I'm someone who has, historically, tried to control my environment as much as possible. Growing up in the Willamette Valley in Oregon nurtured this inclination: sure, it rained a lot, but the temperate climate never required a parka, snow boots, or any knowledge about the many varieties of snow. If we wanted to "experience winter," we would choose to drive up to the mountains. When I moved to Boston for the winter of 2012, that all changed.
First, Hurricane Sandy hit. Then, what New Englanders lovingly call a "nor'easter" hit. Then, weekend after weekend of snowstorms pounded Boston. We used a blowdryer to heat our car engine enough to start, I would constantly slip on ice, and I was always, forever, cold. Anyone who knew me then will tell you how much I despised the Northeastern winter, and while I don't miss it, I am grateful for what it showed me: that there's no sense trying to control what is Wild.
We need more Wild in our workplaces. Our workplaces are sanitary, climate-controlled, sometimes lifeless places. Many of us work solely with our brains now, with information; we're not out in the fields tilling the earth, we don't harvest or hunt the food we eat, and most of us are separated from the earth-bound resources that we consume. In many ways, our lives are easier, but that comes at a cost: we forget that we're connected to the earth that we inhabit. We forget that we're part of the Wild.
When we forget that we're connected to this earth, to one another, we spend all day on our computers or devices. We feel uncomfortable in our own skin. We eat and consume much more than we need. We just feel uneasy, but aren't totally sure why.
The benefits of bringing more of the Wild into the workplace are many: studies show that an increased connection to nature and other living things can result in better focus and concentration, more vitality, improved health, lower stress, healthier relationships...the list goes on and on. When we re-connect with our primal nature and reduce the chasm separating us from the Wild, we honor our humanity; which, I would argue, makes us better at anything we do. Not only is it good for us as individuals, it invests us in saving this planet that we inhabit. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, "In wildness is the preservation of the world."
How can we infuse our stale, often sterile workplaces with more Wildness? Here are 10 bite-sized ideas to get you started:
- Bring more plants into the office. Plants in the office keep our air cleaner, speed up recovery from illness, and, according to a University of Michigan study, can increase memory retention by up to 20%. Not only do they remind you that you're a living being with needs, too, they help us stay calm enough to produce more meaningful work.
- Stimulate your senses. In addition to looking at plants, you can keep an earthy essential oil roll-on or spritzer in your desk, put up other pictures of nature around you, get a sweet little water fountain for your desk, or listen to bird song videos on YouTube (I'm not joking). Help your brain relax and connect with what it loves by surrounding yourself with reminders of the Wild.
- Develop a better relationship with your technology. Your computer, phone, and email account are supposed to serve you. They are not your masters. Many of us have become so beholden to email or our phones that we have a Pavlovian response to these stimuli. We feel compelled, strongly, to check our devices as soon as we see that we have a new message. This starves us of the time we need to really dive deeply into our work, which is so rejuvenating to our brains. Whether it's agreeing to turn your devices off at the same time every night, only checking email three times/day, or "downgrading" to a flip phone, try to develop a healthier, less needy relationship with your devices.
- Consider a walking meeting instead. Meetings. So many meetings today. First, consider whether or not you really need one before you schedule it. If you definitely do, consider whether or not it could be a walking meeting. This works best for groups of up to four, and having an agreed-upon destination can help make it feel less weird at first. Getting everyone outside and moving will stimulate more openness and creativity, and folks will return to the office feeling refreshed.
- Take a vacation. Many Americans today do not use the vacation that they earn. This is crazy to me. There is a whole big world out there waiting for you to see it. Even if it's just a 3-day weekend trip up to the mountains, take time away and get outside. Remind your body that you're not a machine.
- Create or enjoy beauty for beauty's sake. The Wild is full of beauty, and we've evolved to be drawn to it. Creating and enjoying beauty is in our nature, and it's also very good for our brains. Our workplaces are full of left-brained rationality, linear thinking, and analysis. Unleash the other part of your mind - the artistic, enriching, nuanced part - by creating or surrounding yourself with whatever you find beautiful.
- Aim for a 20-minute walk every day. It was something like 30 degrees one morning recently, and there were people outside jogging around like joyful little polar bears. That is not for me. Even if you don't think the weather is good enough for a long run or a backpacking trip, I bet you could get outside for 20 minutes every day. The benefits of a regular walk are, like, a million, and I've seen it improve my own stress level, ability to focus, and overall well-being.
- Embrace your own rhythms. I already wrote about this recently, but it's so important that I'm saying it again.The Wild has a lot to teach us about rhythm, and we would do well to heed its advice. You can click here to read my article on rhythm.
- Add in a dose of solitude. Solitude can be hard to come by in our modern open-air, "collaborative" workplaces. Many of us don't get the quiet alone time that fosters deep, complex thinking and creativity, and even if we're not surrounded by people, we stay "plugged in" via our devices. There's nothing quite like being alone out in the wilderness, so close to the natural world. Sure, we're deeply social beings, but consider unplugging once in a while and experience being truly alone.
- Get better at letting go. Even though New Englanders are crazy and will trudge to work when there's five feet of fresh snow on the ground, most of us are at the mercy of Mother Nature. It's a hard lesson to learn, but the Wild can teach us not to cling to anything too tightly. So whether that's loosening your grip on your idea of "success," your five-year career plan, or that hatred you have for your boss, take some notes from the Wild and get more comfortable with letting go.
“But especially he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading signs and sounds as a man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterious something that called -- called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for him to come.” - Jack London, The Call of the Wild
Know someone who could use a little more Wild in life? Consider passing this post on to them.