Being a creative individual isn't always a picnic. Unreasonable deadlines, the inability to switch off and those constant, nagging feelings that theres always “Something we should be doing right now” can often lead to heightened stress levels and sleepless nights, especially in an intense, claustrophobic office environment. Indeed, even as someone who spends most of their days working from home, the sheer mental burden of keeping your brain in 5th gear for 10 hours a day (even when in your pyjamas) can get a little too much sometimes.
“Being in the middle of nature was hugely productive” Aardman Animations, Bristol
Aiming to offer a respite for those of us who need to get away every once in a while, but can't quite afford to switch off entirely, NatureWorks: Creativity Breaks is an intriguing new initiative from the outdoor holiday experts at Sawday’s Canopy & Stars. It's a getaway program that gives companies and creative types the breathing space and opportunity to tackle work in a new environment.
These are essentially small group breaks for creative types, digital gurus, entrepreneurs, blocked writers, business leaders and anyone needing space away from the office to think, plan and be inspired. The fact that you'll be able to do so whilst staying in a variety of unique accommodations (everything from tree houses, yurts, and converted horse trucks, to cabins, Gypsy caravans, a Swedish-inspired summerhouse or an Iron Age roundhouse) is just the icing on the cake. It's 'glamping' for creatives Jim, but not quite as we know it.
“Everything just slotted into place and helped us do what we had to do” Whitespace Design Agency, Edinburgh
The initiative was born after the team at the Sawday's company discovered an experiment with a group of hikers in the US, which found a 50% increase in creative performance after a 4-6 day immersion in nature. They explored the logic behind why this might be and put together top tips for how to increase productivity while away. They found that award-winning work could be inspired by water, business wins could be leveraged by a walk in the woods and the next book, marketing plan, breakthrough or business plan could be strategised whilst listening to birdsong. And so the unique creative retreat was born, and whether it’s a solo retreat for some thinking space, or a convivial brainstorm for six, Canopy & Stars has more than 90 places to escape the office to.
“A kind of time machine for us to solve the problem, our secret weapon” Wonderland Communications
Tom Dixon, MD of Canopy & Stars, said: “We’ve been using our special outdoor places as retreats from the office for years, and have found that our output and creativity is boosted by getting out in nature; getting out in the green stuff really activates the grey stuff.”
The Science Behind Nature and Creativity
One argument as to why nature has such an effect on creativity is that being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex (the bit of the brain that is stimulated by technology) to rest. Even a simple walk can increase creativity by up to 60% according to Stanford University research. Creativity Consultant, Claire Bridges, offers three reasons why spending time in nature is so useful for fuelling creativity and how we can use them:
We have some of our best ideas when we’re not thinking about the problem due to a process called incubation. Our unconscious mind takes time to devise solutions.
Feed your brain everything it needs to start digesting the problem; desk-research, insights, questions and discussion then head off and do something else.
Shinrin-yoku; a Japanese practice known as ‘forest bathing.’ Walk slowly and breathe deeply, inhaling all the scents that surround you, perhaps touching the bark of a tree or stepping into a stream.
Alpha waves are slower than the brainwaves typical of an alert mind set yet faster than the slow waves of deep sleep and high levels of stress produce cortisol. Time out can provide this brain state to foster creative thinking and just 20 minutes in a natural setting significantly reduces cortisol levels.
The historian Simon Shama has coined us the ‘look down’ generation due to our obsession with our smartphones. Try deliberately ‘looking up’ from your phone.
Find a quiet spot to simply reflect and meditate, proven to aid creative thought (thanks to those alpha waves).
It’s not about waiting for the muse, but seeking out stimulus to help us problem solve. George de Mestral invented Velcro when he noticed the tiny burdock burrs; taking inspiration from nature is called biomimicry - exploring solutions to human challenges by emulating what works in nature.
Use all of your senses to generate ideas. We often think about what we can see but what about smell, taste, touch and sound as ways to generate or improve ideas?
Take photographs to use as stimuli for your next challenge when you’re outside. Try and find a fresh perspective on something that you might not usually notice or pay attention to.
Creativity Breaks have locations stationed near London, Bristol, Edinburgh and Cardiff; remote escapes that have Wi-Fi or creative castaways where you’re the only person for miles. 2 night, mid-week Creativity Breaks start from £130 for 2 people, £140 for 4 people and £150 for 6 people. Count me in!
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK