What A Mexican Tour Taught Me About Experiences
So I’m on the last leg of my 2-week holiday in Mexico. To answer the FAQs: 1) It’s absolutely safe as long as you don’t wander into sketchy places, 2) Food is cheap and DELICIOUS, 3) You can get around with a few basic Spanish phrases (e.g. “donde esta el bano?“)
While travelling through Mexico, I visited Palenque: A bunch of pyramid-like ruins deep in the heart of the jungle. We visited the site without a guide, armed with just a Lonely Planet guidebook. But 45 minutes into the visit, we got a little bored and tired – we’d reach a structure, look up and say, “Wow, that’s pretty cool”, but we had nothing else to say about it after that. It was still a cool experience, but it didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.
On the other hand, we had a much better experience at Yaxchilan – another ruin located in the Lacandon jungle and only reachable by plane or a 1-hour boat ride. We went on a tour, guided by a stout Mexican lady who was REALLY passionate about Mayan culture. She explained the carvings on the walls, told us stories about the murals, and led us into a hidden jungle path where we found a ruin that most tourists never discover. She spent more time on the important sites, and told us which structures we could skip over.
Which site did I have a deeper experience in?
Tours & Why Constraints Matter
Most young people hate tours. We hate having to board a huge tourist bus and follow a Chan Brothers flag. We hate being forced to eat, do and see only the things that the guide tells us. In other words, we hate the constraints that a tour imposes on us.
And yes, there are some pretty bad tours force you to eat at crappy buffets or spend an hour in a tourist trap souvenir shop. But aside from these examples (which you can avoid by reading their TripAdvisor reviews), I love going on tours when I’m on holiday.
A tour enhances your experience because it forces you to accept certain constraints. Accept that you have to wake up at 6am so that you don’t have to worry about transportation. Accept that you have to follow the guide around, so that you get to hear all her interesting stories. Accept that you may have to skip over some sights, so that you can spend more time on the ones that really matter.
In other words, tours are great not despite their constraints, but because of them.
How does this lesson apply to our lives?
Embrace Constraints In Games, Money, Business, and Faith
Once I understood that constraints can actually enhance an experience, I started seeing it across multiple areas:
Games are enhanced by their rules. The rules of football dictate that there are 11 players on each team, there’s no touching the ball with your hands, you can’t score if there’s an offside, etc. Without these rules, the game would descend into chaos. But with the rules in place, you are then free to focus on “the beautiful game” and experience it on a much deeper level.
A spending plan helps you use money better. In a spending plan, you allocate a certain percentage of your salary to the responsible stuff like saving/investing, which frees you up to spend on things that you truly love. Once I set up this system years ago, I stopped feeling guilty about spending on things like travel and restaurants. In other words, the constraint of a spending plan enhanced the experience of the things I valued.
Successful businesses constrain their USPs. I was once contacted on LinkedIn by a guy who claimed to run a “travel social media influencer startup powered on the blockchain”. The poor dude was trying to be everything… and ended up doing nothing. All truly successful products impose constraints on themselves: Instagram Stories last 24 hours, tweets are 280 characters, Snaps have a 10-second timer, etc. Tesla started out with a super niche of making luxury electric cars. Facebook started as a way to connect students within Harvard. These are all intentional constraints that significantly enhance their respective USPs.
The “constraints” of faith free us to live better. I know what you’re thinking: Religion. Rules. Ugh. But hear me out for a second. Religion isn’t about following a bunch of rules of things that we can’t do, but about freeing us to embrace the things that actually matter. Religion will tell you to avoid pornography not because it wants you to be a sexless prude, but because avoiding it helps you to have healthy, meaningful relationships. (and if you think you can watch porn and have a meaningful relationship at the same time… ask your spouse). The constraints of religion point us away from things that are wrong, so that we can go deeper into things that are truly life-giving.
Like going on a tour, you can enhance many areas of your life by embracing their constraints. It’s a paradox: The more you embrace these supposed “constraints”, the greater the freedom you experience.
What areas of your life could you enhance by applying embracing their constraints?