Nootropics is a strange-looking word that most people have never heard before. But the word nootropics refers to a topic that you will want to understand if you want to live better in the future.
In this post, I will give you the rundown on this very important topic. I’ll also talk a bit about my own experience with some nootropics.
No matter what your vision of a freer tomorrow looks like, I doubt it includes slow thinking, lack of focus, and a crummy memory. Especially for people like us who are building our own future, instead of following the herd. It is very hard to be productive and do great things when you feel dumb, can’t focus, and keep forgetting the damn keys!
But wouldn’t it be easier to build a freer tomorrow if you felt sharp, focused, and had a great memory? Of course it would. This is why you need to learn about nootropics. Let’s go.
What the Heck are Nootropics?
Nootropics are substances that help you think better, stay focused, or remember stuff. Or any combination of those things. Also called smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, nootropics are becoming ever better known. It seems everyone is using them:
- College kids use them to get better grades (high school kids too)
- Top executives and entrepreneurs use them to compete at a higher level than they otherwise would
- Emergency room medics use them to stay sharp and focused in total chaos
- Military pilots use them to stay awake on long, dangerous missions
- People dreaming of a freer tomorrow use them to make those dreams come true faster
Nootropics vs Stimulants
We need to talk about the difference between nootropics and stimulants. Nootropics are substances that boost your cognition or memory. They act on certain neurotransmitters to change the way your brain works. But so do stimulants such as amphetamines, which are not considered nootropics.
The differences include:
- Which neurotransmitters they affect
- Nootropics generally have few side effects
- They don’t cause you to crash after they wear off like stimulants do
- Nootropics also don’t have the addiction risk that stimulants can have
But these differences are somewhat subjective. And some substances have characteristics of both nootropics and stimulants. Which category they fall in depends on which expert you care to listen to.
Finding Useful Nootropics
There are lots of substances that people claim will boost your cognition or memory. Many of them don’t work. Others have very subtle effects that only show up in lab testing. But there are some that actually do what they say when used in the real world.
Some of these substances are newish creations fresh out of some scientist’s lab. And some are expensive, hard to get, or even illegal. But others have been around for a long time and are easy to get your hands on.
A guy named Scott Alexander did a survey of nootropic users in 2014. This survey got nootropics users to rate the substances they use. The survey is full of useful information. Among other things, it says that YOU likely use a powerful natural nootropic every day.
Caffeine – Your Grandfather’s Nootropic
Caffeine is the most widely-used nootropic in existence. Caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee, which people have been using for over 1000 years.
The caffeine in coffee has both stimulant and nootropic effects.
Caffeine straddles the line between nootropic and stimulant. It definitely has some stimulant effects. You can develop a tolerance to it, and you can crash after you use it.
But caffeine also has nootropic effects. It inhibits the function of adenosine in the brain, increasing alertness. If you have ever used caffeine to stay awake and alert, you are well aware of how this works.
Other Plant-Based Nootropics
Besides caffeine, there are several other plant substances with reported nootropic effects. Here are two examples:
Studies have shown that the extracts from this plant can reduce fatigue and boost memory. It is also known to improve concentration.
I had access to a very pure, very strong supply of Rhodiola Rosea for a short while several years ago. I noticed major improvements in concentration and resisting fatigue.
Unfortunately, that supply lasted only a few weeks. After that, I only had access to the much weaker concoctions available in health food stores. These didn’t have any noticeable effect on me.
This substance comes from a moss that grows in India and Southeast Asia. Studies have shown it to give some boost to memory. It works by partially blocking the function of Acetylcholinesterase in your brain. This results in higher levels of Acetylcholine, which is important for memory.
I have no personal experience with Huperzine A. In Mr. Alexander’s study, nootropics users rated Huperzine A as mildly effective.
Products from the Lab
Besides natural nootropics, there are potent cognitive enhancers that come out of labs. While this is a rapidly changing area, we can talk about two products to get a sense of it all: Adderall and Modafinil.
Much of the cognitive enhancement from caffeine comes from its action as a stimulant. Adderall provides a much stronger boost because it is a much stronger stimulant. Adderall is a combination of two chemical forms of amphetamine. Doctors prescribe it to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.
It is no surprise that folks without these conditions would try this stuff when under the gun. Drinking black coffee or popping caffeine pills only takes you so far.
It turns out that Adderall does indeed improve cognitive performance in healthy people. Clinical trials show it can improve memory as well as attention. But remember that this drug is an amphetamine. Using this stuff for cognitive enhancement has serious risks.
Side effects from using Adderall can include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty urinating
- Tolerance (requiring ever larger doses to get the same effect)
- Crashing when the drug wears off
In short, Adderall works as a cognitive enhancer, but if you use it, you are taking serious risks.
