Interestingly, this is not unlike another theory pioneered by two environmental psychologists – Rachel and Stephen Kaplan – in the 1980s. ‘Attention restoration theory’ argues that natural environments – pure, unthreatening landscapes – are something we can pay ‘indirect attention’ to. This form of attention, in turn, has a soothing effect on the brain.
If you think of the New Zealand bush, it’s peaceful and harmonious – you don’t need to devote a lot of mental energy to be among it. From an evolutionary perspective, this is ideal. In the urban world, our brain needs to work incredibly hard to process all the stimuli we’re surrounded with. Again, evolutionarily speaking, this isn’t a good thing – because the brain is constantly searching for danger. Our natural state is to be using indirect attention, absorbing the environment around us.
All this is to say something you likely already know to be true: we feel good, mentally and physically, when we are immersed in nature. I spend a lot of time planting trees and pulling weeds, repetitive tasks in a natural space, and I feel it allows me to access a deeper cycle of thinking. It’s funny; we all understand that a computer needs a bit of time to process complex information – yet we don’t apply this logic to ourselves. We’ve got the most effective supercomputer ever created sitting between our shoulders.