Rumination is a prolonged and often maladaptive attentional focus on the causes and consequences of emotions—most often, negative, self-relational emotions. This pattern of thought has been shown to predict the onset of depressive episodes, as well as other mental disorders. Positive or neutral distraction (vs. maladaptive distractions such as binge drinking of alcohol, meditation and drugs) has been shown to decrease rumination. To be effective in decreasing rumination, these positive or neutral distractions must be engrossing, to maintain the shift of attention onto the distracting stimuli. From this perspective, we have taken thousands of business executives into nature for them to both observe the power of nature in causing positive rumination and to understand nature. Whether a 90-min nature experience has the potential to decrease rumination is questionable but in addition to gathering coaching based insight, self-report measures, we increase the experience by developing a deeper connection of the individual to the wisdom that nature carries. Science has examined brain activity in the sgPFC, an area that has been shown to be particularly active during the type of maladaptive, self-reflective thought and behavioural withdrawal that occurs during rumination. Coaching combined with nature demonstrates through both behavioral and neural evidence—that when taken together— coaching in nature provides convincing evidence for a change in rumination resultant from nature experience. We distill the key elements of nature based coaching into four states of mind that are naturally achieved during extended periods in nature, but can be skilled and taught in short coaching sessions.
FOUR NATURE BASED SKILLS OF NATURE BASED SELF LEADERSHIP
Bringing together a diverse and amazing range of mastery skills to help individuals do what they love most.
Appreciation is a natural state of mind for nature based individuals but is sadly lost in the stress of urbanisation. Although this body of work is now substantial, there remains a fundamental yet unanswered question: by what mechanism(s) might nature experience buffer against the development of mental illness? One possible mechanism—and our focus here—is a decrease in rumination, a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought that is associated with heightened risk for depression and other mental illnesses and with activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC). The sgPFC has been shown to display increased activity during sadness and the behavioural withdrawal and negative self-reflective processes tied to rumination in healthy and depressed individuals can be clearly differentiated by the concept of thankfulness. A natural state of mind in nature.
People are different in nature. Our findings support the view that natural environments may confer psychological benefits to humans by bringing them to a greater state of stimulation. Simply, the beauty of nature taps into our innate love of and attraction to beauty (what Greeks call “symmetry, proportion and order”). In the literature on “restorative” environments, researchers have shown that individuals tend to select favourite environments as a means to transform negative psychological states to more positive ones. These areas tend to be natural environments, although not exclusively so. Natural environments with pleasing aesthetic qualities including open views and lack of loud, distracting noises are often chosen as preferred restorative environments. Effects of these landscapes are captured in the Perceived Restorativeness Scale and include those that engender somewhat effortless, “soft fascination”; the “sense of belonging”; and the “sense of being away.” This literature relates to our findings insofar as we may consider these preferred environments to engender the type of positive distraction that has been shown to decrease rumination and negative affect in depressed individuals. Specifically, our findings of decreased sgPFC activity in the nature group point to a possible causal mechanism for inspiration for those who come with us to nature. The affective benefits of nature experience.
Our experience with individuals in nature has relevance beyond the neural correlates of rumination. Activity in the sgPFC is also more broadly tied to behavioral withdrawal. Although we observed peak activity in the sgPFC, this significant cluster brain area also includes the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex: a region that has been shown to display increased reactivity in individuals born in urban areas during social stress processing. This is the area of the mind we tap for visionary experienced. Hence, in urban living, visionary areas of mind are under-utilised – potentially damaged by lack of stimulation. Other forms of affective appraisal, emotion regulation, and reactivity to social hierarchies involve coordinated activity of this region with other areas of the brain, including the insula, ventral striatum, and amygdala. Decreased functional connectivity between the pACC and amygdala is found in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and is a predictor of anxiety. Considered without the context provided by self-reports of rumination, sgPFC findings could be related to the neural processing of sadness, guilt, remorse, negative autobiographical narratives, or peer rejection. It is also possible that other psychological processes (e.g., stress or anxiety processing) or hormones (e.g., dopamine or oxytocin release) may lower the appetite for visionary thinking. However, in the realm of nature, especially in high mountain areas, this is reversed, even youth at risk will begin to trigger imagination when faced with extraordinary views. Visionary is a natural human quality that is rekindled in nature based coaching with extraordinary impact on reducing rumination negativity. It has also been linked to heightened hope, proactivity and enjoyment.
Our findings of the effects of a relatively brief coached nature experience suggest that feasible investments in access to natural environments could yield important benefits for the “mental capital” of business’, cities and nations. Academic research is needed to refine our understanding of the “production functions” of natural environments for mental health benefits, clarifying both key characteristics of the environments and the duration, frequency, and types of experience that generate benefits. By accounting for these psychological ecosystem services, we can better assess the value that natural areas provide with respect to mental health, an essential issue given the significant contribution of depression and other mental illnesses to the global burden of disease. We reverse it by understanding and valuing the power of enthusiasm.