Beyond the exciting exposure to new cultures, cuisine, languages and landscape, a change of place invariably has a profound impact on your outlook and mental wellbeing.
Psychologists generally frame personality along a spectrum of 5 broad traits. These include extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. While a person’s basic nature is preordained genetically our life experience influences and shapes our unique combination of traits. Travel, particularly extended travel, has proven influential.
"Those who traveled tended to show an increase in Openness to Experience, Agreeableness (which reflects a need to get along with other people) and Emotional Stability relative to those who did not travel. “ (Julia Zimmermann and Franz Neyer in the September, 2013)
According to fellow nomad and author Rhys Fisher “Openness is seen as a predictor for academic and job performance, especially when combined with a strong score on conscientiousness. The Open generally enjoy searching for good creative solutions to problems and the Conscientious have the structure and organization to make it happen, together these two traits promise great things.”
Change, even good change, is tough. It requires more effort and mental fluidity to move and adapt than to stick with the known and predictable. Because meeting the challenges of a new place requires a good deal of energy, there is necessarily less room for everything else. It focuses attention on what you truly consider important. Not surprisingly Zimmerman’s study showed that travelling allowed people to “gain perspective on life, which made them less emotionally reactive to day-to-day changes (Emotional Stability)”
Moreover, there is nothing quite like distance and space to make you profoundly grateful for the people and things in your life that are true gifts.
Lifelong learning, not surprisingly, is a well documented commonality among wildly successful people. Being inquisitive and excited to explore the unknown uncovers a treasure trove of new possibility and unleashes creativity.
Multicultural experience, in particularly, has been found to substantially increase creativity. It quickly becomes apparent that not only does every culture have its own tangible differences (food, architecture, etc)- there are also profound difference in the way each culture views the world. Understanding that two people can see the same thing very differently is richly rewarding and improves empathy.
If your travels require learning a new language it can also be profoundly humbling. While learning a new language is challenging for many reasons, it forces the brain to simultaneous think fast and slow, to listen more, to respond more slowly. As we’ve talked about before, reflective thinking is a powerful factor in happiness and mental wellbeing.
Testing your limits by putting yourself in unfamiliar (and sometimes uncomfortable) settings or scenarios, forces trust in yourself, and a better understanding of who you are. It makes you more confident and outgoing, and above all it teaches you about self-reliance and courage. It is not surprising that the Zimmerman study showed extended travel increased emotional stability.
There is often a shorthand among nomads and travellers that makes many of the formalities of building a new friendship unnecessary. A certain willingness to learn and expand one’s horizons, attracts likeminded people to uproot and find themselves drawn together in a new place. As with any time of big transition, people are more open minded and more accepting of other’s differences allowing them to overlook things that might otherwise derail a new friendship. The bonds made while abroad are further strengthened by a shared path of self-exploration and discovery.
There is almost no better ‘fresh start’ than a new horizon. A chance to deliberately choose and shape your priorities, relationships and outlook. While you take yourself with you wherever you go, being unburdened by the bonds of familiarity and history can be a new lease on life making you feel more alive than ever.
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