Nature Walks

Quite a while back, I wrote about a study that Richard Wiseman shared in his book 59 Seconds. Our minds are greatly shaped by cues in our environment, even if we are not consciously aware of any cues. In the example that Wiseman shares, people are shown to be more greedy and less friendly when sitting in front of a computer with a dollar sign as the wall paper, and are more likely to be cleaner and more orderly when there is a slight scent of cleaning fluid in the air. Our environment can shape how we think and what we do, to the point where we pick up on seemingly meaningless details around us that we don’t consciously pay attention to.

 

In the book When Dan Pink shares another example of this. Pink is all for breaks due to their restorative power. They help us by allowing our brains to pause, to focus on something different for a moment, and to get out of any mental ruts into which which we have settled. Even tiny breaks where you close your eyes for a few beats while sitting at your computer can be helpful, but in the words of Pink, “Outside beats inside.”

 

Pink references academic work showing the benefits of getting outside during the workday for quick breaks, “Nature breaks may replenish us the most. Being close to trees, plants, rivers, and streams is a powerful mental restorative, one whose potency most of us don’t appreciate. For example, people who take short walks outdoors return with better moods and greater replenishment than people who walk indoors.”

 

Being around living green life helps get us away from the selfish, unfriendly, competitiveness that our dollar-sign-focused work environments often foster. Walks might seem like they are just an excuse to get away from work for a little bit, but they can actually be a tool to do better work. Nature breaks provide our mind with new cues, possibly reminding us that we live in a vast interconnected world with more important things to consider than just our salary and whether we make more money than Sally. Incorporating more breaks that harness the power of nature to restore ourselves is something we should build into our schedules. Companies and organizations should think about the ways they can create a work space that encourages green breaks, and should consider the parts of town where their offices are located, to try to allow employees to get outside on breaks, and to be able to walk in more nature connected places than just parking lots. Our brains notice more than we sometimes realize, and we can use that reality to make ourselves feel better.

Two Messages

In The Elephant in the Brain Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson write about the ways in which we act to signal something important about ourselves that we cannot outright express. We deceive ourselves to believe that we are not sending these signals, but we recognize them, pick up on their subtle nature, and know how to respond to these cues even if we remain consciously ignorant to them. In the book, the authors focus on how we use these cues in language and communication.

 

The authors write, “Every remark made by a speaker contains two messages for the listener: text and subtext. The text says, ‘Here’s a new piece of information,’ while the subtext says, ‘By the way, I’m the kind of person who knows such things.’ Sometimes the text is more important than the subtext … but frequently, it’s the other way around.”

 

It is important to acknowledge that sometimes the text truly is the important part of our message. Because we occasionally have really important things that people need to know, and because that information outweighs the fact that we are the one who knows it and shared it, we can use that as a screen for us in this game of two messages. We can believe that all our communication is about important important information because there are times where the things we communicate are crucial to know. Hanson and Simler’s idea above only works if sometimes it is true that the text is the important piece and if almost always we can plausibly say that we are just trying to convey useful information as opposed to showing off what we know or what we have learned.

 

No matter what, at the same time our communication says something about us and about what knowledge and information we may have. It can also say something about what we don’t know, which may be part of why we go to great lengths to make it seem like we were not ignorant of something – our language/knowledge might tell people we are not the kind of person who knows something that everyone else knows.

 

Our language also tells people that we are the kind of person who cares about something, or has great attention to detail, is strict and disciplined, or is from a certain part of the country/world. Some of these signals are fairly hidden, while others are more clear and obvious. When we look more closely at the way we signal in our conversation, we can see how often our words are only part of what we are communicating.