Better Thinking? Take It Outside!

The energy of the mind is the essence of life.

So how energetic is your mind these days? I can often use a boost.
A sure-fire remedy for getting our mental mojo back may be as simple as taking a walk. Biographers write that Einstein’s daily walk was sacred to him. He routinely walked the mile and a half to and from his office for think time. And Beethoven was inspired by long walks in the countryside, carrying pencil and paper to capture ideas for his next composition.

Growing mountains of evidence tell us that walking, especially in places with natural scenery, can boost memory, creativity and problem-solving to name only a few benefits. Outside activity turns on a different style of thinking that leads to perspectives and insights we’re not likely to get glued to a desk.

I grew up in the North Carolina mountains, where beautiful forests, wildflowers and waterfalls impressed on me at a young age the importance of caring for our environment and the healing power of nature. Time in the woods or getting dirt under my fingernails in the garden is my go-to stress antidote, creativity whisperer and general picker-upper.

These days with all the screen-time and stress, I find unplugged nature time even more essential to recharge and recenter. Long ago I discovered the writing of John Muir of “The mountains are calling and I must go…” fame and went through a phase of wanting to be a park ranger when I grew up.

Though my journey hasn’t included a stint as a ranger yet (never say never), I’ve always looked to nature for inspiration, including the decision to become an independent consultant vs continuing to climb the corporate ladder. Taking the plunge from a full-time role to putting out the welcome mat for “GreenLeaf Consulting” created flexibility for living world experiences impossible to squish into typical American one-week vacations – often including mountains: trekking in Nepal’s Annapurnas, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, climbing to the summit of Kilimanjaro.

If personal experience isn’t compelling enough, let’s get back to that mountain of evidence. There’s a recent proliferation of science supporting the benefits of time in nature. Getting outdoors and de-toxing from devices helps us recalibrate and hear ourselves think again. A brief scan of literature turns up a trove of publications ranging from scholarly studies to newspaper and magazine articles with titles like “Want a Creativity Boost? Take a Walk in Nature.”
Social scientists and researchers are finding that natural environments are the best cure for attention fatigue and mental burn-out and they make us happier, healthier, more creative, and maybe even kinder.

A recent UK study of 20,000 people even specifies the amount of time in nature we need to achieve health and wellbeing benefits – only 2 hours a week (either all at once or in chunks.) Research co-author, Professor Terry Hartig of Uppsala University in Sweden, writes: “There are many reasons why spending time in nature may be good for health and wellbeing, including getting perspective on life circumstances, reducing stress, and enjoying quality time with friends and family.”

So, it’s official – spending time in greenspace is good for us. Did we really need a study to tell us that? As our mothers used to say – go outside and play!


Rest is not idleness,
and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day,
listening to the murmur of water,
or watching the clouds float across the blue sky,
is by no means waste of time.
~ John Lubbock, “Recreation,” The Use of Life