There is a drug that is been shown to:
- Restore your attention,
- Improve your performance on tasks,
- And improve your resistance to and recovery from stressful life events.
Early research is also promising regarding this drug's beneficial effects on problem-solving.
Given the societal challenges we all face in avoiding distractions, dealing with anxiety, and thinking critically, it sounds like this might be a modern-day miracle drug for better thinking, right? Well, in a sense, it is.
But there's a catch:
- It doesn't come in a pill.
- it doesn't come in a shot.
- And it doesn't require any kind of expensive, high-intensity workout to achieve.
This drug is so much less complex than any of those options, and you could probably access its power in the next hour if you really wanted to.
So what is this miracle drug?
It's not a drug at all.
And you can actually start feeling its restorative effects in as little as five minutes of intentional exposure.
As psychotherapist and former monk Donald Altman writes for Psychology Today:
"Work in the field of Attention Restoration Theory was developed in the 1980s by two psychologists, Rachel and Stephen Kaplan. Their research and the work of others now shows that nature quickly restores depleted mental energy and the ability to feel refreshed and concentrate again. In other words, it helps you to think more clearly, as well as makes space for greater creativity.
"No wonder we intuitively know that going in nature helps to 'clear our heads.' This lets the brain pause and deeply immerse itself in nature's many colors and shapes. For example, there are thousands of natural shades of green that soothe the brain. Keep in mind, too, that going into nature, even for a short walk, changes your environment. Even a change of context is valuable for recharging."
Altman recommends a simple 3-step practice for clearing your head in nature when you need to refocus, and it takes just five minutes to complete. All you need to do is to take a walk in nature (or sit down in nature) with your focus attuned to some natural element in your surroundings.
In other words, listening to a podcast, making a phone call, or thinking about something work-related isn't likely to give you the same restorative benefits.
But giving yourself direct access to nature, and fully engaging in the experience, can work wonders.
So in this week's edition of the THINKERS Roundup, you'll find three more links that I hope will help motivate you to prioritize getting out in nature -- not just as a leisure activity, but actually as a work activity.
It's so easy to view time away from the office, or away from the computer, or *GASP!!!* away from our phones as unproductive time.
But as you'll learn, or perhaps already know, if you are willing to fully engage yourself in nature then it can actually be one of the most productive actions you can take.
First, an invitation from the THINKERS Workshop to practice physical distancing and social solidarity together ...
- Discussion Question #1: Are there any topics related to thinking that you would like to see covered in a future edition of the THINKERS Roundup?
- Discussion Question #2: In a single sentence, describe what you do. (And if you struggle w/ this, as many do, give it your best attempt and let's help each other improve.)
Also, make sure that you RSVP for Virtual Happy Hour, which is coming up next Friday, April 24th, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
The goal of the happy hour is just to take an hour to get a little connection and camaraderie. It's laid back, fun, and we hope you'll stop by!
Now on to this week's links ...
Learn the 4 stages of attention along the way to restoration.
The first stage is characterized by a clearing of the mind. In this stage, the thoughts, concerns, worries, and residual bits of information from whatever was demanding one’s attention are allowed to pass through the mind and fade away.
This is not achieved by “pushing” the thoughts away, but by simply letting them flow through and out of the mind naturally.
In the second stage, the real restoration begins; after a task or activity that requires focused and directed attention, it is easy to feel depleted and drained.
The mental fatigue recovery stage allows that directed attention to recover and be restored to normal levels.
Read: What is Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory (ART)? (Positive Psychology)
Nature relieves attention fatigue and increases creativity.
Today, we live with ubiquitous technology designed to constantly pull for our attention. But many scientists believe our brains were not made for this kind of information bombardment, and that it can lead to mental fatigue, overwhelm, and burnout, requiring “attention restoration” to get back to a normal, healthy state.
Strayer is one of those researchers. He believes that being in nature restores depleted attention circuits, which can then help us be more open to creativity and problem-solving.
“When you use your cell phone to talk, text, shoot photos, or whatever else you can do with your cell phone, you’re tapping the prefrontal cortex and causing reductions in cognitive resources,” he says.
In a 2012 study, he and his colleagues showed that hikers on a four-day backpacking trip could solve significantly more puzzles requiring creativity when compared to a control group of people waiting to take the same hike—in fact, 47 percent more. Although other factors may account for his results—for example, the exercise or the camaraderie of being out together—prior studies have suggested that nature itself may play an important role. One in Psychological Science found that the impact of nature on attention restoration is what accounted for improved scores on cognitive tests for the study participants.
Listen: How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier, and More Creative (Greater Good Magazine)
Nature has proven attention benefits for all ages.
Inspired by a notable 2008 study that suggested seeing photos of nature may improve attention functioning in young adults, a more recent study found that executive attention visibly improved in both older adults (64 to 79 year olds) and university-aged subjects (18 to 25 year olds) after short exposure to photos of nature.
Good news for city dwellers with less access to nature: the participants’ attention immediately prior to and after seeing the nature photos was measured, and the study found that seeing those pictures did improve short-term attention and memory in both age groups.
Quote of the week
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”
-- John Muir