My Favorite Nootropic: Modafinil
Modafinil is a true nootropic. That is, it boosts your cognition and memory with few side effects. It doesn’t cause the crash amphetamine users can experience, and is not addictive.
Doctors prescribe Modafinil for people with narcolepsy and similar disorders. It is also used off-label to treat various conditions that cause fatigue. It is not a typical stimulant. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how it does what it does.
But as far as I am concerned, here are the important points:
- It isn’t addictive
- You don’t crash when it wears off
- People have been safely using it since the 1990’s
- It works
What Does “It Works” Mean?
What do I mean by, “It works?” I mean it boosts my focus and productivity tremendously. When I use Modafinil, I can completely lose track of time. Today, for example, I started working on a project around 8AM.
I was completely focused on what I was doing and blasted out a ton of work. When I finished the project, I looked up and realized it was 1:30PM. I also realized I hadn’t eaten anything in 18+ hours.
I wasn’t tired or hungry but it seemed like a good idea to have breakfast (lunch, whatever). So I quick grabbed some food, took a short walk, and got to work on this article. It is now after 4PM and I am still not hungry, or tired. And I’m still cranking out the work.
This is what Modafinil can do for you.
And you don’t need to take my word for it. Numerous studies have shown Modafinil’s effectiveness. Here’s just one example. It is the first study I encountered when investigating Modafinil for my own use. This 1999 United States Air Force Modafinil study showed that Modafinil helped keep flight crews functioning effectively after 40 hours with no sleep.
About Regular Modafinil Use
I’ve been using Modafinil for around 3 years now. But I do not use it every day. In my experience, it seems to lose a bit of its punch if you use it too many days in a row. Besides, I don’t always want to be so focused and alert! I like being able to relax once in a while.
It makes sense to limit the use of any drug, even safe ones like Modafinil. I have seen many different suggestions for usage schedules. Here are some of them, along with ideas on when they might make sense for you:
- If you are still working a regular job, you could try using it during the workweek and not on the weekends
- If your job features crunch times or hard deadlines, you could use Modafinil then. This is the way I do it
- If you tend to party a little too much during the work week, you could use it the morning after to mitigate the effects
How Much Do You Need?
The exact dosage of Modafinil depends on you. Some people get the desired effect from 50mg. Others need 200mg. It depends on your weight, age, and who knows what else. It is something each person needs to experiment with.
How Do You Get Modafinil?
This is where things can get a little tricky. Here in Ecuador, Modafinil is an over the counter drug. I walk into any pharmacy and walk out with a box of 20, 200mg tablets for about $20. In most countries, it is a prescription drug. If you can get the stuff at all, it usually costs several dollars per dose. In the USA, it is a Schedule IV controlled substance. The legal treatment varies from country to country.
Modafinil is a powerful nootropic that is available OTC here in Ecuador.
Despite the restrictions on Modafinil, large numbers of people use it as a nootropic. Some get a friendly doctor to write them a prescription. But many get the stuff through other channels.
Modafinil is easy to buy on the Internet. Several companies in India and China manufacture it and will ship it anywhere in the world. Apparently it ships in plain, non-descript packages. These usually make it through Customs and the postal system without problems.
If a package does get stopped by Customs, it doesn’t seem to cause any problems for the buyer or the seller. Some sellers will even ship another package as soon as Customs intercepts the first one! So expect the use of Modafinil and related drugs to keep on increasing.
Where is This All Going?
Now that you know what nootropics are, you may be wondering where this all leads. Real, effective drugs do exist that can boost your memory and concentration. More and more people are using them every day.
What does this mean for you? If you don’t use Modafinil or something similar, you are at a disadvantage against people who do. It may not seem fair, but that is the reality. What are you going to do about it?
Do you use Modafinil or some other nootropic? Are you in favor of their use or opposed? What will you do as more and more people start using this stuff? Leave a comment and let us know.
A lot of getting productive has nothing at all to do with your work. Think about it. We’re not machines. If we don’t take care of ourselves in general, we are going to be a lot less effective at anything we do.
This simple fact was brought home to me last night. I am in a Thursday night pool league, and have been doing very well. But yesterday, I suffered a mild case of food poisoning after eating lunch at a local restaurant.
By evening I was feeling okay, so figured I had better go play. It was too late to get a substitute and I didn’t want to let my teammates down.
It didn’t go too well.
I could not get it together. The focus wasn’t there. I couldn’t string together two good shots in a row. It was not an impressive showing. Not being 100% healthy in my guts affected my ability to shoot a pool ball.
