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5 Ways Going Abroad Alone Increases Your Performance at Work

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What is your first thought when one of your co-workers decides to take a two-week vacation abroad? Sure, now you have to work overtime in their absence, but would it be worth it if they came back better than ever? At a crossroads in my career, I decided to spend two weeks in South America to gain clarity about what I want to do with my life, and as great as this experience was for my personal growth, I underestimated how much this trip would impact my professional life.

Here are the 5 ways it changed my performance and how it can change your performance too:

1. You Learn to Build Relationships from Nothing

As important as your time alone is for your personal development, finding ways to effectively socialize while abroad is probably your greatest challenge. Solo traveling forces you into uncomfortable situations where you must find common ground with people who speak different languages, have different beliefs, and come from different backgrounds.

Traveling alone gets lonely with minimal socialization, and the way you learn to respond to challenging social moments oftentimes is the personal development you seek when choosing to travel alone.

The ability to introduce yourself to new people and build relationships quickly is a skill that translates immensely at work. Whether you are at a company event, meeting a new employee, or building a relationship with a client, your experience socializing abroad gives you a new confidence in your conversations.

2. You Gain Self-Awareness

When traveling alone, it is a gift and a curse that you make every decision for yourself. You very quickly learn more about the things that you enjoy doing and the ways that you like spending your day. Every decision you make offers immediate feedback that further reveals your priorities and preferences, and from that you gain a new sense of self-awareness.

Although self-awareness can be practiced deliberately, a foreign setting brings about organic opportunities to develop self-awareness through cultural and natural introspection.

Self-awareness is hugely valuable at work because it allows you to be more critical of yourself.  Being in tune with your skillset makes you a more productive and efficient member of your team.

By identifying your capabilities in different areas, you can focus on your role and add value in the way that is optimized for you. The first step is to understand more about yourself and what you offer, and travel is a great way to hone in on exactly that.

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” – Marcus Aurelius

3. You Learn How to Take Ownership of Poor Results

When sharing any experience with another person, the blame, guilt, pride or triumph dilutes into the entire group. When traveling alone, however, everything that happens is directed back at you, and you are responsible for every consequence of the decisions you make. You must learn to take ownership of your own mistakes when abroad, and learn to manage negative situations proactively.

In the workplace, accepting fault is especially important because blame is a huge source of conflict, and can greatly affect your office relationships along with your team’s willingness to work with you.

Taking ownership might be a source of immediate animosity, but serves well in the long-term because it builds a foundation that will help you overcome issues that arise in the future.

On a personal development note, when perceiving the error as your own, you assume the role of correcting the system that caused the error and gain experience as an individual while setting the company up for success moving forward.

4. You Learn How to Problem Solve Independently

I’d be remiss to not mention that traveling alone is stressful. You need to navigate public transportation, manage travel itineraries, and book all accommodations, which is not easy to do solo. Nonetheless, this challenge is valuable, because it makes you practice new skills in a high-stakes environment along with growing a sense of autonomy.

Independent problem solving is an irreplaceable skill in business, and being capable of finding an answer to a tough question on your own saves your team from unneeded distractions. Alternatively, when a peer presents you with a difficult and important problem to solve, you now have more faith in your ability to come up with a creative solution.

The skill of solving problems for yourself is an asset at work, and can develop quickly when being alone while abroad.

“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” – Duke Ellington

5. You Learn to Trust Your Own Impressions

As a solo-traveler, you have a lot of time to internalize everything you experience. Although I do suggest everyone keep a journal while they are traveling, your impressions are limited to your own vantage point. With this limited input, you begin to value your own instincts more than you did before.

In your job, trusting your own impressions will increase your productivity at work by accelerating your work-flow. Certain projects require that you just move forward, and instead of second guessing yourself, you will have more confidence that you can handle the task. Time abroad brings a new-found confidence in difficult situations that will manifest in all areas of your life.

Outside of the unmatchable personal exploration you experience while traveling alone, you develop certain traits that prove to be extremely beneficial in a professional setting. By learning to build better relationships, gain self-awareness, take ownership of poor results, solve problems on your own, and trust your own impressions, traveling abroad hands you a polished set of skills that can deployed upon your return.

Where do you want to travel to and why? Let us know where you want to go in the comments below!

Image courtesy of Twenty20.com

Brian Ford is a former Division 1 college soccer player and standout scholar-athlete at UC Davis.  Having studied neurobiology and psychology, Brian completed 2 years in medical device sales where he provided consultative support for spine surgeons in the operating room.  More interested in applying his scientific background in a business setting, Brian will soon begin working for an exciting Silicon Valley biotech startup as the Director of Marketing and Sales while earning his MBA from Santa Clara University.  Brian is the host and founder of the Top-Rated Amazon Alexa Flash Briefing “Self Improvement Daily”, and continues to manage a local community service organization he created in college.  Brian is motivated to have a large social impact with everything he does, and the best way to follow his progress is on LinkedIn.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. KAUSTAV GHOSH

    Nov 19, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    one of the best article I have came across, thanks for sharing.

  2. Luaren

    Sep 5, 2018 at 11:17 pm

    Good article,thank you for sharing

  3. Vishal

    Aug 29, 2018 at 4:19 pm

    Thank you sir for this beautiful post.

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3 Simple Hacks That Can Recharge Your Willpower and Help You Perform Better at Work

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How many times did you wake up feeling like you could conquer the world? You set ambitious goals for the day, you put on your best attire and walked out the door with a big smile on your face but eventually, life took over. Traffic, emails, work, family, and everything else you have around slowly but steadily started to drain your energy and made you feel exhausted.

You run out of battery, and the only solution that seemed viable was to rely on more caffeine. When that stopped working, all the temptations around you started to look much more appealing, and that sense of drive and commitment you had before slowly faded away. This is you running out of willpower.

Willpower: what is it? Why is it limited?

The American Psychology Association describes willpower as “the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.” In the book “The Willpower Instinct”, Dr. Kelly McGonigal, explains how every person’s willpower is limited, and slowly depletes throughout the day. The more “willpower challenges” you face, the quicker your reserve drains. Dr. McGonigal divided the different types of willpower challenges you might encounter in three categories:

  • I will: We face this type of challenge whenever we should do something, but we simply don’t feel like getting it done right now.
  • I won’t: We face this challenge when we try to resist temptation, or we try to keep cool in stressful situations.
  • I want: This is a particular type of challenge where we keep track of our long term goals, dreams, and desires. In this instance, we feel like we should take action right now to come one step closer to the goal. 

It’s easy to recognize it when you face a willpower challenge because you literally “feel it in your body.” Imagine being really hungry and walking in front of a bakery. The sight and the smell of pastries quickly triggers an “I won’t” type of challenge, and it takes a severe amount of effort and energy to walk away.

Every time you manage to win one of those challenges, a little bit of your willpower reserve gets used. The more challenges you face daily, the harder it will be to stay true to your goals.

Can you train or recharge your willpower?

A growing body of research suggests that willpower should be considered a muscle. To strengthen it, you should exercise it regularly, but you should not overwork it. Therefore, we shouldn’t try to “be good” at all times. Instead, we should learn how to relax and recharge our willpower.

The general advice on how to improve willpower involves sleep, proper nutrition, and regular exercise. This broad and general recommendation is often not downright applicable by most, because it consists of changing various daily habits. Luckily, three very effective hacks have been discovered, that have an immediate effect on our willpower and take just a few minutes to apply.

Here are the 3 ways to refill your willpower reserves:

1. Focused breathing

Breathing, when done correctly, can stimulate the release of calming hormones while reducing the release of stress hormones like cortisol and catecholamines. To make this effective, you should deeply and slowly inhale through the nose for at least five seconds. Fill your belly with air first, then your chest, and when there’s no more space for air, still try to do tiny inhalations through the nose.

You should feel a pulling sensation around your neck and trapezius muscles. Once your lungs are full, try to hold the breath for five seconds, then slowly exhale through the mouth for at least five seconds. If you repeat this process ten to twenty times, you should feel dramatically more relaxed. Use this method several times a day, especially when you’re experiencing high levels of stress or anxiety.

2. Reward yourself when you accomplish a micro goal

According to a recent study, frequent instant rewards can boost motivation, and therefore, willpower. Creating your own reward system can help you to accomplish your to-do list, and also resist temptations. Since every individual has different tastes, you should come up with creative ideas about the small and frequent rewards you will give yourself upon winning any willpower challenge.

You can see this hack in practice in Apps like the popular Duolinguo, where after completing each lesson you get presented with a chance to open a treasure chest. This rewarding system seems to keep the users much more likely to keep learning new lessons.

3. Taking cold showers

Your body has an autonomic response to cold water. Getting into a cold shower is a difficult (but minor) willpower challenge on its own. As I previously mentioned, winning a willpower challenge strengthens your willpower muscle. Having a morning cold shower, on top of having multiple health benefits, will set you up for a positive winning streak of further challenges.

High performance is the sum of many small habits. Successful people don’t have an unlimited reserve of willpower, but they do have a set of daily rituals that made them succeed. These three hacks are some of the most effective techniques to develop willpower, but some of them may not fit every individual. You should try to find the perfect mix of daily practices that best fits your lifestyle and likes, so that you can strengthen your willpower muscle and perform better at work.

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