Travel as a Deliberate Practice
For most people, travel is a vacation. There’s nothing wrong with a vacation. But a vacation only solves the problem of…well…needing a vacation.
If you worked intensely on a big project at work for several months and your brain is fried, a vacation is the correct solution. You’ll recharge your batteries and come back to work in good mental heath.
A vacation does not solve the fundamental issues of lacking self-knowledge, being in the wrong career, having poor health, or lacking autonomy in your life.
Our primary mission at TrekDek is to help you get out of the vacation mindset and turn your travels into a deliberate practice.
I borrowed the concept of deliberate practice from Cal Newport who borrowed it from Geoff Colvin, an editor at Fortune Magazine. Here are some of the elements of deliberate practice borrowed from Cal Newport’s blog post on the subject.
- It’s designed to improve performance. “The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. That may sound obvious, but most of us don’t do it in the activities we think of as practice.”
- It’s repeated a lot. “High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts.”
- Feedback on results is continuously available. “You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn’t what counts.”
- It’s highly demanding mentally. “Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it ‘deliberate,’ as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.”
- It’s hard. “Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands.”
- It requires (good) goals. “The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.”
The whole point of deliberate practice is to develop mastery. I don’t think mastering travel is that valuable. What does that even mean? That you can get through airport security without getting flagged? That you travel with only one bag? I’m a big fan of “travel hacking” but that’s not our focus.
We think travel is most valuable when it’s used as a form of deliberate practice to develop mastery in other areas of your life.
The types of goals travel helps you achieve:
Here are some goals we think travel can help you achieve:
a) Developing self–knowledge. This is probably the most important thing travel can help you do. Knowing yourself means knowing your personality traits, how you develop relationships, the mediums in which you are most likely to succeed, etc.. This is especially important if you’re young or still in college and in fact, should be the most important goal of your life until you developed enough self-knowledge to make good decisions.
b) Improving recognition of the things you can and cannot change, and how to react appropriately. This is the second most important thing travel can help you do. You are going to encounter a lot of annoying and sucky things on your travels, things you can’t change. The ability to react in an appropriate way will help you achieve success in other areas of your life outside of travel.
c) Increase your creativity. Creativity is a use it or lose it type of thing. Travel is an excellent way to increase your level of creativity. Steve Jobs said creativity is really just connecting the dots. Travel will gives you lots of dots to connect.
d) Learn how to enjoy yourself. This may seem stupid to you because what could be easier enjoying yourself? Surprisingly, many people get pressured into trying to enjoy things they don’t really like. I remember in college everyone always wanted to go to frat parties. I claimed I did as well. You know what? 99% of them sucked. I enjoyed staying in with a few beers and watching a movie much, much more than doing keg stands. Travel is going to expose you to lots of different things you may or may not enjoy, but more importantly, it gives you a chance to be honest with yourself about the types of things you do and do not like doing.
e) Leveraging travel to build the type of career you want. Travel led me to quit Navy SEAL training and start on the path to entrepreneurship. Travel will not automatically give you the career you want, but you’ll discover that you have an affinity for certain types of work, and disdain for others. It’ll be a messy process discovering these things but travel definitely helps accelerate the process.
Why Travel is an Excellent Environment for Self-Improvement
Travel is not really a solution to any of your problems. However, travel is an excellent environment for personal growth (or as we say, mastery).
Here is why we think it’s an excellent environment:
1. Habit Disruption: Travel disrupts most of your existing habits. When you’re at home, you’re likely to do the same thing every day with some minor variations. I’m not saying habit formation is bad. In fact, we absolutely encourage habits that lead to results you want to achieve. The nice part about travel is when your existing habits are disrupted, you will get an opportunity to examine and analyze your old habits from a distance. Maybe back home you had the habit of eating junk food at 3 PM everyday. Now that you’re on the road, you don’t really have that desire anymore. Why not? Maybe it’s because at 3 PM everyday back home, your boss would stress you out or you’d have some sort of deadline or maybe you were just bored. Now that you know this, you can take corrective actions when you do return home and form habits that don’t lead to an extra 10 pounds around your gut.
