Productivity and Focus Series Part 2
Millennials need to be more creative than ever in order to succeed in today’s world. There’s this discouraging attitude that it’s all been done, so why bother? The urban jungle does nothing but promote this feeling of being smothered into submission. The thing is, even if you’ve grown up in the city your entire life, it’s still not your natural element. Because for 99% of human history, we’ve lived in symbiosis with nature. We’re programmed to thrive in a more natural environment for a variety of reasons. Oxygen being the most obvious, but there are subtle nuances that nature can offer us as well.
When you tap into spaciousness you can access the parts of your mind that generate new ideas and a more positive way of seeing the world. It’s for this very reason that I ditched my urban dwellings for a more nature filled environment. But you don’t have to pack up and move to a remote cabin in Northern California to flourish and generate better ideas. Just getting into nature every so often can help you get more creative and inspired in business and in life.
Confessions of a City Slicker
When I lived in the city I felt depleted and defeated. My life was like a scene out of a dystopian Ayn Rand novel. A constant fight to get ahead. An atmosphere burdened by the collective hustle. I could see my life racing before me and the only refuge was a hot bath at the end of the day, my head submerged underwater.
There’s a part of me that loves being around all walks of life. The melting pot of different cultures, the fabulous abundance of restaurant choices and cool concerts. Granted cities offer a lot more in terms of ‘stuff to do’ than the remote wilderness, but that’s where the problems begin.
With so many options, there’s a plethora of reasons to always be busy. A person naturally gets tired of being busy. Busy isn’t where great ideas come from. Busy isn’t where creativity happens. Busy isn’t a recipe for tapping into a flow state and experiencing deep satisfaction.
I understood all of this when I lived in the city but it was still hard to pull away for a weekend and escape to the wilderness. It wasn’t until near mental breakdown that I realized I needed to unplug and just drive until humans and buildings were out of sight.
The Transformative Power of Nature
It’s about the journey, not the destination and at first solitude among the trees was borderline uncomfortable. You become addicted to being busy. When space to be present finally presents itself, it takes awhile to adjust. After a few hours of not checking Facebook and email you start to relax. The fresh air starts to take effect, and stress fades away. In Japan the government coined a term in the 80’s called shinrin-yoku.
Shinrin-yoku directly translates to forest bathing. The government grew worried because most of the population resided in an urban environment. The Japanese understand the side effects of nature deficiency disorder.
Spending time in nature decreases stress, increases cognitive abilities, better ability to concentrate, improved mood and of course, drastically improves creativity. One study showed just 20 minutes sitting by the ocean or amidst the trees lowers cortisol significantly. Even if you live in the city, going to the park or the beach for a break during the day or after work can help you chill out and improve your mood.
The mental benefits were enough to convince me. After dealing with the worst fucking brain fog all locked up in my office, I started taking my computer to the park to work. One of the many benefits of wifi being everywhere. While this isn’t disconnecting and getting into nature 100%, it’s better than nothing. When you’ve still got bills to pay and work to get done, sometimes there has to be compromise.
What happened when I started working outside was an increased ability to focus. I’ve always struggled with innumerable distractions and breathing fresh air seems to help quell the urge to watch youtube videos in between marketing strategy work.
There’s actually something called Attention Restoration Therapy (ART) that looks at which environments lead to improved concentration. There’s no surprise that nature takes the attention cake.
How Nature Increases Creativity
In non-scientific terms, nature has this magical ability to stimulate parts of your mind that don’t normally get accessed. It makes you feel alive and free in a way that a shopping mall never could. Literally different parts of our brain light up when exposed to natural scenery as opposed to modern artificial edifices.
There’s this sense of discovering natural beauty and a direct hormonal response to it. There have even been experiments done, like this one at Berkeley, which point to the awe-inspiring effects nature has, leading to a greater desire to help others, a recipe for creative thinking if you ask me.
Exploring the great outdoors can boost creativity by nearly 50%. No nootropic is that powerful. No supplement has that profound an effect on our mental capacity to problem solve and come up with new ideas.
Granted the findings for this study were observed after a 4-day hiking trip free from any technology. Of course there are other factors like the physical engagement involved, but I would argue what, aside from nature, got these people walking for 4-days straight?
The crazy thing is, most people aren’t exposed to nature much as children. There’s even a phenomenon known as Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). No wonder ADD and ADHD affect more than 11% of children and even some adults. If we all spent a little more time amidst the birds and the bees these problems would likely fade away.
So pack up, unplug, tell your Facebook friends that you’re taking a break and make the space to take a hike. Your brain and your business will thank you for it.
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This article is part of a monthly series all about productivity and focus .
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