Basically, a disorienting dilemma challenges you to rethink your trajectory, goals, and values. These experiences generally occur in novel environments while having new experiences far outside your routines, beliefs, norms, roles, and traditional way of doing things. They can be uncomfortable, anxiety provoking, and totally disruptive.
If such experiences are indeed so "disorienting" and even painful, why would anyone want to have one of these experiences?
Well, a disorienting dilemma initiates a process of re-evaluating yourself. It allows you to explore new ways of thinking. Moreover, it creates the possibility of a personal "clean slate," allowing you to reshape your identity and your future.
Without these experiences, you will live in a silo. Your worldview will be narrow. And thus, you won't have an open and relevant view of the world. The more you understand about the world, the better you'll be able to creatively address its problems.
Travel as a Powerful Way to Disorient and Expand Your Worldview
According to tourism researchers Garrett Stone and Lauren Duffy, travel is a very potent way to disorient your worldview. However, not all travel is "created equal."
If you're traveling to places comfortable to you, like staying in a cushy hotel, and with people similar to you, your chances of having a disorienting dilemma are lower. Conversely, the further you go from your norm and your comfort zone, the more likely you'll have a disorienting dilemma. The more likely you are to have a paradigm shift or mental breakthrough.
According to Stone and Duffy, the more immersive and extended the experience, the more you and your worldview will be disrupted. The deeper will be your transformation. And the longer lasting will be its effects.
Think about it. If you're not traveling abroad and experiencing new people, tasting new foods, seeing new things, how could you possibly create new things yourself? Without breaking out of your own bubble, how can you expand and grow as a person?
Obviously, it would be very difficult. Without evolving as a person, the potential impact of your work will be constrained.
Hence in his TED talk, designer Stefan Sagmeister explains why he takes one year sabbaticals every seven years. During his sabbaticals, he purposefully disorients his routines and thinking. Being so far removed from his day-to-day routine opens him to his best creative breakthroughs.
Counter to the popular notion of constantly "hustling" we hear about today, an important part of being outside your routine is reflection. When your worldview is undergoing construction, you need to spend lots of time thinking.
It's often during this reflection that you can orient where you currently are, the direction you're currently going, and if you need to make a pivot. All the "hustling" in the wrong direction won't do you or anyone else any good.
After these types of experiences, you will be a changed person. You may realize that your current goals are no longer what you now want. You may see the need to remove yourself from relationships that would hinder your new goals.
A particular challenge of having these life altering experiences can be transitioning "back" into your life. When you return to your previous environment, you'll be challenged to revert back to your old ways of thinking and being.
If you want your transformation to persist and continue forward, you'll need to proactively restructure your environment to facilitate your new identity and goals.