How Outdoor Recreation Refreshes Our Ability to Focus

Whether between work and play, home and travel, or nature and technology, life is all about balance. Neither side of these dichotomies are necessarily superior to the other, but many people in the modern world struggle to find a lifestyle that has a healthy dose of both.

Mental Focus Under Fire

Across phones, computers, and tablets, the average person spends around seven hours per day looking at screens. While there is nearly an infinite amount of information to be gained from these digital spaces, they also pose an incredibly easy place to lose track of time and focus.

Device usage rates have skyrocketed with the rise of remote work options. While people gained greater geographical flexibility with where they work, for many it came at the cost of one of our most precious mental resources—focus. 

The average attention span is just eight seconds—well below the proverbial goldfish level—and has been steadily declining for the past two decades. Constant access, a never-ending parade of notifications, and distractions galore have us more connected than ever, but with less mental bandwidth to tackle the task at hand with concentrated effort.

“Modern life is overstimulating because of its dependence on technology and digital technology,” says Andrew Gibbs-Dabney, the founder and CEO of LIVSN. “Social media and endless scrolling are deteriorating peoples’ ability to focus on what truly matters.”

Love it or hate it, technology has become integrated into the fabric of our society from professional interactions to entertainment avenues and everywhere in between. Outdoor recreation now more than ever offers a counterweight that can help refresh the mind and rediscover our essential ability to focus.

Solving Simple Tasks Burns Stress

As complicated as we like to make ourselves out to be when you break it down, the human mind and body are just an especially odd, wonderfully complicated system of inputs and outputs. When certain needs aren’t met, it begins to grumble, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally.

When it comes to task completion, in particular, the digital world poses a unique danger as there’s no floor—or ceiling for that matter—to the content and engagement avenues. The internet is endless all ends, and while a vast reservoir of knowledge to tap into, overexposure can lead to digital burnout, a real and rising concern for many.

Conversely, outdoor recreation options offer clear limits, goals, and immediate feedback for actions. Whatever your activity, it’s far easier to see the beginning, middle, and end of the task both in the day-to-day and long-term goals of the hobby. Completing these tasks comes with a gratification that’s difficult, if not impossible, to fully replicate online.

People enjoy solving tasks, particularly those that are just at the threshold of what we believe we are capable of accomplishing, as these types of tasks help induce what’s known as the “flow state”. While flow can be found in everything from painting to mathematics, there’s something especially satisfying about achieving it while in a natural setting.

Whether your goal is to ride a difficult trail all afternoon or simply walk around the park for an hour, concretely moving through each gives a sense of satisfaction, control, and accomplishment that often is missing in the digital space. Solving simple, physical tasks gives our bodies and minds much-needed relief and reward, which then allows us to sink deeper into focus elsewhere in life.

Outdoor Recreation Means Flowing Endorphins

While the digital space can take our minds to all ends of the internet, it does little to stimulate our physical body, which tends to appreciate some exertion and reward the body with a rush of invigorating endorphins as a reward.

Whether outdoors or indoors, moving your body to the point where the heart rate rises and sweat pours has all kinds of benefits. Just twenty minutes of exercise leads to heightened levels of concentration, lowers stress, and has all kinds of long-term benefits for our beloved brains. 

Unique to the outdoors though is the sensory immersion in a space not wholly static and controlled like an office or gym. While virtual reality has taken great strides, it cannot replicate the sensory variety of the natural world. Nor can it supply our skin with a steady flow of Vitamin D as the sun does, another subtle bump that improves a person’s mood and mental facilities throughout the day.

Whether strenuous or mild, physical exertion while in nature releases key chemicals in the body that enables the mind to not just process and work more efficiently, but feel more balanced and focused.

Shifting the Scene to Refresh the Mind

Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to simply step away, do a completely unrelated task, and return to the task with a fresh set of eyes.

As even an ideal workspace can start to feel cabin fever-esque after hours or days on end, physically changing your space with some time outside often helps. Building your schedule with outdoor recreation activities in mind makes them far more likely to occur, as does treating them as an essential part of your workflow rather than an indulgent escape if time allows.

Outdoor recreation offers a much-appreciated breather for the body and mind and gives us the means to put professional or personal challenges in perspective. For those who work in creative spaces especially, the new and variable stimuli found outdoors can also be just the inspiration needed to fuel a project forward. 

Outdoor Recreation to the Rescue

If you’ve ever felt fatigued or burned out from excessive technology usage, you aren’t alone, and it's worth taking the time to build a lifestyle that helps negate some of technology's negative effects.

Finding an outdoor recreational activity that fits your lifestyle and passions can be the perfect answer, one that keeps us physically healthy and mentally sharp.

More people are re-engaging with nature to escape from their daily digital life, and when you break down all the benefits outdoor recreation poses, it’s clear why. Time spent outdoors simultaneously relieves us of stress and refreshes our ability to focus, an increasingly valuable skill in the busy modern world.

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