The Two Year Rule

3 minute read

Confidence: likely
Importance: 6

These are my musings. As with all of my writing, please attempt to read charitably.

I have a personal rule I set for myself: I cannot claim that I don’t like a food if I haven’t tried it in the past two years.

Young Alex was always a plain buttered noodles kind of guy. As I’ve traveled through the years, I’ve discovered that my food palette has significantly expanded, much to the delight of my tastebuds. I’m consistently surprised that I like various things that I thought I didn’t, or wouldn’t, enjoy. Somewhere in college, I was discussing this with some friends and the above rule fell out from of the following observations:

  1. Notice that my tastes can change over time, even by a large amount.
  2. Notice that I get a lot of pleasure/value/enjoyment out of these previously disliked (or untried) flavors.
  3. Notice that the failure case isn’t that bad.

Therefore, it seems reasonable that I should regularly try foods I think I don’t like to see if I have unlocked the new world of enjoying that flavor yet. In an optimized reality, the “two years” limit should be proportional to how much I currently dislike it and how much I might expect to enjoy it in the future (i.e. is it healthy? Is it readily available? How expensive is it? Can it be combined with lots of other flavors?). I’m a sucker for a good optimization problem, but I find that the quippy “two year rule” is a lot more memorable, and therefore useful, idea.

But I write about this as a specific example of a general trend I’ve noticed in myself and that you may see in yourself too. Exploration vs exploitation. Explore vs exploit is the choice you make when picking between options. Do you pick the option that you know the value of (exploit), or do you pick the more unknown option (explore)? In particular, this dilemma often describes repeated decisions – situations you expect to see multiple times. Some examples: Choosing where to fish on a lake, choosing a dish at a restaurant, choosing a book to read, choosing a place to live, choosing your hobbies, or even choosing your friends.

I think in general we don’t explore enough and start exploiting too quickly. It’s easy to forget about the opportunity cost of not exploring enough. It’s very easy to find something we enjoy and just be content with it. It’s safe. We won’t get hurt. We are unlikely to spit out our meal in disgust if we always just order our favorites at our favorite restaurants. I want to challenge myself and the reader to think more carefully about the stakes at play. In the case of choosing what to order at a restaurant. What’s a reasonably bad case scenario? You can’t stomach the meal and either go hungry for one meal (forced intermittent fasting) or you order the dish you know you like afterwards. The money and time prep time of the first meal is gone, but you learned you still don’t like that dish (at least for two more years ;)). Is that really that bad?

What’s the upside? You find a whole new class of food whose exquisite taste and health benefits that you can enjoy for the entire rest of your life. That seems like a trade worth making! I think that careful examination of the costs and potential benefits of exploring more is worthy of our attention.

I want to start applying this “Two Year Rule” to more aspects of my life – I suspect its true power comes from unlocking other wonders, not just the culinary ones.

P.S. We also do not give enough credence to revisiting the underlying assumptions that were made at the time of initial choice. We ourselves change and this warrants additional exploration! This is part of what I like about the “Two Year Rule”. It begs that you ask yourself to reevaluate and see if life has changed in a way that might affect your choice. Have your finances changed? Has your health? Your friends? Your religion? The things you value?