Sharpen your creative skills. Hug a tree.

According to a study cited by Fast Company, urban living makes you stupid. But spending a little time in nature can give your brain a boost.

hug a treeNatural settings, it seems, apply less of a load on our cognitive processes, compared to the flurry of inputs and choices an urban environment – with all its people, traffic, technology and artificial shapes and sounds – makes. Somehow this has knock-on effects deep in our brains. Of course this study simply exposes the results, and an understanding of the mental mechanisms that drive this behavior is much more complex. But it’s clear that our brains developed as we evolved in a natural environment.

And at least the study found that the beneficial effects of a natural environment counteract the negative effects of an urban one–to sharpen up your brain, you simply need to go outside and find a park to stroll in.

I think this has some importance for writers, designers, and others who spend a lot of time sitting inside staring at a computer screen for hours at a time. You gotta give yourself a break now and then or your brain locks up.

Some people can just crank it out all day long. But I start to get fuzzy after two or three hours. So I look for excuses to change the scenery.

If it’s spring or summer, I’ll take a walk around my property and futz with my roses, kick mulch back into the landscaping beds, or prune a bush or two. If it’s fall or winter, I might rake leaves, shovel a little snow, or clean out a gutter. Fun, huh? Well, it’s more fun and refreshing than staring at my computer in a fog.

At the end of the day, regardless of weather, I walk or bike around my home town (which has done a good job of maintaining plenty of green space). This is a little tricky in the winter, but even now with six inches of snow, I get out and about. I’ve always known that time outside recharges my batters pretty fast. Five minutes can give me creative juice for a few more hours.

Writing is largely about managing your brain. The cure for fatigue or writer’s block is right outside your window.

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7 Responses to “Sharpen your creative skills. Hug a tree.”

  1. Janice Cartier on January 27th, 2009 12:45 pm

    We need a “fresh eye”, or a fresh brain, absolutely. I have a 3 hour window then it’s diminishing returns unless I change it up a bit, go refresh and then come back for another session. It’s a great case for new urbanism accessible green spaces.

  2. Dean Rieck on January 27th, 2009 1:23 pm

    I’m far from being a “tree hugger.” But I agree with you. My city controls green space pretty well and it makes a big difference. A conference center is going in just up the street and they had to redo their plans because they didn’t have the right ratio of trees to buildings. Once you loose your green space, it’s gone forever.

  3. Chad on January 27th, 2009 3:43 pm

    Good call Dean,

    I’ve been considering a P/T job in town to get some time away from the screen. The only reason I’m hesitant is that it would pay a fraction of my hourly rate…but I think I’d probably get more work done overall and enjoy the social interaction of working in a retail outlet.

    Sure – going to town isn’t exactly “nature”, but I maybe biking to and from would do?

  4. Dean Rieck on January 27th, 2009 3:49 pm

    Well the job thing is your call. But I think getting more “outside time” is good for the brain. The study seemed to suggest, though, that grass and trees refresh more than cement and glass.

  5. Chad on January 27th, 2009 5:28 pm

    Yeah, the study definitely suggests that grass and trees are the true refreshers. But as a freelancer working at home all day, I think some good ol’ social interaction would be equally beneficial. Ideally, you should spend time outside with others and with nature…

    …Anything but 16 hours of the screen, right?

  6. Patty Coldwater on January 28th, 2009 1:47 pm

    Out here in Colorado we’re far from being the “center of the direct marketing universe.” But we do have a big beautiful outdoors all around. I commute to our office in Colorado Springs on Tuesday and return after work on Wednesday (one night a week at the Candlewood Suites). My commute is 2 hours each way (I live in Loveland). So I get a “break” of two hours in the car driving through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. But on the days I work out of my home office, I too, take a stroll around the yard, deadhead the roses (in the summer) or take the dogs for a walk around Boyd Lake after work.

    Great therapy and good “mental” time. Some of my best ideas occur in my “tree hugging” time. It really is a great solution to writer’s block which often stems from overexposure to the topic at hand.

  7. Dean Rieck on January 28th, 2009 2:00 pm

    2 hours each way? That doesn’t cut it for “tree hugging” time in my book. That’s 4 hours in a car. But if it works for you, great. I’m not a fan of any driving at all. However, I could walk or cycle an hour or two a day and be fine with it.

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