Traveling to a new destination can grow your brain
On a recent plane trip, I read that 85% of US vacation travelers are inclined to visit the same place every year. Many of them stay in the same hotel and eat at the same restaurants. While repetition can create wonderful traditions for people, it can also lead to complacency and staleness.
Did you know you can evolve your brain simply by visiting a new destination?
Have you ever noticed when you return to the same place, you have the sense that nothing has changed? Have you visited an old friend and felt as if no time had passed? And why do school years begin to fly by the more we have of them? The answer is that our brain is compressing these memories onto one another. The time in between the memories quickens and it feels as if time is speeding up.
As the world starts to become more familiar, we learn less and tend to seek information and experiences that fit within the paradigms of what we already know. This is a simple brain bias called “status quo” that compels us to seek information that validates our position. The status quo bias can keep us in the same information loop-which means we are essentially stuck.
So how do we get unstuck? Can we slow down time and grow our brain?
The simple answer is “Yes” And the good news is that your brain has the ability to evolve and stretch even as you grow older. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s power to create new pathways and learn new things. Our brain grows more quickly in childhood and continues to develop rapidly well into our 20’s. Although this growth slows as we age, neuroscientists now know that our brain never stops growing. The neuroplasticity of our brain allows the neurons (nerve cells) to adjust their activities in response to information from new situations or changes in the environment. These adjustments grow new networks of neurons which allow us to think in different ways. So essentially, doing new things and experiencing new environments helps us get unstuck from our old ways.
Go Far Away!
One way to get unstuck is to remove yourself from your regular experiences. Getting far away from where you live allows you to gain perspective. You get to experience yourself outside of your normal surroundings and you may discover or uncover something new. You may experience an “aha moment” around something in your life that is not working or needs to change. You may be able to see a destructive pattern that is inhibiting your life. Or you may enjoy a way of being that you do not cultivate at home.
In daily life we get caught up in a whirlwind of activity and schedules that make time move very quickly. Visiting new places and learning new things rewires and grows your brain and as a by-product time slows down. When you experience something new or are in a new environment, you are drawn to the sensations and details of the new experience. You are inspired to notice things and “write” them as memories into your neural pathways. The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” says David Eagleman, a neuroscience professor at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston—“why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”
Dive in and Experience it:
One of the best ways to grow your brain is through an immersive experience. David Eagleman, has written that, travel to “novel places” is an equalizer in the race against brain deterioration. The key, he says, is not just visiting different cultures, but diving and and immersing yourself in the culture. Immersive travel experiences place you among people in their native environments, eating their food and participating in their ceremonies. Examples – Take a cooking class in a new country, volunteer at an orphanage, schedule a home visit in another country – Push your boundaries a bit and really see what a new country or people are like.
These experiences create new neural pathways, expand our memories in a youthful-like way and stretch the perceived time of our vacations. You will return home feeling more creative and invigorated. Immersive travel also expands your worldview and allows you to understand others in a deep way. And just maybe you will have the opportunity to understand yourself a bit more too!
If you would like to learn more about immersive travel or strategies to integrate “travel aha’s or revelations” into your life at home, please contact me.