We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom
How getting into nature and disconnecting from technology helps you take control of your life and achieve success. Embrace the meditative qualities of outdoor pursuits.
Information Overload – The Modern Problem
Apps that solve human problems make a lot of money. When millions of people pay for something, it’s the sign of a true need; a deep-rooted desire for something. Mindfulness apps and software that prevents us browsing social media and click-bait websites are hot tickets right now. We download these apps in the millions in the hope of fixing deep seated problems. Why is that? Didn’t we get our phones and devices to enjoy all the benefits of the connected web?
It’s clear we’ve lost track of what’s important.
We’re constantly connected to the internet and regularly browsing our phones. And we’re perpetually distracted as a result. Modern living has left us no time for solitude. By solitude, I mean being alone with our thoughts. As Cal Newport, author of Deep Work puts it, “solitude is a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds.”
We can be with people but alone with our own minds. And this is important because without reflection and “alone time”, your brain cannot function to its potential. Apart from the negative effects on intelligence, the inability to extract oneself from the constant digital chatter leads to depression, anxiety, and poor performance in all areas of life, including work.
Digital detox is the concept of removing oneself from distractions from electronic devices and communication channels.
But it’s one thing to slim down digital media consumption. It’s another one entirely to get back in touch with a very important computational machine: your brain. The brain is an analog device, but still outperforms any computer on the planet. Most of the time.
But that might be changing.
These days, we don’t seek out information. Thanks to social media, we’re force fed content we didn’t ask for. We’ve become passive consumers. We know what celebrities are up to and we’re all watching the same viral videos. We’re hit with 3000 marketing messages a day. Our bosses and coworkers send us emails, reports and demands, all 24 hours a day.
We pride ourselves on having our fingers on the pulse of the news. We’re connected and informed. But this will not make us happy.
If you’re shaking your head now in disagreement, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I really know what makes me happy?
- Am I living an intentional life (a life according to your values and beliefs)?
- Do you know what your values and beliefs are?
If you think you don’t have time to answer these questions, then you truly need to make time.
Nature as the healer
Ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information you receive every day? Do you routinely freeze and wonder what to do next? Is making priorities a struggle?
This constant distraction and digital pollution has the effect of making us lose our ability to prioritise what’s important. We end up in a loop of processing insignificant tasks and ticking boxes. We read information and content that offers nothing more than a few minutes of throwaway amusement.
Are these lines adding to this overwhelm?
Let me ask again. But this time try to imagine yourself in a completely different environment. Picture yourself surrounded by trees and mountains, beside lakes or the ocean. Anywhere that you feel comfortable.
Let fresh air replace the air-conditioning and the sound of birds replaces the background hum of the office.
You can see for miles and your eyes eat up the colours of nature all around.
Does this place invite calm?
There’s a reason why digital detox holidays are gaining in popularity. They didn’t even exist a few years ago but many people have realised that the best time to detox from technology is when they travel.
According to Gavin Lang, a New Zealand-based mountain guide, adventure guide, and champion of the mental health benefits of natural environments, many people are starting to realise the benefits of activity-focused time in nature. “A circuitous hike around a mountain or a climb to the summit is the focal point for their adventure travel. The contact with nature, physical effort and movement through often pristine environments is a recipe for calm. We leave behind our technological chains, free our minds from chatter, and learn to be okay with our own thoughts. The natural environment is the perfect backdrop for this. And physical exercise in the outdoors sharpens the physical senses and the mind. We saw a growing need for something that incorporates a balance of adventure travel, mountains, and a dash of self-awareness. So we created a 10-day self-mastery course in the mountains of Peru“.
So, instead of looking at your iPhone, try looking around the place you're visiting! And by looking, I mean lifting your eyes from your iPhone and focusing on the physical things around you, not the electronic thing in your hand. You'll find you feel calmer, are more engaged, and most importantly, you'll feel much more satisfied by your experience afterwards.