We are complex systems and everything affects everything else. That’s why we sometimes need to stop working to become more productive.
The idea here is that we need to attend to various non-work factors if we want to be productive in our work. There are three factors in particular that you need to get right if you want to be productive.
You need to:
- Eat Right
- Exercise Your Body
- Rest Your Mind
We should talk about these three factors in some detail here. You’ll soon see why they are so important. You’ll also see why stopping work to address them will make you more productive, not less so.
I am sure you realize that food is vitally important. And that “eating right” can help you be more productive. But knowing what is right to eat can be hard. There is so much conflicting advice to sort through.
And man is it hard to eat right when you are scrambling to get stuff done. I’m sure I am not the only person to work through their lunch to meet a deadline. And I’m sure I’m not the only person to grab a snack from the vending machine instead of eating a regular meal. After all, I was really busy.
You’ve got to resist these urges. Working through lunch might get that report turned in on time. However, you are likely to be less than 100% for the rest of the day. Your blood sugar levels will drop and you will be craving food.
This will lead you to the vending machine, where you will find only unhealthy junk. The junk food will drive your blood sugar up, then bring it crashing down. It will be hard to focus, possibly even to stay awake. And that will drive you back to the vending machine to repeat the cycle.
How to Eat Right (to Make You More Productive)
Now I am not a nutritionist or any kind of medical expert. Still my research and my personal experience tells me a few things. Foremost is that for most people, eating right means less carbs and more protein.
The US government recommends a diet made up of lots of carbohydrates and a small amount of protein. If you look around the USA, you can see the results. They aren’t pretty. Eating the recommended diet results in serious weight gain. It also tends to leave you far from your most productive.
Screen capture from USDA Food Guide Pyramid pamphlet.
One simple step you can take to be more productive all day is to eat a high-protein breakfast. Many high-performance people extol the virtues of a high-protein, low-carb breakfast. One such person is Charles Poliquin, who trains many Olympic and professional athletes. He says that this kind of breakfast leaves you feeling fuller. At the same time, you consume fewer calories.
Why? This kind of breakfast results in a slower, more prolonged rise in your blood sugar than a carb-heavy meal. This keeps you awake and alert, allowing you to concentrate better for longer. At the same time, with stable blood sugar, you are less likely to have cravings for junk food.
Combine all these effects and it is easy to see how this kind of breakfast can set you up to be more productive.
Try eating a high-protein breakfast for a few days and see if you notice a difference. I know that I am definitely more productive when I have the discipline to start my days off this way.
Exercise Your Body
We evolved in the wild, hunting, and fighting, and running for our lives. So it is only logical that our bodies are adapted to a life of action. Sitting in front of a computer for hours a day (as I am doing right now) is not natural for us.
Our world doesn’t force us to be active to survive the way our ancestors were. Several years ago, I visited a recreation of a Colonial New England town. I was told that people back then worked so hard that they burned over 6,000 calories a day!
Few of us would want to go back to that, but we do pay a price for our easier lives. Our bodies are not adapted to the sedentary modern world. We don’t perform as well if we never get any exercise.
Adding some exercise to your life will improve the functioning of your body. That can make you more productive in whatever you do. Happily, we don’t have to live the strenuous lives of our ancestors to benefit.
At almost any level, some exercise is better than none. And a little more exercise gives you a little more benefit. If you are not already doing so, it makes sense to start exercising. And if you are already exercising, try doing a little more.
I am not going to try to tell you what exercise program is right for you. That is way beyond my field of expertise. And I am not going to share my workout program with you. I am a 58-year old guy who was out of action for a long time after contracting the Chikungunya virus. My needs and circumstances are pretty atypical.
I can make a couple of suggestions though.
Number 1 is, start slow, and don’t worry about impressing anyone. The goal should be to do a little more than you are doing now, without injuring yourself. Impressing people with your pullup prowess doesn’t matter if you injure yourself.
Number 2 is, if you are far out of shape, talk to your doctor before starting. Exercise is good. Giving yourself a heart attack or a stroke is bad.
Rest Your Mind
We tend to forget this, but thinking requires physical energy. Our brains burn something like 20% of all the calories used by our bodies. It is unclear whether thinking harder actually burns more calories. Whether it does or not, we do know that concentrating on something drains us over time.
Your mind is a busy organ. Sometimes it needs rest.
We can only concentrate on one thing for a limited amount of time. The amount of time varies from person to person, but we aren’t machines. We simply can’t stay completely focused on one task all day.
So what do you do when you need to be productive all day?
You can try to power through the mental exhaustion. But don’t expect to get good results. You can’t do your best work in this state.
