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.