Explore New Places and Expand Your Mind
7 February 2018
The holidays are over and Mardi Gras is upon us here in New Orleans. Many of us are beginning to plan our spring and summer vacations. Where will you go? Do you opt for the familiar, comfortable destinations? Or do you strike out for adventure – new vistas?
In his Harvard Business Review blog, “Managing Yourself,” Todd B. Kashdan, director of the Well-Being Laboratory at George Mason University, suggests that getting out of your comfort zone, exposing yourself to uncertainty, trading the familiar for the new, provides significant personal growth.
Three specific areas of growth occur, according to Dr. Kashdan while traveling to new destinations:
• Emotional agility – the ability not to react immediately to emotions, but to
observe those that arise, carefully collect information to understand the possible causes,
then intentionally decide how to manage them.
• Empathy grows with exposure to different cultures – and the greater the variety the better.
A 2013 study from the International Journal of Cross Cultural Management links exposure to foreign travel with increased ability to focus attention and energy. In addition, the findings indicate that Americans who travel abroad gain greater tolerance and trust of strangers, and become more open to new knowledge and philosophies.
• Creativity – researchers in Singapore, found that greater exposures to other cultures through traveling, having international friendships, and consuming music and food from other countries is linked to an increased ability to solve problems in unconventional ways.
It is interesting to note that, as our daughter Meghan, now a senior in high school, nears a decision about which college she will attend, we find many schools are strongly encouraging their students to take at least a semester abroad. A professor at Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky (over 80% of their students travel abroad during their undergraduate studies), told me that students return to campus with a renewed sense of excitement, a sense of the world and how others live, which can lead to greater empathy. He believes these travel experiences can result in students’ fine tuning their ability to think critically about complex issues, and can help students gain greater self-confidence.
Dr. Kashdan believes we stretch ourselves via exposure to people unlike ourselves. We learn to understand others’ perspectives, and to innovate rather than do what we are comfortable with. Stepping outside comfort zones broadens us, and, these studies suggest, gives us better tools.