I frequently take siestas during the day. The difference in productivity between right before and after the siesta, is amazing. I sometimes find myself thinking, “Wow! I was really stupid earlier today.”
Why such a huge difference? Right before the siesta, I will have worked hard for hours, and I am tired. Those two things, sustained focus and tiredness, really make it hard to be productive.
But then comes the siesta. Sometimes I sleep. Other times I read or simply rest with me eyes closed. Frequently I will be back at my desk, focused and working productively, in 20 minutes. It’s surprising how much of a difference such a short break can make.
This works because I am resting my mind. During a siesta, I am not concentrating hard on anything, even if I am reading. I am getting physical rest as well as relaxing my mind.
Whatever “energy” it is that allows me to stay focused runs out after a while. I need to step away from the work every so often to recharge that energy and be productive again. Whether you realize it or not, you do too.
If you work in an office, you probably can’t take a siesta in the middle of the day. But you can do something to rest your mind every so often. Even something as simple as walking to the restroom, or chatting with someone at the water cooler for a moment can do it. I am sure you will be more productive when you return to your work.
Non-work factors definitely play a part in becoming more productive. Eating right, exercising your body, and resting your mind are all things that take minutes away from working. But all of them make you much more productive, despite the lost minutes. Try it yourself and see.
References used in this post:
Let’s add some more tips and techniques for getting productive. Today, we have these two Productivity power-ups to discuss:
- The Pareto Principle
- Planning Ahead
As in the previous post, we will cover these two techniques in some detail. This should be more useful than giving you a list full of one-liners like, “Plan ahead to stay organized” and so on. Since getting productive is the goal, let’s dive right in.
The Pareto Principle
There is a good chance you have never heard the phrase, Pareto Principle. But you have probably heard the more common name for it, the 80/20 Rule.
The Pareto Principle can guide you to the most productive activities.
Vilfredo Pareto started the whole thing in the 1890’s. He noticed that a small percentage of the peapods in his garden produced the majority of the peas. He noticed similar patterns elsewhere. For example, he saw that that 20% of the people in his native Italy owned 80% of the land.
This general pattern shows up throughout the natural and man-made world:
- The majority of the wealth on the planet is owned by a small percentage of the people.
- The majority of the health gains you get working out come from a minority of the exercises you do.
- The majority of the money earned by book publishers come from a minority of the books they publish, and so on.
Pareto and Productivity
What does this have to do with getting productive? You can apply the Pareto Principle to your work as well. In general, 80% of the results you get come from 20% of the work you do. What if you could identify the 20% of your work that gives the bulk of the results? Couldn’t you then:
- Spend more time doing the stuff that gets the best results?
- Spend less time doing the stuff that doesn’t get good results?
In other words, by changing what you work on, you could get more results for the same amount of effort. That seems like a pretty good definition of getting productive to me!
To make this happen, you need to do two things.
- Keep track of the time you spend on each work activity
- Figure out the returns you get from each activity
With this information, you can see which things generate the most return for the least effort. Once you know this, you can start looking for ways to do more of the productive stuff and less of the unproductive.
Exceptions to the Rule
As you well know, for every rule, there are exceptions. The approach I described above isn’t foolproof. Some things you do don’t have well-defined results, or have results that you will only be able to see in hindsight.
Let’s take responding to posts on social media. In general, there is no direct payoff from doing so. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop doing it. As I was reminded recently, making meaningful comments to posts can be a great investment.
But commenting on people’s posts is also a speculation. The only way you will know for sure that it paid off is by looking back. It might result in more followers who eventually become customers. It might result in a job offer of some other valuable connection. Or it might yield nothing.
What’s the Answer?
You need to decide how you are going to deal with stuff like this. Try setting aside a certain amount of time in each day or week for these kinds of activities.
You could schedule 10% of your time for social media and other stuff you can’t assign a specific value to. Then, somewhere in the future, analyze the results. See if the time you spent generated good results.
Planning Ahead to Be More Productive
Just sitting down and going to work without a plan will only get you so far. As we saw when talking about the Pareto Principle, some activities contribute far more to your productivity than others. Imagine that you simply sat down at your desk and worked as hard as you could all day. You probably got a lot of stuff done, right?
Planning ahead can boost your productivity.
But were you working on the right things? The things that benefit you the most or whatever was next on your to-do list? Would your time have been better spent working on this task or that one? Do you even remember what things you worked on?
How Planning Ahead Helps You Be Productive
If you don’t plan ahead, you will have a hard time being as productive as you should be. There are a bunch of benefits to planning ahead. They include:
- You will likely come up with a better plan than if you are improvising in the middle of your work session.
