In my endeavor to reconcile the pragmatic application of human performance and the primal requirement for the outdoors I’ve discovered the essential as well as the unconventional: the packable and transportable workplace.
I work outside, not the kind of “feel good” getting back to nature outside, I’m talking about natural and compulsive need for the outdoors, changes in scenery and straight up hardcore relaxation. That’s right… “hardcore” relaxation.
You don’t need an excuse to work outside, but, if you want one here it is:
In today’s economy we compete with our ability to discover and create. To accomplish this we rely on a very scarce, fragile, and internal resource commonly referred to as attention. There are two types of attention to consider here. The first type is called “committed attention” – focus on something to intentionally produce a result. This could be anything from curing cancer to replying to a text message. The other type of attention called “free attention” – no focus on the production of anything. Though you’re not honed in on producing something specific, production still occurs: ideas, emotions, inspiration and/or rejuvenation.
Neither type of attention is more valuable than the other, but they must be kept in harmony with one another. Consider an athlete working to produce or achieve a gold medal. The commitment requires attention and active training to build endurance, muscle and skill equally as much as the need for “free attention” to rest, recover and allow the subconscious mind to process and internalize performance.
In Daniel H. Pink’s book A Whole New Mind, he explores the nature of outsourcing and describes how and why the process of creativity and design is difficult, if not impossible, to outsource. Others may be able to mass-produce products like iPhones for American consumption, but no factory exists that can mass-produce the designing and conceptualization of such a product.
The saddest text message I’ve never seen
Nothing makes me more upset than watching a person, stuck in life, hoping for or responding to a text message and checking a device every few minutes in anticipation. Each glance, each text that distracts takes a tiny piece of new possibility away. I so badly want to slap that phone away and scream “Give your brain a chance to recover and breathe!” No matter the content of the text it saddens me. I know, just as the vigilant phone checker knows, that nothing life changing will vibrate, ping or alert its way into his life. There is no potential emergency more real than the one occurring as life passes by… character by character, emoticon by emoticon.
Distracted, overwhelmed, lost and stagnant describes too many of our lives. A state of being, that is sad within itself, becomes downright depressing when the realization occurs that these life sucking situations are self inflicted.
The good news is that we are vaguely aware that the critical progression of which we are in desperate need can be generated from within.
The bad news is that we are completely blind to the fact that this new creation depends on our ability to balance our levels of committed and free attention.
Our blindness to this leads us to waste days desperately attempting to stay within various states of “committed attention” in hopes of progressing towards a good life. Unfortunately, fatigue sets in and we find ourselves engaging in what can only be described as weak attempt to stumble across the finish line. This futility is on display as we constantly engage in readily available text messages, emails, news updates and other “information” sources – a feeble attempt to stay in the game, thus preventing the rest and recovery required to win it.
If you treat your body like a machine it will behave like one. Leave it in a state of “free attention” and it will go nowhere. Keep it in a state of “committed attention” and it will heat up and burn out.
If we would just sit still we could go so much further.
Too busy to sit still? Try the big move
I get it. You have things to do and people to see. You’re busy, your friends are busy and that’s how life is. This idea of stopping to “get going” is what’s called being a “contrarian”. We’re going against the norm; that can feel strange and seem counter productive. This can be especially true if you already feel like you have a busy life. Here’s a secret that might help you through this.
The most counter-productive thing you can do to be productive, is to try too hard to be productive.
Right now as I write this post I’m sitting on the beach, in fact here’s a picture.
As soon as I’m done writing this article I’m going to run down to that far off point that you can barely see off in the distance in the picture below.
When I’m running I’ll be in “free attention”. My subconscious will kick in and start doing its thing. It will “sift” through all of the things that are trying to bubble up in my head at this very moment. All of the cool ideas and possibilities that are currently being trapped underneath the surface of the “committed attention” I’m in as I write this to you will come forward.
After my run I’ll probably jump in the water for a quick 20 minute Paddle Surf. The water is still glassy and there are some waves so it’s a must at this point. Now, if I were in my traditional office today there would be no time to go Paddle Surfing for 20 minutes, but since I’m sitting right here and my board is always on my truck, I’ll do it. I’ll be “free attention” if not mindless for a while which means I’m in a state of play. The ultimate “No attention” state.
Once I get out of the water, I’ll be back to work. I’ll be writing about how listening to music underwater can help you significantly increase your breath hold. I’ll probably spend some time describing the gear I use and maybe even make a short breath holding training checklist as well. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that between now and the time I get back to the computer, several ideas and insights will hit me. These ideas and insights are things that I wouldn’t be able to just sit here and try really hard to come up with. They need the kind of open space that will allow them to travel to the surface of my dense noggin.
Once I’m done with the most important things for the day I’ll head back to my office so I can run through the ritual of returning phone calls and emails. I’ll sit down and do that one single time and be done with it.
As you can see my day will still be very productive. Give up some time at the water cooler and eliminate the “Hey you gotta minute”(s) and most of us will find that we’ve significantly increased our working time as well as capacity. Another benefit of working outside.
Keep in mind that while not every person can skip out of the office into the ocean at a moments notice, every person can get outside and access “free attention.” Hiking, biking, walking, running, swimming–even games and changes of scenery can give you hardcore relaxation. No matter where you live or what you do, you can find your “free attention.” Taking it outdoors is easy when you have the right mindset, the right gear and the right preparedness.