What if we expand our concept of “work environment” and decide to step out of our interior setting periodically … expose ourselves to the external world, not of concrete walkways or shops or motorways or even fresh city air, but of nature itself in its most basic form?
Nature has lessons to teach us – and we can learn a lot by listening. There are positive connections to be made between our work environment and the world of nature. Environment-in-the-raw shows us on a visceral level how to balance living and working harmoniously.
Spending time in natural environments immerses us in a world that, at first glance, may have enormous contrasts with our working world, the one in which we devote about one-third of our waking hours. Yet there are meaningful enhancements between how our minds work inside our office space and how they work in the great outdoors.
A Breath of Fresh Air
The sights, sounds, smells and fresh air awaken us, first thing off the bat. Rich oxygen floods our brains. Trees and other plant life actually give off organic compounds that support human cells and our immune system. Renewed or restored health is probably the most obvious benefit of exposure to nature.
Nature is both stimulating and stress reducing. It improves our brain functions: memory, analytical ability, creativity, feelings of well-being, and satisfaction. We just feel more alive in it.
We know intuitively that being in wild natural areas offers:
So what, in our leadership role, can we do with nature? In what ways can we harness its gifts, both for ourselves and for the people we lead?
An Exercise In Team Building
We can use nature to engage in team-building skills in a different way. By bringing these exercises into the outdoors, problem-solving and decision-making can take on new dimensions. We can incorporate nature into the coursework. For instance, letting participants get lost in the forest can sharpen their ability to make important decisions and to cooperate because they have to depend on one another to literally survive.
Team building in a natural setting helps us:
Getting Out of Our Rut
Everyone gets in a rut at some point. Routines can become monotonous. When we fall into familiar patterns our brains don’t get the stimulation needed to stay sharp. In a natural outdoor setting, our minds are encouraged to wander, to imagine in ways that don’t exist in an artificial indoor setting.
We can do what Japanese corporations are doing: using “forest bathing” as a productivity tool. Shinrin-yoku (which means taking in the first atmosphere) takes ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices and brings them into the modern business world. Japan has built numerous hiking trails for “forest therapy” for their workers, using the principles of forest bathing. Why would they devote such time and money to taking a walk in the forest? Because they’ve seen the results of field tests, hormone analysis, and brain-imaging technology which show that walking in nature benefits individuals on a molecular level.
Sharper Thinking and Creativity
Assigning a group to a simple walk in the park can boost their performance in creative problem-solving. Studies show this to be true. So there seems to be a direct relationship between creative thinking and exposure to nature. Or maybe less exposure to technology and the indoor environment also has something to do with it.
Either way, you and your team will become more productive, happier, and be nicer to one another as a result of spending some time outdoors. Contemplation, learning to relate to the natural world, having more empathy with others around you are some perks definitely worth spilling over into the corporate world. Performing tasks and activities outdoors just isn’t the same as doing them inside. Let’ face it, we’re living, breathing human beings whose origins come from nature. We are a part of it. It’s our native home. How can we not be happy being outdoors?
What a way to shake out the mental cobwebs, restore our mental energy, and fight work fatigue. Exposure to nature is restorative for mind, body, and soul; like working out at the gym but without equipment or walls. Simply enjoying the beauty of nature and the feelings of awe it evokes have the power to help us bounce back into a more satisfying groove.