- You will be able to produce instead of constantly stopping to figure out what to do next. Just follow the plan.
- It anchors you when people interrupt you. When you have a plan you are trying to meet, it is harder to get pulled into other people’s issues.
- You have a basis for applying the Pareto Principle. You can look at the day’s plan to see how much time you put into each task.
The plan helps you to keep working on the most important things instead of the most urgent or most fun.
Planning tomorrow’s work tonight lets you jump right into it in the morning. It also gives your subconscious time to work out some of the details and issues while you sleep.
I am lazy, but sometimes do plan ahead. When I do, I get better results than when I just wing it, or scramble together a plan in the middle of everything else. Give planning ahead (including planning the night before) a try. See if it helps you get more productive.
Share Your Thoughts on these Productivity Power-Ups
What do you think about using the Pareto Principle and Planning Ahead to be more productive? If you have experience with either of these approaches, we want to hear about it. Please leave a comment so others can benefit from your experience.
Here are links to some resources related to the Pareto Principle and Planning Ahead:
I honestly believe that if you want to be freer tomorrow you need to travel today. And I do mean you, even if your image of being freer includes staying right where you are. Give me a few minutes of your time and I will convince you that you need to travel, at least a little, at least right in the beginning, if you want to be freer tomorrow.
Bad Reasons to Travel
Before we get into good reasons you need to travel, let’s cover bad reasons to travel. Here are a few:
- Because it’s cool
- Because you’re running away
Don’t Travel Because it’s Cool
These days, its cool to say that you are an Internet Nomad, or whatever the current term is. Books like the 4-Hour Workweek popularized this lifestyle, and inspired a lot of people to get off their asses and try something new.
The typical deal involves living out of your backpack in South-East Asia or someplace like that, while earning money with an Internet-based business. Hundreds (thousands?) of mostly young North Americans and Europeans have at least tried this lifestyle. Doing that can be cool, and it is definitely an adventure you can brag about to your office-bound friends back home.
But that lifestyle is only for a small percentage of us. And it is usually only temporary. If you check back a few years later with people who tried this lifestyle, you’ll find that most of them have given it up and settled down somewhere. There was a time when I thought that this would be the life for me.
I did things like spend a month in Ajijic, Mexico, where I knew absolutely no one, spoke basically zero Spanish, and paid the bills with the money I made writing for clients I met through the Internet. I scouted out several countries including the island nation of Malta (more on Malta later).
New experiences are one reason you need to travel.
But that living out of your backpack (or a carry-on bag in my case) stuff gets old. I planned to spend 3 to 6 months in each of the best countries in South America and stay on the move permanently. That was six years ago, and I’m still in Ecuador. The perpetual traveler, Internet nomad thing isn’t necessary to get the freedom-building benefits of travel that we will be talking about.
Don’t Travel Because You are Running Away
Some people travel to run away from something in their lives. It might be an unhappy marriage, a debt they can’t pay, or government policies they don’t like. They might even be running from the law. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter. They might escape whatever it is they are running from. But they aren’t going to get the kinds of benefits that I’m thinking of.
Imagine you are one of these people. You’ve fled something bad back home. Now you’re in Brazil (no extradition treaty with the USA) avoiding whoever or whatever it is that you ran away from. You know you can’t go back home. You may not be able to go anywhere at all without getting busted. You will always have that problem hanging over your head. Hell, if you did something bad enough, you might find the FBI or Interpol knocking on your door one day. Not a good situation for gaining the benefits I’m thinking of.
Here’s Why You Need to Travel
With all that out of the way, let’s talk about why I am certain you need to travel if you want to be freer tomorrow. It’s all about perspective.
Unless you are an “army brat” or someone else whose life requires constant moves, you have probably lived in the same place for years. You have a (probably small) group of people that you spend your time with. And you are used to everything going on around you. You have your comfortable daily routines.
Beyond that, you have a set of unconscious assumptions about how things work. You have a pretty good sense of things like:
- How to go food shopping
- Where to find replacement parts if you need them
- How to act in social situations
- Every other thing that you do every day
Travel, particularly to someplace significantly different than where you live now, can blow up all of that. But to get the benefit, you can’t just be a tourist. Staying in the Hyatt, eating at US-style restaurants, and taking guided tours to the standard tourist traps won’t accomplish much. You’ll have a bunch photos of stuff, maybe with some local people in them, but that’s about it.
To really benefit from travel, you have to try to experience life like a local. Obviously, you will still be a visitor to the country. But the difference between staying in a hotel that caters to travelers, and living amongst the locals for even a few weeks is huge.
