Whenever I went through a stressful time at work, I used to crave a week on the beach. Seven days lying prostrate on powdery white sands, doing absolutely nothing: no calls, requests or demands, just sweet sunshine and a steady stream of books/cocktails. The weird thing is, when I got the chance to fulfil this fantasy, it rarely lived up to the hype. Like most of us who take at least four days to fully unwind, even on a beach, my mind remained in full-on work mode. And then simply spooled into that empty time; thinking, musing, worrying… I seemed to do nothing, yet I was no more relaxed for it. I might have literally travelled far but (at the risk of sounding pretentious), I had’t gone that much outside myself. I had too much time to think, and I didn’t feel particularly refreshed.
A rapid burst of adventure, on the other hand, well – that’s another story. Experiential travel is on the rise, as more and more of us are seeking out a holiday with a twist. We want a break that’s different, unusual and authentic. Something that not only challenges us, but leaves us reeling with energy and endorphins from the sheer novelty of it all. Most of us can’t afford to take weeks off work, and the effect may be diluted in any case. Instead, a potent, activity-filled getaway is just the tonic for a career that’s either a.) super-demanding or b.) stagnant. Here’s why:
A creativity shortcut
There’s no magic pill for creativity but we do know that creative people process the world differently. A quick adventure is ample breeding ground for the curiosity and interest in new things required to do this. Moreover, research shows that unusual and unexpected events facilitate flexible thinking. This might be surfing for the first time in South Africa’s Knysna Lagoon. It could be climbing Peru’s fabled Rainbow Mountain. It may even mean being stranded overnight in a remote Russian border town after missing the last connection. Experiences like these – the good, the bad and the ugly – go beyond the parameters of what we’re used to, thus triggering a different way of thinking.
„Creativity can be seen as the ability to make connections between disparate ideas, but unless you have explored a wealth of experiences, you will not have anything to draw from,“ writes New York-based behavioural scientist Jon Levy, in an article for Inc.com. „Going on vacation provides a wealth of novelty to spur creativity.“ A short, action-packed escape will do the trick nicely.
Learning for life
A fresh adventure is an opportunity learn a host of new skills, and give a work-out to rusty ones. You might suck at paddle-boarding in the Philippines‘ River Loboc. The knack for powering a snowmobile through the arctic landscape of Finland could be something you never quite get. But that’s not the point. It’s the joy of learning that counts. „Micro-mastery“ – the art of trying out lots of small skills – is brilliant for confidence and self-belief. If you’re feeling a bit wrung-out at work, there’s nothing better to fuel your self-worth.
„It’s actually a core need for psychological wellbeing. Learning can help us build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy,“ Vanessa King, positive psychology expert at Action for Happiness, tells Psychologies magazine. „It can also be a way of connecting with others too. As human beings, we have a natural desire to learn and progress.“ Learning is a simple act but one that’s easily eroded in everyday life. Get back in the habit to refresh your career outlook.
The power of experience
We know that spending money on new experiences makes us happier than spending money on things. This is because the thrill of a new thing is short-lived; it fades over time as we adapt and become used to its novelty. The same could be said for the average office routine. We get used to the same people and the same drill, day after day. Familiarity may not breed contempt but it sure has a way of stirring up discontent. But a vivid, multi-coloured adventure – a road trip around Spain on Vespas, say, or a sunset camel ride in Morocco – is a ready-made antidote to this familiarity. It shakes things up and creates a fresh window on the world.
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Short adventure getaways tap into the extraordinary power of experience as few other events can. „Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves,“ says Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, and the man leading research into the relationship between experiences and happiness. Once we have an experience, it stays with us and forms part of who we are; thus „we are the sum total of our experiences“, he explains. Gilovich’s research shows that this is true even where we’ve had a negative experience. Our assessment of it tends to improve in the re-telling of it, perhaps because we re-frame what was once stressful or scary as a character-building event. The bottom line? The more experiences we have, and the greater skills we pack into these, the bigger and more able we are.
Formula for happiness
So, a sharp dose of adventure fuels creativity, and cashes in on the power of learning and experience. All these factors are closely associated with happiness, as is connecting to new people – another element facilitated by a mini-adventure. Think of it as a potent happiness/wake-up shot; and one that’s far more effective than your average beach break when it comes to re-charging. The best bit? Neuroscience data shows that new experiences trick our brains into thinking our holidays have lasted longer, because exhilarating activities distort our perception of time. By booking in for a quick adventure, you’ll be happier AND somehow you’ll feel like you’ve had more time off work, too. We call that a double whammy win.