Innovative companies are increasingly making relaxing/rejuvenating spaces top priority in their office layout. Designed spaces like indoor or roof-top garden is a definite perk to the employees, and according to “Attention Restoration Theory” by Stephen Kaplan at the University of Michigan, the most restful surroundings are in nature.
Stephen Kaplan talks about two types of attention:
- Involuntary attention
- Directed attention or voluntary attention
The author suggests that directed attention requires more focus and cognitive control as compared to involuntary attention. In a typical office environment the human brain is constantly reacting to distracting cues from emails, status updates, phone conversation, etc. especially in today’s popular open office layout they are plenty. These cues powerfully drive not only how we feel and what we do, but also how we do it.
To do a task well one needs to focus and have a directed attention filtering distractions via inhibitions. Multitude of external stimuli pushes the brain harder to filter all other distractions; the overuse of which leads to fatigue, pushing the mind to cognitive exhaustion.
In his book “Focus” Daniel Goleman suggest an antidote to cognitive exhaustion: take a mental muscle rest by taking a relaxing break in a restful setting. Taking a walk, as they suggest, is a good option; but where you take your walk is also equally important. Based on research conducted, the author suggests that a walk through an arboretum led to better focus on return to concentrated tasks than a stroll through downtown. As per his recommendation sitting by a mural of a nature scene—particularly one with water in it—is better than the corner coffee shop.
Urban settings has varying stimuli that occupies one’s attention, meanwhile nature captivates people’s involuntary attention while allowing them to rest their directed attention, which in turn free up mental resources to concentrate on other things. This improves focus and memory.
“The human brain is constantly reacting to and processing a bandwidth of inputs and information far beyond our conscious perception. Cues from the environment and each other powerfully drive how we feel and what we do. Purposeful designs can accommodate and harness this human operating system. In such an environment people will immediately grasp what they can do, where they can go, what things are for, and why they are the way they are. Productivity and pleasure will come naturally. It will just feel right.” — Herman Miller