Directed attention fatigue
Yesterday I was working through policies and procedures for the Bush school. Intense work. I went outside to do my daily ‘watch nature’ thing (sit spot), and found, instead of watching nature, I was thinking about policies and procedures. I was mentally fatigued. Researcher, David Kaplan, has labelled this Directed attention fatigue. Research has identified two sorts of attention. One that has to be directed, and one that is effortless. As we know, students can focus their attention on video games for hours, trying to get to the next level. They can play super hero games or mums and dads all day. I’ve seen students crushing rocks for hours. This attention is intrinsic and enjoyable. It’s the directed attention that causes fatigue. Having to focus on something and fight off distractions wears us down. Mental fatigue causes us to lose the ability to inhibit one’s impulse. I find it hard to remain focused when I’ve worked on policies all day, and I know the sun is shining and a hill needs climbing. Kaplan says the modern human has to exert effort to do the important, while resisting distraction from the interesting.
Nature has an attention restoring ability.
Spending time in a natural environment that doesn’t require directed attention allows you to rest your mind, thus restoring your capacity to direct attention. It also give you time to reflect, which Kaplan notes as a handy strategy for recovering from directed attention fatigue.
Nature doesn’t have to be a rain forest extending for hundreds of miles, or a rugged limestone coastline. It could be a small little patch at the bottom of a garden or a corner in a school. Stephen Kaplan argues, environments must offer extent. They must be complex enough to constitute another world. You should be able to lose yourself in it, it should engage the mind., and take up a lot of room in your head. Watching an ant hill in a disused house block, or even a cloud formation can achieve this. This busyness that complex nature offers doesn’t overstimulate the mind, like a classroom full of paintings, ABC charts and teeth brushing posters. The way a mind examines a natural environment, observes the motion of wind in the leaves, the juxtapositions of colour and texture, the patterns and smells and sounds all work to calm the mind.
So I stopped with the policy work and went for a wander. Aimless wandering is a very useful routine. I climbed a hill, felt the sun, watched a mob of roo’s, smelt a wattle bush, and shout g’day to some horses. By the time I got home my brain had slowed down and re-energised.