I tried to be as prepared as possible before leaving for Cuenca, Ecuador on my first extended international stay (aside from a 3-month work assignment to Mexico years earlier). I rented a furnished apartment from a company that works with foreigners visiting the city. And I read everything I could about the local customs and how to act. My daughter was with me so I wasn’t even a stranger in a strange land. Even so, I was constantly confronted with differences.
I recognized some of the stuff at the grocery store. But a lot of it was a total mystery. The names of everything were in Spanish, so I was confused by that. But it was even more basic. There are something like 19 different varieties of potato that you can buy here. And lots of liquids come in plastic bags instead of rigid containers (don’t ask how many times I made a mess with that). And guinea pigs aren’t pets here–they are a dinner delicacy which all my new Ecuadorean friends wanted me to try.
Figuring out where to buy stuff like batteries and light bulbs was a mystery too. Instead of mega stores like WalMart or Target, here there are thousands of tiny tiendas, many of which specialize in just a few things. It isn’t quite to the point of going to one store to buy a needle and another for the thread, but sometimes it seems that way. I was recently looking for a cable for a computer. So I visited several computer stores, none of which sold cables. I eventually had to go to another part of the city to visit one of the two stores that everyone knew carried computer cables.
Just today, I went to the major department store in the city. I had purchased a pressure cooker there a few months ago and the gasket had failed. But they didn’t have replacement gaskets, even though the exact same model of pressure cooker was stacked high on the shelves. When I asked for help, the woman told me that they had stopped carry those a year or more ago. She consulted with another worker and they said they thought there was some little shop a few blocks away that sold gaskets for things like that. Maybe I will find that shop before I lose patience and buy a new cooker!
Even Being Polite Can Be a Challenge
And then there are social situations. In a different country even knowing how to greet someone can be bewildering. Here for example, you use, “Buenas” to say hello in a formal manner, and “Hola” if it is informal. You generally use the formal greeting if the person is older than you, or more important (a government official for example), or if you don’t know them well. You shake hands with the men, and give the women an “air kiss” next to the right cheek.
That is, you do the air kiss thing unless the woman is from the US or Europe, in which case you probably kiss her on the lips, which many locals consider somewhat scandalous. Then again, she could be from one of the countries where you air kiss both cheeks. Or maybe she is a foreigner but has been in-country long enough to have adopted the local greeting style. Some prefer to shake hands instead of kiss.
The results can be funny, even painful. I can’t count the number of times I have head-butted some woman because we were using different greeting protocols. There is also an etiquette to hugging during greetings, but you get the idea.
What’s Your Point, Bill?
My point is that the kind of travel we are talking about here shakes you out of all your built-in assumptions and routines. You see the world differently. It becomes clear that the way things are done “back home” aren’t the only way to do things. The customs and rules of home aren’t the only ones that people live by. While this is easy to grasp intellectually, you need to travel to get it at a gut level.
Note: You may have heard that only about 10% of US citizens have passports. I know I have heard, and used, that number in the past. According to a post I read this morning (Jan 12, 2017) the correct number is something over 40%. Someone actually did the work of going to the State Department website and getting the approximate number of active US Passports. That number came out to be over 130,000,000 million active US passports.
So while the majority of US citizens still do not have passports, the number who do is much, much higher than generally believed. Travel, even international travel, doesn’t make you part of some lunatic fringe group.
Thanks to ZeroHedge for pulling together this article.
A big part of being free is knowing your options. The way you have always done things is not the only way to do things. There are other approaches to life than the one you are used to. This applies to people from every country on Earth. But the lesson is particularly relevant for those of us who grew up in the USA.
People of my generation were taught from birth that the United States of America is the best place in the world. It is #1 in everything, and anyone who questions that is wrong, if not actually a traitor or some kind of foreign agent. We didn’t learn much about the rest of the world or the way things were done there. Why should we? Everyone wanted to be like us.
Ignorance is Not Bliss
One result of this is that we grew up ignorant of other possibilities. Don’t like working your ass off to buy more and more crap you don’t need? Opposed to an ever-growing government with ever-more control over your life? Tired of seeing your friends and relatives dying in some foreign swamp to bring democracy to the world. Too bad. That’s the way life is. Just shut up and accept it.
But the ways of your home country are not the only way to go. From something as simple as whether you sell liquids in bags or bottles, to how you work, live, and love, there are always options. You need to travel because traveling exposes you to some of those options. You are then free to choose the options that seem best to you.
This doesn’t mean that once you travel a bit you will abandon your current life. Not at all. Many (perhaps most) people who do this kind of travel are quite happy to return home and continue with their old life. But when they do so, they are making an informed decision. They have seen other ways to live and have chosen the one they want. They don’t end up somewhere out of ignorance.
