Which one of the above two will you prefer to be in?
Imagine, you are laboring on a task for an extended period and now mentally tired, need an urgent break.
You are given two options.
- Walk in the woods for 20 minutes.
- Walk for a coffee for 20 minutes within the city
Which option do you think will lead to better attention and concentration after the break, the first one or the second one?
This was something researchers Berman, Jonides and Kaplan tried exploring by conducting a study to see the effect of nature on people’s performance.
The experiment conducted by them involved asking one group of participants to take a walk in the woods in an arboretum near Anna Arbor, Michigan campus while the other group was sent to walk through a crowded city Centre.
The group which went to the woods performed 20% better on a concentration task called backward digital span after the activity.
Attention Restoration Theory postulates that spending time in nature helps us improve our concentration and attention span.
Even looking at pictures of nature can have a positive calming effect, leading to better outcomes in tasks involving deeper attention.
Directed Attention is like Willpower
Concentration requires something called ‘Directed Attention’ and just like willpower as proved in various studies, it turns out ‘Directed attention’ is also a finite resource.
Traversing through a busy and crowded city road which involves focusing on traffic, saving oneself from being run over by the moving vehicle, saps our attention leading to poor performance when compared to the other group which is going through a leisurely walk in the woods or perhaps even watching a beautiful sunset.
Walking in nature does not require directed attention which frees our mind and provide the relief and comfort to recoup its dipping energy levels.
Debunking the myth of harsh weather
Some people also argued that watching a beautiful sunset is always better at improving one’s mood, attention and performance and so when researchers conducted a study wherein the participants were made to walk out in freezing temperatures outside, even then their performance improved comparably proving being in the open helps as it provides the necessary respite from directed attention.
Some other activities like listening to music, playing with kids or just playing, running etc. also help as they allow a welcome break to our mind from the regular toil that it’s engaged in.
So, whenever you are stuck, go out in the open, take a walk in the park, talk to your friends, listen to your favorite music and play.
Not only will your performance get better, but you will also feel more energized and better focused on your other tasks.
Do, go through another article of mine on some of the activities that Steve Jobs and Einstein would indulge in to take a break and reenergize their minds.
Here’s the link;
References for this article – Deep Work – Cal Newport
Volume: 19 issue: 12, page(s): 1207-1212
Article first published online: December 1, 2008; Issue published: December 1, 2008