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Overcoming Mental Fatigue with The Help of Nature

Updated: May 6

Are you experiencing a lack of creativity recently? Do you find it hard to concentrate on your tasks? If you're constantly rushing through life, completing one task after another, you might be dealing with mental fatigue.

Day in, day out, our brains shuffle through a deck of decisions, from the mundane ('What's for dinner?') to the mind-bending ('How do I solve this work puzzle?'). It's a mental marathon with no finish line in sight.

Our brains are constantly processing information and prioritizing what's important. Naturally, your ability to focus will decrease over time, and you will experience mental fatigue.

The thing with mental fatigue is, it isn’t only going to impact one thing. It seeps into all areas or life, six to be specific: how we take in information, think, act, make decisions, feel, and interact with others.

Mental fatigue makes it difficult to focus on goals. However, our attention towards things in our environment isn't as affected. This makes us more prone to distractions and less able to adapt, making the things that do grab our attention seem even more distracting. Over time, our actions become more and more influenced by what's happening around us. Mental fatigue can also lead to feeling disconnected or unmotivated because we can't focus as well as we need to.

In simpler terms, when you're tired, you're less likely to be creative, complete your project, or feel inspired to pursue a goal.

You are more likely to be distracted by your phone, aimlessly visit the refrigerator, and emerge an hour later with nothing substantial to account for the lost time. Or maybe that is me.

There is some good news though, that is not some productivity hack or “sleep more” basics.

The goal of this blog is to convince you to go look at some clouds, take a walk, pick some wild flowers, and get distracted by nature.

It turns out that paying attention to beautiful but less important things, like natural scenery, can help fight mental fatigue. The theory of attention restoration (ART) suggests that looking at nature—like beaches, forests, or mountains—lets our minds wander freely and relax from the intense focus required in daily life. This kind of mind-wandering helps refresh our ability to concentrate when we need to.

The theory was developed by Stephen and Rachel Kaplan in the 1990s, and proposes a journey toward cognitive restoration that unfolds in distinct stages.

The Basics of ART

ART explains that nature can help us feel refreshed when we're mentally tired. This is because our brains can get worn out from focusing too much, especially today when we have so much information to process. However, some types of focus can actually make us feel energized.

Types of Attention

  • Involuntary Attention: This is when something grabs our attention effortlessly. Nature is full of these captivating elements, like a beautiful sunset or an interesting bird call. Engaging with these doesn't tire us out; it's actually enjoyable and refreshing.

  • Directed Attention: This refers to the focus we apply when concentrating on tasks, particularly those that are boring or demanding. It demands effort and can result in mental fatigue. This can also occur after an extensive period of creative work or practice that required your undivided attention. This explains why you can maintain focus for a certain period, but not indefinitely, and why you may feel the need to take a break to progress.

Restoration: Shifting Your Attention

Restoration is about recovering from the fatigue caused by too much directed attention. ART says that to refresh our minds, we need to shift from directed to involuntary attention. Nature, with its inherently fascinating elements, is the perfect place to do this because it naturally captures our interest without effort on our part.

The Restorative Environment

For an environment to truly help us recover, it needs to have four key qualities:

  • Being Away: Being physically and mentally removed from our daily stressors.

  • Extent: Offering a rich experience that feels like entering a different world.

  • Fascination: Providing interesting and engaging elements that capture our involuntary attention.

  • Compatibility: Fitting with what we want to do, making it easy for us to engage with the environment in a way that feels natural and enjoyable.

Restorative Experience

An environment that combines being away, extent, fascination, and compatibility allows us to engage our involuntary attention. This, in turn, helps us recover from mental fatigue, making us ready to be creative, take on tasks, and focus on goals.

Research supports the idea that nature and restorative environments can help reduce mental fatigue. This is shown through both psychological and physiological measures, such as improved mood and reduced stress indicators.

There is a study showing participants who spent three days in the wilderness performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving. Not everyone can get away for three days when they want to feel creative though.

The core idea of ART is that spending time in nature can help us recover from the mental fatigue of modern life. 

Nature provides a unique setting that engages our minds in a gentle, enjoyable way, allowing us to refresh and restore our capacity for focused attention. You don’t need to spend three days in the wild, but finding an immersive experience will help.

Spending time outside isn't just about physical activity; it's also about healing our minds and spirits.


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