Restoring your attention requires no efforting

Most people believe they have to get away from their life – work, demands, email – to recover from mental fatigue and restore their concentration.

While nature escapes are a popular way to recharge, they are  not the only way. Nor should you wait — that’s a recipe for burnout.

But here’s why an escape to Nature may work: It’s called Attention Restoration Theory, or ART.

Nature is Your Partner

ART was proposed by University of Michigan environmental psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in 1989. It suggests that time spent in or looking at nature can improve mental fatigue and concentration.

ART says that our brains have a limited capacity to focus on a specific task, causing “directed attention fatigue.” Prolonged work on computers and screens fits the bill here. Because natural environments promote a wider-angle attention and more effortless brain activity, our brains have a chance to recover and replenish our directed attention capacity.

The natural environment must have four properties to be restorative:

  1. Extent: the ability to be immersed in the environment
  2. Being away: the escape from the day-to-day grind
  3. Soft fascination: elements of Nature capture your attention effortlessly
  4. Compatibility: You must want to be in and appreciate the natural environment

Translation: Escape to and immerse yourself in your fascinating happy place. (Bubble baths don’t count.)

Do This at Home

Add in a 2019 study from the University of Essex: We need 2 hours, or 120 minutes of Nature per week to capture the mental, physical, emotional, psychic and spiritual benefits of Nature connection.

Here’s the math: I call it 15/20/7. Get away outside for 15 minutes and let Nature capture your attention. Watch clouds, butterflies, birds. 20 minutes the next day. Repeat for 7 days and you’ve got your Nature 120.

Unplug in your yard or garden, if you have one. Sit on your porch or deck and get lost in your favorite flowers.

Nature Wherever You Find It

Or visit a neighborhood park once or twice a week for an hour to be fascinated by the trees. Or take a little longer drive and get your Nature120 in a nature center. As long as you have a sky above your head and a tree or flower or two, the options are endless.

This sounds simple, and it is. Here’s the tricky part: You’ll need intention to walk away from the screen, redirect your focus and let it soften.

Here’s the thing: Once you feel the regular benefits of attention restoration – a calmer mind, heightened creativity, sharper concentration, more energy, better sleep – you won’t want to put off that Nature getaway. You’ll crave that immersion into Nature and you’ll enjoy it more because you won’t need that much downtime to recover.

3 Resources for You

Books, articles, tips, tools and advice to help you unplug.

Nature Breaks Even – Critique and Reframing of Attention Restoration Theory (2023) – Fascinating critique of ART by exploring the standard urban comparison to nature and how different that is to be useless.

Take back your time and attention with Digital Minimalism – From Cal Newport’s book.

4K Virtual Hike Through Canadian Forest (with Nature sounds) – On the days you can’t get outside, bring Nature to you.

2 Questions for You

Reflections, questions and ideas to consider to break the digital impasse. 

1st Q: Have you been taught to believe that if you’re not focusing on something, you’re lazy or unproductive?

2nd Q: How much anxiety is triggered by the thought of going screenless for 15 or 20 minutes?

Reflection Feedback

From Heather: (on Reading Fewer Books)

I 100% agree that we exacerbate our impatience with daily digital overload. Last summer, I decided to devote myself to ACTIVE entertainment over PASSIVE entertainment, which made a difference.

I woke up an hour earlier (at 6:00 am) in the mornings, and I walked the dog 4 miles – around our lake and sometimes into the woods. I also decided to dive into older literature to exercise my brain and vocabulary. I treated myself to a vintage set of W. Somerset Maugham books on Etsy and started with Of Human Bondage. In less than a week, I could tell my brain adjusted and relaxed into the longer sentences more firmly, and I began ENJOYING the dry, sarcastic wit of the author.

After work, I went outside and worked on a project (sanding, staining or painting, fixing) or in the dirt – planting, potting, repotting, watering, weeding, or mowing. When it was dark, I picked a chore, finished it, and settled down with my book. I missed television only when people reminded me of shows I was no longer watching, but I grew bored and restless with it when I started watching again.

Now, I find time to read in the morning and at night. I am up at 5:00 am to practice my version of The Miracle Morning (Elrod), and reading is part of that.

1 Action for You

One small step to start the change.

Experiment: See how many days in a row you can get outside for 15 or 20 minutes. No shoulds. Notice how it goes.

Nature View

Amazingly, studies show that simply looking at photos of Nature calms your mind, reduces stress and increases concentration. I’m happy to share my view with you! Click here to download the image as desktop wallpaper.

Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.

Hans Christian Andersen