I was picking my path carefully, jumping from one boulder or driftwood log to the next, when I was struck by the realisation. “I haven’t thought about work for at least three days!” Wow, HOW did that happen? That day, on my way to the outdoor ‘loo’, below the high tide mark at our camping area on Ross Islets off Vancouver Island’s wild west coast, I experienced a sense of relief (no, not that kind of relief!). It reminded me of an article I read in the January 2016 edition of National Geographic titled, “This is Your Brain on Nature”.*
Three days spent immersed in the wild improves mental performance and creative problem solving
In the article, David Strayer, cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, uses a term, ‘The three-day effect’. He says that after three days of being immersed in nature our mental windscreen gets cleaned. It’s like all our cares and worries, outside of the present moment get washed away and we become more able to focus on here and now. Maybe you call it clearing the cobwebs. Whatever it’s called, I’d just experienced the three-day effect for myself and it was wonderful! There was nothing cluttering my mind, no mental ‘to-do’ lists, no mental roundabouts, wondering which exit to take and of course, no phones ringing. It was a taste of mental freedom and it was long overdue.
A few days earlier we’d embarked on a six-day kayaking adventure, something I’d dreamed up to usher out my first half-century and invite more of what I love into my second. Yes, I know…a convoluted way of saying this was how I’d chosen to celebrate turning 50! It was six days of being active with the people I love most, in a part of the world I still consider my other ‘home’, learning something new. It was sure to be wonderful, but the three-day effect was a bonus that I hadn’t really counted on.
Slow down. Stop the busy work.
Strayer says that when we slow down, stop the busy work and immerse ourselves in nature that we feel restored and our mental performance improves too. He’s proved his theory by testing creative problem solving in people after three days of hiking in the wilderness. Sounds like a recipe for success to me… to slow down and stop the busy work. When we spend time in nature it calms us. Lower stress hormones and reduced heart rate is just the beginning.
It’s time to get started. Put a plan in place.
So what can you and I do about immersing ourselves in nature and getting our mental state recalibrated more often? Like many things, it’s about getting started. Take your diary and make a plan. If it’s been awhile since you stepped outside, start with a 15 minute walk in the park, along a creek or at the beach. If you possibly can, take half a day and have a picnic or ride your bike into the country. Doing that already? Then, plan a weekend and go camping. We live in an incredibly beautiful part of the world and all too often, forget to experience it. Or, at least I do. Enjoy a long weekend in nature to get your three days of immersion and experience the improved mental performance it will bring.
Go on. Go wild and embrace the three-day effect for yourself! As for me, I can’t wait to go kayaking again soon. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the silly hat? We all had a turn wearing it and it was just for a laugh 🙂
* National Geographic, January 2016 http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/call-to-wild-text