2. Exposure to different values in real life. Yes, we all know intellectually that different cultures have different values. Asian cultures are more collectivist; Western cultures are more individualist. Italians take the time to smell the roses while Americans are always in a rush. What’s interesting is you’ll actually be able to live these values while you travel and test out the ones you like and relate to. For example, I thought I valued a slow, unhurried life. It’s still true, but I don’t value it above everything else.
When I studied abroad in France and taught English in Cairo, I kept getting upset when people showed up late, when stores weren’t open on Sundays, and when the subway workers would go on strike and I couldn’t get anywhere. This made me realize I do value efficiency and an instant gratification culture more than I thought I would. What you think you’ll like and what you’ll actually like will become clearer to you as you travel and live in different places. If you’re American, it’s more likely than not that you will want to live in an efficient, faster paced culture or at least find ways to deal with slowness.
3. Forced stoicism. Stoicism (and Buddhism actually) is based on the idea that there are things you can change, and there are things you can’t change. If you’re American, you’ve grown up in a culture that values change and believes that everything can be improved. It’s quite a shock to move to an Arab country and hear “Inshallah” everywhere. Inshallah means “God Willing” and it’s an acknowledgement that you don’t control events. Coming from the US, it’s refreshing to say it when you are running late to a meeting, but incredibly frustrating when someone else is running late to a meeting with you. You’re going to be exposed to a variety of situations where you’d like to change things, but you can’t. It’s frustrating and humbling, but it’s also excellent training for your life outside of travel. It’ll train you to focus your energies on things you can change, and ignore the things you can’t.
Those are just the elements of travel that I’ve discovered and observed. I’m sure there are more that will come up as we delve deeper into the topic of travel as mastery.
How we’ll help you achieve these goals
While we’re always experimenting and learning to find out the best ways to turn travel into a deliberate practice, we have certain methods we’re going to encourage
1. Doing TrekDek Challenges: We think our treks will push you out of your comfort zone. Not all the time, some are easy and some are hard. But, we want to help you establish a habit of doing these treks.
2. Encouraging deliberate reflection through sharing: We want the TrekDek website to be a place where you can share photos and stories of your travel experiences. When you share your experiences, you will most likely share only the superficial aspects of your adventures. But, as time goes on, we encourage you think more about your experience and process it. We’ll help you do that by asking you relevant questions about your travels. We also think the community will jump in with fascinating questions and comments that will help you reflect even more deeply.
4. Making deliberate practice a habit, not a forced, high-pressure goal to achieve: New Year’s resolutions are all the same. They are high performance goals that say “I will become an awesome person in X, Y, and Z ways by the end of next year.” Most fail. This is because it’s too stressful to think about outcomes. We want to help you make deliberate practice a habit. Once something is a habit, you’ll do it automatically. By divorcing the goal setting from the habit formation process, you’ll actually make a lot more progress than if you had tried to force yourself to achieve an outcome.
5. Making it fun: TrekDek is a game. We added gaming elements to our website. While deliberate practice is supposed to be hard, we don’t want it to be so hard the process intimidates you and prevents you from doing it at all. That’s why we have easy treks (stuff you’ll probably do anyway).
a) If you haven’t already, read Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. It’s a fun and excellent book about deliberate practice.
b) Sign up for our newsletter. We send out a bi-weekly newsletters called “Tips and Treks.” We’ll be giving you specific pieces of advice you can use as deliberate practice.
c) Check out our Travel as Mastery Manifesto. If the concept resonates with you, please share it.
d) Check out the full list of TrekDek Treks. If you’ve done any of these on your travels, send us a few photos and a short description of your experience. Remember how we said we want to encourage deliberate reflection? This is one of the way’s were doing it. We’ll publish your photo and story and link to your website if you have one.