There are only two things that never fail to put me in a great mood:
The first one is obvious: sex. Even “okay sex” is still sex.
The second is time in nature.
It makes sense when you think about it. Both are highly immersive experiences that pull you out of time, and its myriad problems, and drop you into the present moment. Both include large amounts of pleasurable and fascinating stimuli.
They’re also both things every human could probably do with a bit more of.
But present moment, now-inducing experience is not even the best part about time spent in nature. So, if you think you just “don’t have time” go outside, or you fail to make it a priority, there’s good news:
By the time you’re done reading this, you won’t be able to ignore or put off spending time in nature.
To better understand this claim, let’s look at why this habit is so powerful. Time in the nature or the wild is what author Charles Duhigg of The Power of Habit refers to as a Keystone Habit.
In other words, it’s a habit that has a domino effect on many other habits.
Here’s just a small handful of the benefits of nature exposure (it’s almost like we evolved for it, funny idea, yeah?)
- Put you in a more positive mood
- Increase your ability to focus 1
- Help combat depression and ADD 2
- Help you think creatively
- Boosts your levels of Vitamin D
- Bolster your resilience to changes in temperature
- Expose you to a wider variety of movement challenges that keep your body strong and healthy
- And even makes you a nicer person (yes seriously) 1
When you add up all those things it’s easy to see why spending more time in nature is when one of the most important habits you can develop.
The best part though is that it’s completely FREE, and therefore available to EVERYONE.
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” —Thoreau
So, how do you know if you have a deficit of nature in your life? And what exactly is “Nature Deficit Disorder” anyway?
The term was coined by author Richard Louv. He describes it as such:
“Nature-deficit disorder is not a formal diagnosis, but a way to describe the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.”
You might have NDD if…
- You feel like an alien on your own planet
- You often find yourself feeling sad in the middle of the day for no apparent reason
- You get the classic melting screen face at the end of the workday, yet keep glued to it anyway
- You have tons of friends on Facebook and Twitter, yet you feel very isolated and alone
- You feel like your life, and in particular, your exercise routine has lost excitement and is too predictable
- You’re afraid of being outside, touching things, or in general going off any premade paths
- You find yourself pacing back and forth in your apartment like a caged animal
If that sounds like you, don’t worry. You are not alone. I used to feel this way… until I decided to finally do something about it.
How I’ve been curing my own case of NDD
I swear it wasn’t always this way…
As a kid I never had any trouble getting outside. Sure, video games were cool, but so was riding my bike, playing in the creek and trying to build tree forts.
Getting older, it’s easy to think that I just don’t have the time to get outside, or that it’s too cold/wet/whatever.
These are all just excuses, of course. I sometimes spend hours on pointless email checking, social media or watching MMA videos on youtube. And yeah, the weather is a real thing, but that’s what gear is made for. As a friend of mine likes to say “there’s no bad weather, just bad gear.”
So, what I’ve been doing is tricking myself into thinking that nature time is productive, and making it a part of my daily practice.
Particularly, I’ve done three main things to force and even trick myself into getting outside:
- Making a walk a part of my morning ritual. This way it’s automatic and not left to chance. Once the habit is built up for at least 30 days, you’re pretty much riding on autopilot.
- Using Productive Meditation to trick myself into getting outside as a way of getting shit done. This is something I picked up from the ever-inspiring Cal Newport. The idea is simple: pick a well defined problem or project you need to get clarity on. For me this might be outlining a blog post, or figuring out the narrative for a product I’m working on. Set a time you’ll walk or move outside for, and then discipline yourself to continually return back to the core problem or question, even as your minds drifts or wanders. This is similar to the way you return to your breath in meditation.
- Replace gym time with outdoor training. I mean, why the fuck not? If I’m going to exercise, I might as well reap the benefits of fresh air, anti-fragility and mood improvement. Plus, with the gymnastic rings I always have a portable tool for strength training, pretty much anywhere.
The key I’ve found is to not try to find more time to get outside, but to embed time outside into the things you’re already doing.
“Nowadays almost all man’s improvements, so called, as the building of houses and the cutting down of the forest and of all large trees, simply deform the landscape, and make it more and more tame and cheap.” —Thoreau
So, how can you get more time outside and cure your own NDD?
Simple ways you can cure NDD now:
- Make contact with the earth part of your morning ritual. Use the cue of making your morning beverage to get outside and put your feet on the ground before you start your day.
- Find a walking partner. Nature time can be as simple as a morning walk with a walking partner. Find a friend that’s willing to walk with you every day, the wilder the better, but parks are great too. No excuses if you don’t have time to get on the trail.
- Get megadoses. Take regular “megadoses” by going out for multiple day trips to the coast, the forest or the mountains. Cabin, tent or tarp under the sky, just get out however you can.
- Practice the art of productive meditation (trick yourself to get outside by using nature to make you more productive)
- Take meetings, calls, or interviews outside. Sure, there will be some noise, but it beats the stale air of an office.
- Make your education time your movement time. Take your audiobooks or podcasts outdoors while you walk, run, bike and play.
- Make nature time your “gym time” — climb trees, crawl around like an animal, balance on stuff, etc. If you want to throw in some serious strength training, hang up a pair of rings on a tree.
- Use Pomodoros to remind yourself to take movement breaks. 25 minutes of focused work, five minutes of movement outside. You’ll also increase your focus at work. You can download this simple app to make it easy.
- Just do whatever you can. If all else fails, go out in your yard and just hold a squat for a couple of minutes. If you don’t have a yard, fine. Find a patch of grass, or just look up at the sky. Find and hug a tree. Kiss one of your house plants. Just do whatever you can. Everything helps.
The reality is, we didn’t get to spending 90% of our waking hours indoors over night. Domestication creeped up on us and before we knew it, the things we thought were advancements actually turned out to cause some serious damage to our health and wellbeing.
So, having patience and a progressive transition to outdoor exposure is key. Go easy on yourself. Even 10 minutes of moving outside is a great place to start if you’re currently doing zero.
Using technology to undo the damages of technology
I find it very amusing that I’m typing shit into a computer to help inspire and empower you to spend less time on screens.
It does bring up an interesting point though. We can use technology to reverse and undo some of the damage it’s caused. We can use it to connect with likeminded folks and find local training partners. We can set reminders on our phones to get up and move. And we can even block ourselves from using screens with clever apps so we aren’t slaves to our devices.
Technology is amazing. I love it. I love connecting with you. I’ve learned so much through the amazing and vast resources of information that have been enabled by it.
But we must wield it consciously, lest we become slaves to it.
If not, we aren’t the owners of the devices. The devices end up owning us.
Please share your thoughts: What’s your biggest struggle with getting outdoors? Are there any strategies that have really worked for you?
Leave a comment and share with the tribe so we can all benefit from it.
3. Study: Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A. K., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). “Can nature make us more caring? Effects of immersion in nature on intrinsic aspirations and generosity.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1315-1329.
photo courtesy of chancellor