Recharging the brain is turning out to be a critical skill. At year’s end or during summer holidays this usually entails a change of location and duties or unplugging from the online world and savoring the fact that our attention is no longer taxed, or any combination of these.
But what happens the rest of the year? What even happens at year’s end when you cannot go away because there are things you need to finish, deadlines you need to meet and plans you have to make? What do you do then?
Intuitively we know the answer to this question: nature. From ice-cold bathing to forest bathing and nature immersion. The fundamentals, each time, are the same: make your brain absorb sensory input from the natural world around it.
The consistency with which the mind and body respond to this change in environment begs another question: why?
Nature Recharges The Brain
For the brain paying attention is an energy-intensive exercise. It exhausts its neural centers and, at some point, also begins to lose its calibration so its ability to judge its own performance, an iffy proposition at the best of times, becomes compromised.
Aerospace psychology the discipline established to help astronauts adjust to the mental and psychological difficulty of living and working in space uses nine specific touchpoints to assess specific capabilities:
- ability to perform under stressful conditions
- group living skills
- teamwork skills
- self-regulation of one’s emotions and mood
- judgement and decision making
- communication skills
- leadership skills
They are echoed by the twelve mental and psychological competencies of The Sniper Mind Competencies toolkit.
What they show is that repetitive, attention-soaking tasks deplete the brain’s capacity to function and when this is added to the additional rigor of a hostile, external environment and the pressure of living in an isolated capsule in space it can quickly become an overwhelming experience with really bad results. One of the solutions to this is provided by the use of technology that uses virtual reality to simulate natural environments.
The amazing result here is something that has repeatedly been mentioned throughout The Sniper Mind - the brain doesn’t have redundant circuits. The ones it uses to process virtual information are the same as the ones it uses to process the real thing.
This makes video game playing a method that teaches the brain to operate the way it should in the real world and, in this particular case, it can be used to help the brain recharge. The reason immersion in nature helps us recharge is because the sensory processing that goes on in the brain is different for tasks that we have evolved for over hundreds of thousands of years and different for tasks that require massive conscious effort like; operating complex machinery, making really hard decisions all the time, working with tech in an information-rich environment and managing different types of distraction coming at us from different angles.
Think Like A Sniper
Snipers who have to operate for long periods of time, under extreme mental and psychological pressure experience eye blur while shooting. Vision is mostly mental. To combat this and recharge their capacity to focus they teach themselves to take brief breaks during which they touch, hear, smell. During my interviews with the 100 snipers I used to research The Sniper Mind many of them mentioned that this is a really quick thing where they can rub their hand on the earth or wherever it is that they are hiding, take a really deep breath and analyze it and listen carefully to all the different sounds around them. The effect is a chance for their mind to use different sensory analyses pathways which allows their vision to recharge and their mind to collect itself so their decision-making and emotional regulation skills get back on track.
We frequently experience the same sense of stress-relief and recharging when we look at a picture of nature someone has shared like the one of a panoramic shot of a sunny, November sunset shown below:
The lessons we learn here are as simple as they are powerful:
- Take mental breaks often that expose us to sensory input from natural sources.
- When doing repetitive mental tasks or high-intensity work take fatigue into account.
- Use nature to help the brain and body recalibrate their sensory-processing capabilities.
- Understand that we can teach ourselves to do anything, under any conditions but not indefinitely.
We are still physical beings. The brain is housed in a body that is very much rooted in the physical world. Becoming better than we are requires that we take this into account and work with it, rather than seek to divorce the brain from the body hoping that it would somehow learn to work differently.
Be smart. Use the environment as an aid to your cognitive skills and abilities.