The all-natural way to be more creative in 2023

The ability to disconnect from work is something that many professionals have struggled with through Covid-19 and lockdown. But the secret to unwinding and finding creativity once again might be as simple as getting back to nature writes Unyoked co-founder, Cam Grant.

“Four walls and fluorescent light are to thinking what lack of water and darkness are to the fiddle leaf fig.”

Who said that? Kant? Kierkegaard? Hemmingway? Not quite. I actually made it up. But hey, poorly constructed metaphors aside, you get the point right?

For hundreds of years, more or less since the industrial revolution, the concept of “work” has been tied to a location. For most of us this has been the office or, more recently, the living room.

As that concept of “work” evolved from manual labour to what’s now called “knowledge-work”, the location didn’t go along with it. The expectation was, and still is for the most part, that you come up with ideas and think at your place-of-work – aka your desk.

What’s the problem here? Simply put, it doesn’t really work that way.

Our brains are evolutionarily wired to alternate between being switched-on and switched-off and to respond to stimuli in the natural world in a variety of surprising ways. Ways that, recent studies prove, boost both creativity and problem-solving skills (along with a wide variety of other health and wellbeing benefits – cortisol reduction anyone?). Sitting at a desk all day, thinking hard about thinking, does not promote the neurological processes that give rise to ideas. But, according to science, regularly moving your location to the outdoors might do just that.


With ideas at a premium in our evolving economy and in particular, creative fields, this article will attempt to provide an overview of this growing field of research and hopefully leave you with a new set of protocols to strengthen your creative processes in 2023.

The brain’s two modes

When we’re sitting at our desks, thinking hard, our brains are in what’s called “focused mode”. This is where our neural pathways tighten and effort is placed on making maximum computing power available to concentrate on thoughts.

There’s nothing wrong with this, in fact, it’s a vital mode for understanding new concepts or solving problems like learning a language, doing maths or science.

What’s it not great for though? Coming up with new and creative ideas. The restrained nature of the pathways limit new discoveries and block serendipitous connections between unrelated pockets of memory or understanding – such as those often required to think up novel concepts.

The second mode is called “diffuse mode”, that’s the relaxed state of our minds, those where we are pretty much not thinking about anything. In this mode our brains loosen their grip on the neural pathways and give way to more expansive thinking, often connecting dots that weren’t able to be connected before.

Those ideas you came up with in the shower? You got it. Diffuse mode at its best.

Another equally powerful yet arguably drier option? Getting outside for a walk. A lot has been written about how critical folks like Benjamin Franklin, Einstein and Steve Jobs saw this simple activity to their creative processes.

The takeaway here? Our minds need to relax to be creative, and our stationary position at our desks may be hindering that.

Nature’s influence

This is where nature comes in. What Jobs, Einstein and Franklin etc knew, science is now backing up.

In one paper researchers found that spending time in a natural environment and disconnecting from technology enhanced creativity and problem-solving skills by up to 50 per cent (Atchley et al, 2012). This is generally found to be because, as Kuhn et al’s 2021 paper puts it, “exposure to natural environments engages the “default mode” networks of the brain which are important for creativity and imagination.”

We have evolved for most of our species’ existence living much closer to nature than we currently do, so it should come as no surprise to us that the outdoors could have these types of effects on us. Yet, sadly, because of the dominance of the 9-to-5 office culture, most of us are still caught off-guard about how powerful it can really be.

Putting it into practice

Why put the effort in to pen an opinion piece on how being in nature is better for creativity than sitting at our desks? Simply put, because it works. Through what we do here at Unyoked I’ve been luckier than most to be close to nature frequently, and while, sure, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, I can tell you genuinely – it tastes great.

To close, I’ll leave you with a thought. Once a year, ever year, Bill Gates goes to an off-grid cabin, in the middle of nowhere, with no tech, just his books, paper and ideas. He calls it a Think Week.

What would your 2023 look like if you built more moments outdoors, in nature, to think like that into it?

Cam Grant is the co-founder of by Unyoked.


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