western life and thinking. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but new perspectives challenge you, they let you ask things you never even thought were questions before, and by exposing yourself to such things, I believe you can grow much more as a person, as a soul.
Asia interests me because so much is different at the same time. Culture, food, society and language are all sufficiently different. Each one of those changes would slap me right in the face (possibly even a few people), and even if in only small ways, would surely also lead to change within myself.
As Twain said well, "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness", and he certainly wasn't talking about a weekend getaway at the Bellagio.
7. Write fiction
I don't read much fiction and I've certainly never written any (as long as we exclude my dating bio).
I'm the kind of person who while playing a video game constantly thinks about how all the bits are created and how it all works seamlessly together. I'm always trying to deconstruct the thing in my mind, which has the helpful side effect of forcing me to appreciate the creativity in even the simplest parts.
I do the same thing with books, pondering how the protagonist's untimely death-by-door-handle-impaling came to exist in the author's perfectly healthy mind.
I've always thought that trying to make something like this myself would be a lot of fun. Having a big blank canvas to invent characters, plots, twists and turns feels like it would be a fun and hugely creative endeavour.
During the last lockdown here in the UK I decided to throw some of my extra free time at this goal. By pure coincidence I learned about a writing competition to pen a short story (fiction or reality) on the theme "Covid 19: how did it change us?"
I wrote a novella named “La Brakumklubo” (The Hug Club) which has a few nice plot twists and surprises. It's set in a dystopian future where all physical contact, as well as other dangerous things, are completely banned.
It was a lot of fun to think up the plot, and then evolve it as I went along. Adding to the challenge was the fact that I wrote it in Esperanto, which turned out to be a delightful experience. It's remarkable how expressive you can be with the complete confidence that words and expressions you're inventing will be understood. It allowed for a lot of play and creativity in the writing.
And best of all, I found out this week that La Brakumklubo has been selected to appear in a book later in the year. I'm very happy with this experiment, and may even do it again sometime.
8. Go to bed and wake up at the exact same time for one month
My current sleep routine, to describe it delicately, is a fucking bonfire.
Sleep is important, and I insist on getting enough of it. I get at least 8 hours, sometimes 9 hours every day. I'm not missing out on sleep, but to call it a sleep "pattern" could be considered a crime according to the OED.
The body tends to work better with routine and stability in general, and our ability to sleep is linked to another really important routine – the day. Our bodies are fundamentally linked to the rhythm of a day, with the brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus coordinating the circadian rhythm across every part of the body from hormone levels to digestion.
The body expects to sleep at certain times and I do not stick to those times. It really would not shock me to find out that my suprachiasmatic nucleus has been subtweeting about me.
I'd like to try following a very strict routine of going to bed and waking up precisely at a given time. With enough time, I'd like to know whether the extra stability, in line with what my body is trying to do naturally, would make me feel better in some way. Our reasons for sleep aren't well-understood in science beyond some basic observations of what happens, so this one feels like it could be important in ways we don't yet fully appreciate.
9. Experience some deliberate professional convergence
In my professional career so far I've worked with lots of different, awesome people. Over time, but not often, you run into people you just really work well with, have huge respect for, and share career-defining experiences with. What also inevitably happens is that your paths later diverge. You move on, go to work at different companies, and possibly never work with those people again.
When I try to imagine who I'd hire if I started a successful company, these people immediately come to mind. In a heartbeat I know exactly who I'd love to work with again, and how awesome it'd be to create a small team and do meaningful work with them again.
This has only happened once so far, by complete chance. It seems unlikely it'll happen often because the world is just too big, and the kind of people I'm talking about often like to make their own paths after a certain point.
Perhaps only by starting a company and tempting those brilliant people to join me could it really happen the way I imagine. One way or the other, I'd really like this to happen again some day.
10. Not speak for one month
This is just to give everyone else a well-deserved rest.
The real reason I want to try this is because it's not something you'd do otherwise. We speak all the time. Whether you're a remote worker or office-based, out with friends, with your family, conversation is a huge part of day-to-day life. That makes me wonder what it'd be like if it wasn't.
There are some fairly big challenges with this one. How would I order coffee? How would I work? What if someone calls me? What if I stub my toe, or hear "My Money don't Jiggle Jiggle" one more damn time? Despite the challenges, I'd really like to try this one and I think it would be doable with some planning.
What would happen? Would not using spoken language mean the voice in my head becomes somehow clearer, or in some way more prevalent? Would the fact my mouth is no longer live-decoding my direct thoughts mean I thought more slowly, deliberately or clearly?
I feel like this one could lead to some really interesting results. Not to mention the feeling of speaking for the first time after a month of silence.