The Cognitive Benefits of Travel

The Cognitive Benefits of Travel

The Cognitive Benefits of Travel

The Cognitive Benefits of Travel

As people, we crave routine. Outwardly, we claim that we love variety and something new each time. However, we actually prefer what we’re comfortable with, the tried and true. The humdrum lessens the mental strain to make it through each day. Routines make life easier. Wake up, go to work, send a few emails, come home, and watch TV while eating takeout. This is a comfortable day, yet it’s one that leads to stagnation.

Routines can be great and give us a sense of comfort. Look at pilots and doctors who use checklists. These processes make things automatic, reducing deviation and errors. But they also put the brain on repeat, not in shutdown mode but in low-power mode, close to dormant.

Think of the brain as a muscle that needs exercise to grow. That exercise comes in the form of new stimuli that force cognitive activation and overall improvement. Your thinking gets frozen in time without new stimuli.

Marking the Brain

Everything you experience leaves a mark on the brain. New involvements stimulate neurons to form new connections, a process called neuroplasticity. Simply put, it is the brain exercising.

Neuroplastic connections communicating between brain cells allow us to think and solve problems. When we learn new things, these connections multiply and get stronger. The more you challenge your mind to learn, the more your brain cells grow.

New experiences spur novel problems or knowledge that you’ve never encountered. For example, when you accept a new job, it feels like you are drinking from a fire-hose. Information is coming from every direction; you don’t know which emails are relevant. But it is exhilarating, and you feel sharper going through the process. Your brain is operating at a newer and higher level.

Predictability with Age

As we age, work and home become predictable. Your environment no longer shocks you. Traveling to a foreign land can kick your brain into overdrive.

Your senses are thrown off. Sights, smells, and sounds are all different. Your brain starts to take notes of what is new. You must then navigate new situations and problems never faced before.

Our cognitive processing moves to hyperactivity. The brain keeps working in overdrive and at a new, advanced level. This hyper awareness sharpens your focus while creating new mental connections that can merge different concepts.

Stressed Thinking

We’ve all worked with deadlines before. You feel the stress and pressure of producing a result. Typically, you can pull out unique insights and innovations. The brain is operating on a unique plane.

If travel induces new stimuli and stress, take advantage of that situation and pull out some of the old problems you’ve been working on. You will have new insights that may provide a solution that was right in front of you the whole time.

I had previously gotten writer’s block. Feeling burned out by writing the same thing only with different words, I traveled to Ireland for a week and rode the rails. Looking at the new scenery, interpreting different varieties of the English language, and shifting into a different culture, I was then able to outline new essays and draft the outline of a new novel. My cognitive processing was operating on a new circuitry with speed and precision. If you are looking to rejuvenate your thinking, maybe a week in a different country is all you need.


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