Clearing your mind of as much conscious thought as possible for short periods can dramatically improve your cognitive processes and problem-solving abilities. When you let go of the things that seem top of mind along with all of the external stimuli that floods your brain with noise, then your sub-conscious mind is free to get to work solving problems and clarifying your perspectives. Freeing your mind of the clutter also relaxes your body and helps to reduce stress.
Walking and exposing your mind to nature are effective techniques for easing stress and stimulating positive brain activity. If you have access to a forest, or a place where you can walk for an hour or more surrounded by trees and nature, then you can combine the idea of meditation with exercise and nature get the biggest boost to your mental performance. If you have difficulty meditating at home, then this process can help you. Of course, you’ll also gain the health benefits of stress relief and exercise in general.
Before you start, write down the one problem or topic on which you’d like to find answers or greater clarity. Write this in big bold letters on a large piece of paper, and stare at it for a few minutes. Then, leave that piece of paper on your table, take your notebook and pen or pencil with you and start your hour-long walk. Keep the pace to a reasonable stroll, not a power-hike. If you exercise too heavily with this process, your mind will begin to think about other things, like the pain in your feet and lungs and the distance yet to cover. You want your mind to be free to relax and that will be easier if your body is relaxed and doing what it is designed to do, and that is walk.
Turn your cell phone off and leave your iPod music player at home. This process requires that you focus all of your attention on your natural surroundings. As you walk, scan the forest, trees, grass, shrubbery and water for anything that looks or sounds mildly interesting and write it down on your notepad. You are looking for items that would otherwise seem mundane, like interesting tree bark, extra tall grass, a yellow wild flower or an unusual shape in a tree that reminds you of something. Make sure you keep walking and don’t simply stop and scan one area. Keep your eyes and ears tuned to everything around you, and make a brief note about what you observe.
Walking stimulates the neurons in the front of your brain and increases synaptic activity. It also balances stress hormones and helps you to manage and cope with stress. Focusing your eyes and ears on items in nature further stimulates the brain and pushes other thoughts into the background. This procedure simulates the practice of meditation by freeing your mind of conscious thoughts, with the added benefits of stimulating neurons and relieving stress.
Scanning the forest and taking notes serve only to focus the mind on things that provide positive stimulation and not on things that add stress to your life. You may choose to keep or toss your notes after each walk. Practice this walk-in-the-woods technique several times each month and soon you’ll find you have greater clarity, improved problem-solving and reduced stress.