To me, “explore” is really just another method of learning. Whether I’m leafing my way through side-alley shops in Slovenia, hiking through the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest, or checking out a new café on the other side of my hometown, I’m deliberately posturing myself as a learner as opposed to a teacher.
I believe there’s such a thing as quality exploration (as opposed to just quantity), and to rush any part of the process, acting as though it’s a race or about crossing off a to-do list, is to miss its benefits. There’s an art to exploring well.
I’m not saying I actually think through how I’m exploring while I’m in the thick of it, because my favorite thing about exploring is simply getting lost in the moment, diving in fully and deeply to my surroundings and senses.
Exploring is really about pulling myself away from any default autopilot of going through the motions, and asking life’s big questions, both passively and actively. Here are my favorite reasons for filling my life with an abundance of exploration.
1. Exploring strengthens the mind.
When I’ve been on autopilot for far too long (easy to do as a mom), being in a new environment re-engages an otherwise dormant part of my mind. Exploring requires me to navigate unfamiliar places, try new things, flex again and again, make quick decisions, and adapt to a different schedule.
I know, it actually sounds like the opposite of a good thing—but all this mental processing is really good for you. You don’t realize how much you’ve adapted to your modus operandi at home until you readjust to a new environment. Your brain will welcome the workout.
2. Exploring means trying new things.
When I try snorkeling, eating strange-to-me food at a restaurant, or hike a difficult-looking trail, I’m deliberately kicking myself out of my comfort zone. Even if I don’t inherently enjoy the activity, I’ll be better able to relate to the world at large—and the people within it—because I’ve experienced it.
Books and movies are more enjoyable because I can relate to more of the plot. I have a smidge more self-confidence because I know my body and mind are capable of more than I imagine while in my own surroundings, and hey, the stories gathered from exploration make for decent fodder in social settings. Always a win.
3. Exploring means meeting new (and different) people.
Ever feel like your family and friends are an echo chamber, all having the same ideas about religion, politics, parenting, community, or entertainment? Go out and explore a new place, and find a few people to interact with along the way—I promise you’ll immerse yourself with new ideas.
You’ll get more bang for your buck in this department if you go to a different country, but you can still find a fresh perspective from others simply by going to a new-to-you place in your city. And don’t worry—entertaining new thoughts doesn’t mean adapting them. You’re simply posturing yourself deliberately as a learner, willing to assume you don’t have all the answers or the only perspective on life. It’s refreshing.
4. Exploring means shifting your paradigm.
Exposing yourself to new cultures, people, and ideas greatly shifts your paradigm and creates a healthier perspective when you return back home. The vast majority of the world lives differently than you do—it’s wild to think about, don’t you think?
Personally, whenever I leave American culture, I’m reminded how BIG everything is in our country—from cars to roads to houses to kitchens to coffee cups to wardrobe sizes to volume control in restaurants, we like our stuff super-sized. When I’m a guest in another country, that’s when I think, “Ohhhh… This is why the world thinks we’re the way we are.” I can’t experience that staying stateside.
Whatever “it” is, exploring has to create an inevitable paradigm shift, because you simply can’t see the world the same way when you learn new things. Think of what you’ve learned because of certain writers willing to share their experiences or ideas in their books or blogs, or how a movie or TV show teaches you something new because it’s set in a different place or time from your norm. Double that and increase the time to warp speed, and that’s what it’s like to learn from personal, feet-on-the-ground exploration.
5. Exploring breeds gratitude for your home.
You can’t stay in a posture of exploration forever—at some point, you have to return to your home base and recoup. And when you do, it feels like home in a new, fresh way. You’re so much more gratified to be home because you’ve walked out from under the safety net and felt what it’s like without it.
Even when you explore your hometown, if you have the right attitude with a learning posture, you return to your home more content with where you’re planted. You’re more aware of what a small place you occupy in the world, and that’s a good, good thing.
Exploring makes me more self-aware, it makes me a healthier wife, a better mom, a more appreciative citizen, and a more fully-present friend. If it’s been awhile since you intentionally went out exploring, give it a whirl—put a date on the calendar to do something new and different. It doesn’t need to be big… But it needs to stretch you.
The farther you stretch, the more ready you are for the everydayness of life. And that, after all, is what the bulk of our days are made of.
ACTIVITIES & QUESTIONS
1. Which of these learning experiences have you had while exploring close to home or farther away?
2. Does strengthening the mind, trying new things, meeting new people and shifting your paradigm sound exciting or scary to you?
3. Put a date on your calendar to go out exploring your town with this posture of learning in mind.