Information Overload Science
There are scientific reasons behind the sensations of calm produced by merely being in nature. A study from 2017 found that, although most people associate the visual aspect of natural surrounding as being beneficial to our health, humans process the natural environment in more ways than just visual. We can taste, smell, touch, and employ non-sensory pathways to experience the natural world.
Now think about how we touch, smell, and see the urban environments where we spend most of our lives. Wouldn’t this create the reverse effect of what being in nature does for us?
Sound like something we need to fix for a healthy and fulfilled life?
It’s telling that as far back as 1869, in the midst of the industrial revolution when the vast majority of people worked in sweatshops 7 days a week, town planners in the United States understood the value of parks.
“That rural scenery has the effect of counteracting a certain oppression of town life”, Charles Mulford Robinson.
The planners noted how being in nature “soothes and sympathizes”. Despite lacking scientific technology to test these theories, they understood the detrimental effects of intense, crowded city life on human productivity and lifespan.
Digital Detox First Steps
Try one day of not visiting social media, not reading email, and not consuming content from the internet (ironically, like this one). Post this challenge on social media if it makes you feel better. This can be a good way of keeping yourself accountable.
If you choose a working day, turn off all distractions and get stuck into the important tasks.
If you prefer to do this challenge on a weekend, try reading a book or doing that woodworking project you’ve been planning. Stay within reach of digital mediums but use your will power to ignore them.
How does it feel by the end of the day? Able to focus a little better? Do you feel calmer?
And most importantly, do you feel like the time you spent not on social was better spent with things that bring you joy and help you professionally?
Next steps – Level up your life
The next step is to get back to nature. Did you know that doctors in Scotland can now prescribe nature to “increase happiness”?
Get out in nature!
Humans evolved in a natural surrounding and spent most of their evolution looking up at the trees and down at the grass and scrub. Our brains learned to process signals from the natural world. These signals are embedded in our psyche. The rapid (on evolutionary terms) change in how we live today is, to our brains, like altering the layout and appearance of a house overnight and expecting the children of the home to cope with it. Kids feel safe in familiar environments and drastic changes upset them.
Now consider the evolution of humans: millions of years living in harmony with nature. And in the last few moments, mere nanoseconds of time, we’ve been thrust into a concrete world of cramped living, electronic distractions and electromagnetic pollution, noise, and bad air.
How do we cope? Quite badly, as it seems.
What’s the answer? I’ll repeat: The answer is “getting back to nature”.
Simple actions, huge rewards
Years ago, I used to hike with office-worker colleagues in the mountains in my home country. The goal was a type of team-building exercise. But the effects of spending a day walking the grassy, rolling hills near Dublin was so much more than the strengthening of connections between colleagues.
People talked about the feeling of elation upon completing the walks. Their flushed faces made them look more alive than ever. Some mentioned how they felt their vision had improved. Still others felt invigorated and relaxed at the same time. The physical aspect of walking played a big part. But it’s safe to say that walking on a treadmill for the same amount of time is not the same. Being outdoors is the component that made the difference.
Mindful & Free
Getting into nature isn’t only about improving our physical health. It’s also about learning about who we are, a process that’s hard to follow thanks to our always-on, hyper-connected, noisy environments.
Being bored in 2019 is almost a sin. When was the last time you were actually bored? At the slightest hint of downtime, we naturally (or unnaturally) whip out our phones and start thumbing through stuff to keep our monkey-minds busy. The fear of being alone with our thoughts is too much. It’s not productive, we think. It’s not social, we believe.
The author Neil Gaiman talked about his process for writing (very successful) books.
Gaiman’s advice to writers is to “get bored”. By this he meant that we need to give ourselves the opportunity to think. We should think of this process as a method for exploring our minds and taking time to learn what’s important.
In the book, Daily Rituals, Mason Currey describes the daily habits of some of the most successful people in the world. There are common threads in the anecdotes and descriptions in this book. One of which is that these hyper-productive people worked best free from distractions. Solitude was best. Being along with their thoughts was an absolute must. Another common thread was the love of nature.
Easy access to nature and long walks were must-haves for the greatest minds of recent times.