When I first started traveling back in 2009, I asked the folks reading my blog to vote on which country I should go to.
The idea was partially to get others involved in the decision-making process because I thought it would be a fun and novel way of getting them to think about where they might want to go.
The primary purpose behind this country-choosing method, though, was to randomize the process of home base selection, for me.
I had never left the US before, and I knew my knowledge of other places was incredibly finite. That’s why I wanted travel, but I knew it could also limit what I was capable of learning while traveling, because I might choose to go places that were squarely within my existing comfort zone.
I believe we’re all capable of learning anything we might want to learn, but also aware that our current, subjective perspectives can keep us from taking the right paths, discovering the right data, and experiencing the things we need to experience in order to puncture our experiential bubbles and see things from new angles.
We’re confined by our understandings and positions, and that confinement can obscure or conceal things that exist beyond our worldview and current comprehension.
Randomization, in my experience, is one of the better ways to break through such barriers. It can help us pull away from our norms and habits and comfort zones—as long as we use it intentionally.
A couple of notes on what I mean by the intentional utilization of randomization:
First, it means being aware that mere exposure to something new doesn’t guarantee we’ll perceive, acknowledge, or benefit from it.
I’ve had to learn to gauge when I’m in the proper state of mind for this kind of exploration, because sometimes I want familiar and comforting things, not (seemingly) risky and unknown things.
I’m most likely to go into “explore” mode after a period of being led by the “exploit” mindset (where I double-down on previous explorations, learning more about the things I already know about and have seen and done); my brain wants novelty to spice all the certainty, and I’ve learned that’s a good moment to go whole-hog and try nothing but new things for a while.
When I’m feeling tired, worn out, psychologically vulnerable, or in some other way not in a state in which I have excess energy to cope with the potential downsides of exploration of this kind, I can sometimes force enthusiasm for it, but it’s generally not as beneficial: my brain isn’t primed to take it in, to assess it appropriately, and to judge it by standards that are meaningful for the thing being judged.
Also important to note is that sometimes you’ll be disappointed, and the ideal stance to take is that even a disappointment is interesting and can be educational and illustrative.
Randomization’s role in this type of experiential expansion, then, is that it creates a means by which we can try new things without having to know about those things, first.
I could decide to try a bunch of new foods that are permutations of things I’ve had before, and that might be valuable. But if I’ve never had Ethiopian cuisine before, it’s unlikely I’d go out looking for the best injera and wat stew—it’s beyond my contextual range, and an app that randomizes my meal choices (restaurants to visit or recipes to prepare) makes it more likely that I’ll be exposed to things beyond my current contextual reach.
I can’t count the number of cuisines, music genres, visual artists, geographic landmarks, people, realms of inquiry, and other such interesting things I’ve discovered via some type of randomization mechanism.
Sometimes it’s an app, sometimes a curator who’s judgement and eye and taste I trust, and sometimes it’s leaving decisions to a gaggle of strangers from the internet.
The main risk associated with using randomization to increase your experiential range, as I mentioned before, is that you’ll semi-regularly encounter things you just don’t like; or don’t like at first.
You can reduce this risk by allowing yourself to deviate from the recommendation when warranted, but it’s often better to give each recommendation a shot—make a habit of it—even if you don’t think you’ll like some of what you’re pointed toward.
Such a policy makes it more likely you’ll increase your range, as otherwise your existing context will shape the choices you make, limiting you to things that seem likable according to what you already know, and not taking into account all the things you’ve never seen, done, heard, or tried, but may absolutely love.