If you’ve listened to the previous two episodes where Ben and I have discussed this month’s experiment, you know that I’m already convinced of its benefits. From my personal experiences I can see that spending time in nature is calming and grounding, and brings a sense of awe that simultaneously makes me feel small and important. I don’t need any more proof.
Which is precisely why this week’s episode surprised me so much. I came to this topic of nature’s role in improving mental performance with the attitude of, “Well, I don’t need convincing but if it helps other people get on board then great.” But as Ben and I chat, and even over the subsequent days since recording, I began to realise that this element of the equation is vital. If we want to create workplaces and schools and institutions and towns and cities that value nature (because we’re all starting to see just how vital it is) then we need to prove to them that the returns are there. That students learn better, employees are more productive and enjoy higher levels of well-being, that patients heal more quickly.
Personally, I feel as though it should be enough that people are happier and kinder and more well-equipped to deal with stress after spending time in nature. That our focus should actually be on nature itself and how we can become better stewards of it. But I’m probably putting the horse before the cart there, because first we need to convince the decision makers, the policy makers, the town planners and architects, school boards and huge corporations that inviting nature in to our daily life is not only a ‘nice to have’ but that it makes sense to the bottom line too.
This might just be where we start to see real, community-wide change, where we may follow in the footsteps of countries like South Korea and Japan, who both have fascinating nature programs designed to help employees recover from stress and develop mindfulness techniques to minimise stress and improve productivity, as well as programs for children to experience wild, natural spaces.
There’s a lot of research that shows how time spent in nature helps us concentrate more, be more creative, improve our memory and do better in work and study, and Ben and I talk about a lot of it in today’s poggie (you can find links to most of it below).
We also talk a lot about creativity – a less measurable mental benefit, yet one that Ben and I have both felt a lot after time spent in nature. We’ve often gone for a walk and left thoughts of a problem or situation floating around in the back of our heads, only to find a solution or new, creative approach to try after spending time outside. In fact, every time we go camping we come home energised or with a new perspective on an old issue, and I really don’t think it’s a coincidence. As Ben discusses, this actually ties directly into the research about active and passive attention, and the importance of downtime for your brain.
At the end of the episode, we also share a bunch of ideas for those living in urban environments who are finding it challenging to get out in nature. These include things like:
- Take your lunch to a park and eat it there
- Find a patch of grass and sit on it – take your shoes off and pop your feet on the ground, see what it feels like
- Make a date with friends/family and go for a picnic
- Drive out of the city one night and look at the stars
- Make a date every month and make that your nature day – no phones, just hanging out, outside
- Buy a couple of house plants
- Looking at images and listening to sounds of nature
- Go camping
If you’re playing along, don’t forget to share how you’re going over on Instagram using the hashtag #slowexperiment, or comment on Facebook. We’d also love to know what you’ve found challenging or easy so far, especially if you’re in an urban environment.
In the meantime, enjoy!
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