Turns out the writers, poets, stoics and philosophers across the centuries were onto something science is finally proving.
Those long walks in Nature they were all fond of for figuring stuff out?
The ideal way to tap into your creative brain.
The unfocused approach is the key
Consider: In 1989 University of Michigan environmental psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan proposed the Attention Restoration Theory (ART), which says time spent or looking at nature improves mental fatigue and concentration.
Natural environments promote the softer focus, “wide-angle” attention and more effortless brain activity that triggers creative insights. Wide-angle attention, as opposed to the mentally fatiguing directed attention of screens, is one of the few ways to refill our empty well of limited attention.
Consider: The British Psychological Society said a 2011 study suggests that our least optimal functioning time – when we’re foggiest or groggiest – is actually when we’re at our creative peak.
How come? Insight-based problem-solving requires a broad, unfocused approach. You’re more likely to achieve that Aha! revelatory moment when your inhibitory brain processes are at their weakest and your thoughts are meandering. – BPS
Nature is always ready to prime creativity
Also the kind of thing that happens when you’re outside watching clouds, butterflies and listening to birds.
Now, to be accurate, the British study focused on students who were early birds and night owls, and suggested they were actually more creative when they least expected it.
But it’s not hard to see that the “broad unfocused approach” when your inhibitory brain processes are no longer on overdrive to screen out distractions is likely a common factor.
Unfocused attention refills the well
My personal experience tells me my inner editor doesn’t have the energy to critique me when I’m tired. I’m amazed at the creativity, insight and problem-solving that emerges. I always get the best ideas and bursts of insight while in the kitchen or bathroom, performing mindless and routine chores while my mind wanders.
Takeaway: Reframe your thinking about groggy, unfocused time. It’s actually one of your most precious mental resources, so protect it from screen-induced tunnel vision that exhausts your brain and depletes your attention. Indulge it frequently, whether on long walks, extended cloud watching or star gazing.
If anyone asks what you’re doing (or why you’re not doing anything), tell them you’re protecting your brain and solving the world’s problems.
3 Resources for You
- The Refocus App – Block so you can unfocus.
- Waking Up App – I’ve been listening to and meditating with Waking Up for several weeks. Highly recommend. Sam Harris gives you a different way to look at consciousness, thoughts and what it means to be human. Scholarships available. (Read the fine print.)
- Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris – Just added to my Amazon Wish List.
2 Questions for You
Reflections, questions and ideas to break the digital spell.
1st Q: When are you most creative and insightful? Morning? Evening?
2nd Q: Have you figured out how to trigger creativity at will? Do tell!
Hit reply and let me know what you discovered this week. I’ll use some of your feedback in next week’s newsletter (first name only.)
1 Action for You
One small step to start the change.
Go for a walk when you’re stuck. Set the intention to not ruminate while you walk. Pay unfocused attention to everything else. What happens?
Me? I’m going to try a morning walk when I feel like all I can do is sit with my coffee. Could be a double-whammy of creativity!
Hit reply, let me know how it goes and I’ll include feedback in next week’s newsletter.
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” – Henry David Thoreau