1. Geographic Distance Leads to Improved Problem Solving (More Creative and Expansive Problem Solving)
psychology PhDs use a test of creative problem solving called a creative generation task. It involves being given a problem and being asked to come up with as many possible solutions to that problem as you can. You need to stretch your brain as far and wide as it will go. Experimental studies have shown that when people are told the creative generation problem solving task was developed in an overseas country, they come up with a higher number of possible solutions to the problem. Their thinking gets more EXPANSIVE. They think more abstractly and fluidly and are less tied to assumptions.
Here’s Jonah Lehrer’s explanation of the study
“Look, for instance, at a recent experiment led by the psychology PhD Lile Jia at Indiana University. He randomly divided a few dozen undergrads into two groups, both of which were asked to list as many different modes of transportation as possible. (This is known as a creative generation task.) One group of students was told that the task was developed by Indiana University students studying abroad in Greece (the distant condition), while the other group was told that the task was developed by Indiana students studying in Indiana (the near condition). At first glance, it’s hard to believe that such a slight and seemingly irrelevant difference would alter the performance of the subjects. Why would it matter where the task was conceived?
Nevertheless, Jia found a striking difference between the two groups: when students were told that the task was imported from Greece, they came up with significantly more transportation possibilities. They didn’t just list buses, trains and planes; they cited horses, triremes, spaceships, bicycles and even Segway scooters. Because the source of the problem was far away, the subjects felt less constrained by their local transport options; they didn’t just think about getting around in Indiana – they thought about getting around all over the world and even in deep space”
Read the full study
When we get geographic distance from our own problems + feel more relaxed due to being on vacation, we’re more likely to see new ways of dealing with problems at home.
2. Openness to Experience Builds Skills and Capacities
My friend posted a picture of herself on a bicycle in Berlin to FB this morning. My friend doesn’t ride bicycles – except she does while in Berlin. I’m the same. I will ride a bike on vacation but not at home. This came in handy one day when my car was out of action and I needed to borrow a bike to get somewhere. It was much less intimidating because I had recently ridden a bike on vacation.
3. The Expanded Self
– When we try new things on vacation we develop more fluid and expansive self-concepts. Trying new things leads to thoughts like “If I can do this, what else can I do?” “If I can surprise myself about myself in this way, in what other ways could I surprise myself?”
– We develop new skills and capacities from navigation skills to, most importantly, feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
– We get more accustomed to doing new and unfamiliar things. When these opportunities come up at home, we’re less likely to automatically go into avoidant coping mode and say No.
5. Curiosity and Meaning in Life
Exploring your own interests gives you
(a) a strong sense of self – you know what you like and you are expressing your authentic self by doing the things you like,
(b) a sense that you’re heading in the right direction in your life. You’re pursuing your values and goals (meaning), as well as
(c) self confidence.
Take Home Message
Don’t sweat it if you get to your third museum of the day and it’s closed. You can get the above benefits of travel without packing in activities.
Positive Psychology is the science of increasing positive emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Do your own Positive Psychology self development project using one of my email series or pdfs.