Applying the Theory
Years ago I made a conscious decision to expose my daughter to as many different cultures as I could. I figured that way she could at least make her own informed decisions about where and how she wanted to live her life. She’s been to several countries and exposed to different lifestyles. No one can predict the future, but I have to believe that she will be better for it in the long run.
If nothing else, we’ve had some memorable adventures. Which brings us back to Malta. I haven’t forgotten to tell you about Malta, but I have stuff I need to do today and I’m tired of writing. I’ll tell you about Malta in the next post, where we discuss the best way to travel and being prepared for some of the crazy **** that can happen when you travel.
For people living in the USA or Europe, one of the best ways to become freer is to move to another country. There are lots of places in the world that offer more real freedom than the place formerly known as “The Free World.”
Ecuador is one of those places.
Many people find this to be a surprise, since Ecuador is officially a Socialist country. People really do believe in that stuff here too. Several of my local friends are avowed socialists. Everywhere you go, you see pictures of Che Guevara.
There are even Ladas (a car brand from the old Soviet Union) on the roads here. But in many ways, we are much freer here than back in the United States.
- People are generally more relaxed about life. The priority is family and friends, not money and prestige.
- Taxes are low.
- The government mostly leaves people alone.
- The endless flood of marketing BS you get in “the West” isn’t nearly as endless here.
- There isn’t the all-seeing government and corporate spying that goes on up North.
As a result of these and other factors, North Americans are flooding into places like Ecuador. In particular, they are coming here to Cuenca, a city that is often billed as the best place in the world for North Americans to retire. My brother is one of those people. He retired here almost 4 years ago and reports that he is very happy with his decision.
But no place is perfect, and living in Ecuador requires some patience. Flexibility, a sense of humor, and some luck can help too.
No Place is Perfect
Let me give you some examples. These are all things from my own life, all of which have come to pass in the last few months.
- Getting government services can be a pain. Ecuador got its government bureaucracy from the Spanish conquerors hundreds of years ago, meaning it is slow and unpredictable. And everything you do requires filling out lots and lots of pointless forms. But if you need something done for use in your home country, it gets even worse. Notarizing some documents for my mom’s estate involved scheduling an appointment with the nearest US Consulate several days in advance, and a 3+ hour drive each way over the Andes to get there. Once there we had to pass through multiple layers of security, then spend a few hours sitting around with hundreds of other people. Everyone was friendly and helpful, but what would take a few minutes at your home town bank it took all day. And $140 for the guy who drove us there then waited for us in the parking lot for hours. And the Consulate charged $50 per item we needed notarized.
- Non-government services can be a pain too. Construction in this part of town has been causing frequent rerouting of traffic. That has resulted in trucks and busses driving on smaller, tributary roads. And that has resulted in scenes like the one below, where something big hit the cables on a side road, bringing my part of town to a screeching halt. The electricity was back on in several hours, but it took my ISP 4 days to get Internet access restored. Then it happened two more times (in different locations) over the next few weeks! In total, I lost almost 2 weeks of service in a five-week stretch. I also lost an online client due to this, as I completely blew a deadline for delivering some documents.
Big vehicles detoured onto local roads can make a mess.
- For the second time in a month, thugs attacked a mining camp owned by the company my wife works for, taking hostages, wounding several people, and killing one cop. The second time it took the Ecuadorean Army to drive the attackers out of the camp. While my wife was not present at that particular camp during either assault, the idea of a loved one being held hostage (or worse) by a tribe of former headhunters was not something I planned for when moving here!
Happily, things aren’t always like this. There have been long stretches where I have lived the stereotypical dream of many North Americans who have come here. Relaxing outside a coffee shop on a sunny afternoon while my friends back in New Hampshire are freezing their butts off shoveling snow in sub-freezing temperatures. Experiencing stuff I never would in the US, like a traffic jam caused by a herd of llama. You know, all that good stuff that causes people to move.
The big takeaway here is that to really be freer tomorrow you need to develop personal characteristics like patience and resilience. A sense of humor helps too.
Welcome to Freer Tomorrow. For the last few days I’ve been wrestling with what to write for the first post on this blog. Do I talk about a typical day in my current, much freer life? Do I hit you with some philosophical rambling about freedom and dignity, blah, blah, blah?
Then the power went out.
While it was out, I read an online news story that said lame-duck President Obama had, without the approval of Congress, given away US control of the Internet domain naming system. Control now moves to an international body that apparently includes the biggest advocates of Internet censorship on the planet. Not at all a step toward making people freer tomorrow.
Since you’re sharp and observant, you may be wondering about that last bit. Not the bit about Obama giving away the Internet (he’s had that in the works for a while now). The bit about reading the article online while the power was out.
