More of us are choosing to travel alone than ever before, but it can be a decision that’s riddled in fear the first time you do it. A solo adventure is the kind of quest that throws up a stream of nagging “what ifs?”. What if I end up sad/lonely/stranded/broke/lost?
Often, the reaction of friends and family doesn’t help, either. “Wow, that’s BRAVE,” people will say, as if you’re scaling the north face of the Everest rather than backpacking a friendly trail in Vietnam. “God, I could never do that!” is another response you’ll likely hear a lot. With all this ambiguity whirling around, it’s easy just to take the safe option and avoid commitment. Instead, you file solo travel away in back of your mind under “something I might like to try… sometime”.
But there’s one truism of human nature that might help you take this leap of faith (and solo travel is really a leap of faith the first time you try it). It’s known as the status quo bias.
The powerful role of the status quo
The status quo bias stipulates that we prefer the familiar over the frightening unknown. Experiments have shown that the status quo bias holds true even where breaking with it may reap substantial benefits. We’re so adverse to the idea of losing our current reality that it’s easier to not risk it, and instead stick to what we know.
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In making a decision, we are conditioned to choose what is safe and familiar, rather than what is the correct choice for us.”Even when we understand our current path is no longer beneficial or no longer makes us happy, we must still overcome the natural urge to stay on the path unless the alternative is sufficiently attractive,” says Yale researcher Rob Henderson. “We are held back by what we believe to be the safe option, simply because it is the default.”
Is fear holding you back?
The status quo bias is alive and kicking in most of us, and it can be a powerful force that impedes big life decisions, triggering inertia. However, the best way to fight it is to be aware of the role that it plays in any important, seemingly scary choice that you come up against. Knowing that status quo bias is clouding your judgement will help you compensate for it.
” If you’re facing a dilemma, and can’t figure out whether to take the plunge, then all else being equal, you should,” says Guardian wellbeing writer, Oliver Burkeman. “When you consult your gut about whether to seek a divorce, abandon your PhD, or move to Iceland, the answer you receive will be biased toward inertia. Correct for that, and your feeling of being on the fence is really an argument for action.”
Does the decision enlarge you?
Burkeman suggests you take the lead from Jungian psychoanalyst James Hollis in making a big decision and ask: does it enlarge or diminish me? If the answer is enlarge, go with that option every time.
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This is about facing your fear and doing it anyway: not simply for the gung-ho attitude, but because the status quo bias – and fear of the unfamiliar – is very likely to be blurring your judgement. Being aware of this will help you make the leap into the Great Unknown.