We most often consider sustainability in terms of the health of the natural world: how we can create sustainable working practices that help reduce waste, conserve energy and protect the environment for generations to come. It’s an essential ethos to build into the backbone of any enterprise. But the principles of sustainability can also be applied to your brain – in other words, your ability to use your mental energy in the most efficient way to conserve your valuable neural resources, to reduce unnecessary thinking, and to protect your long-term mental and physical well-being.
Managing Mental Fatigue Is Critical to Your Mental Sustainability.
Mental fatigue is something you have likely experienced at some point in your life. It’s that sense of mental discomfort, a desire to rest, and a decline in your motivation and task performance.
These sensations work as a biological alarm – a warning that all is not well with your thinking, that your ability to concentrate and work efficiently is at risk, and that you should really be doing something about it to try and regroup your mental resources and apply them more effectively as you progress with the work task.
To put it another way, when you experience mental fatigue, your mode of thinking has become unsustainable. More importantly, if you keep working like this over the long term, you are setting yourself up for more serious health problems, such as chronic stress or burnout.
Turn to Nature to Protect Your Mental Functioning.
What can you do to protect your thinking? To restore your mental functioning and get yourself back on task? Coincidentally, it is the natural world that actually holds one of the secrets of how to restore your brain function when you are feeling fatigued and overworked, to decrease your stress levels, and to improve your well-being.
Over the last few decades, there has been a considerable body of scientific research highlighting the power of nature. Despite this research, organizations are still only really just scratching the surface in terms of how they can harness this power. “Nature” doesn’t necessarily mean spending time away from your desk and away from your work (thus reducing productivity); it means capitalizing on the benefits that nature can bring, translating them into the workplace and using them to improve employees’ mental functioning.
Restoring a Loss of Concentration With a Nature Micro-Break.
One of the most common victims of mental fatigue is your ability to pay attention and concentrate. You can’t focus properly. You can no longer multitask. You mind keeps drifting. And you find yourself increasingly unable to block out unwanted distractions from your environment. All of these situations are bad for your productivity and mental efficiency.
The antidote? A nature micro-break.
This can mean many things depending on where or how you work. For example, you could take a lunchtime walk to the park, stand outside in a green space for 10 minutes while you have a cup of coffee or sit at your desk listening to the sound of nature for five minutes through your headphones.
They might all sound like they are a bit too much like leisure time rather than work time. But they aren’t. They are good for your work, too. Nature can restore your attentional focus, help you de-stress and improve your mood, and promote self-control and reduce impulsivity. And because being in nature often involves so-called green exercise, you receive the added mental and physical benefits of exercise, as well.
Having mental sustainability isn’t just about being able to sustain your brain power over extended periods of time. It is about doing so in an energy-efficient way and protecting your mental health and well-being over the long term. Working day and night might provide short-term gains in job progression, but it will exhaust your mental resources to the detriment of your longer-term career goals and, in the worst-case scenario, lead to mental destruction and burnout with severe health consequences.
So, just as sustainability is important for the planet, it is also important for building a healthy and productive brain.