The reason I could still be online even with the power out is of course the data plan on my smartphone. The power was out here at my house, meaning no WiFi and no Internet access through my normal provider. But my phone’s data plan is with a different company, located far away from here. They weren’t at all affected by the lightning strike or whatever it was that knocked out my power.
“Wow dude, you’ve got a data plan for your phone. That’s not very impressive,” you say. You’re right. Having a data plan normally isn’t a big deal. In this case, it was simply a short power outage. Nothing more than an inconvenience.
Bad Stuff Happens
But what if something more serious had happened…
Earthquake devastation in Ecuador, April 2016.
…like the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit us here in Ecuador in April, 2016.
I live far enough away from the crisis zone that the damage was minor. I was only without power for one day. Just as today, my home had no Internet connectivity (or lights or anything else), but I was able to connect to the Internet using my phone’s data plan. I was able to let my family know I was ok. And I was able to notify one of my clients that the review I was writing for him would be delayed a bit.
By paying a small amount per month for that data plan, I have freed myself from dependence on a single connection to the Internet.
Being Freer Tomorrow Can Mean Many Things
The example above may not have been what you were thinking of when you decided to check in here. But don’t go just yet. We all have our own ideas of what being freer tomorrow looks like:
- Being fabulously wealthy.
- Living wherever you want.
- Spending more time with your family and friends.
- Finding your perfect match.
- Being free from other people telling you what to do.
You get the idea.
These days it seems like personal freedom is under assault from every direction, and all those things I listed are harder and harder to achieve. You can read all about the bad stuff anywhere. We’re going to talk about something different here. We’re going to talk about things you can do to achieve your dream of being freer tomorrow.
Much of what you will read in this blog comes directly from my life. I have become much freer than I used to be and am probably much freer than you are. With a lot of hard work, and the help of various people, I’ve gone pretty far toward reaching my idea of freedom.
Unfortunately for me, it has taken years of research and experimentation to get here. What I want to do in this blog is show you things that have worked for me and for others. I want to help you get freer faster than I did. I want to inspire you to take action.
Why Listen to Me?
I was pretty much your typical American middle-class baby boomer. I made out pretty well during the whole Internet boom in the 90’s. Nice house in the suburbs, a wife, a kid, two cars, vacations to Disney, all that jazz.
Then it all went to hell.
My parents got sick. Then my brother and my brother-in-law both badly injured their backs. My nephew got cancer. Next my Dad died and I had to take care of my Mom, who suffered from dementia. Almost everyone in my immediate family needed help at once.
Between family responsibilities and the end of the dot-com boom I got laid off (multiple times). My marriage failed. For 2 years I had to drive 600-miles round trip every other week just to see my daughter. With everything, I was unable to even think about getting a regular job. I had to declare bankruptcy.
It was not the best of times.
While I was struggling with all this I never gave up on rebuilding my life. I knew I didn’t want to go back to the way it was before. I wanted to do right by my family. But at the same time, I wanted more freedom, even more than I had when times were good.
The Struggle Was Worth It
It has taken years but that is all in the past now. Today I have a nice house in an exotic location. I eat mostly organic food and have affordable medical care that actually produces results.
I have lots of friends and time enough in my schedule to hang out with them. “Meet you downtown for coffee this afternoon? No problem! Head to the coast for a few days? Why not!” I’ve cut my cost of living so much that I can pay for everything working only around 10 hours a week.
I’ve spent the last 15+ years of my life working to working to get beyond all the problems and roadblocks that were holding me back. Now I want to share what I’ve learned so you can be freer tomorrow too. Some things, like getting a data plan for your smartphone are easy. Others, like getting out of bad relationships or financial trouble, take some significant work. And some, like moving to another country, are literally life-changing.
Aren’t There Already People Talking About This Stuff?
Yes and no. I’m not trying to claim that I am the only person who knows how to do this. There are lots of people who have become freer than before and are sharing that information online. But most of the people who do talk about this seem to be in their 20’s and 30’s. And most of the information about how to live this kind of life is written by people in that age group, for people in that age group.
There’s also an entire industry out there that caters to the needs of retirees.
But what about people like me? People in our 40’s, 50’s, even 60’s who want to be freer, but aren’t retired, and don’t want to live like a 20-something on a sex tour of Southeast Asia. When I was starting out down this road I searched high and low for information that applied to people like me. There’s very little out there for us. I aim to fix that problem with this blog.
That said, it’s my hope and belief that you will find at least a few interesting and useful ideas in the posts to come. Here’s to a freer tomorrow for you!
One type of freedom that you may enjoy is the freedom to do less.