Sunél’s Blog | The importance of walking through the woods

Sunél Veldtman, | 13 September 2019

At the end of last year, after seven years of building Foundation Family Wealth, I was exhausted. I felt that 2019 had to be a year of rejuvenation.  I wanted to learn new skills, expose myself to new ideas and renew my life and business vision. I also wanted to take some time off.   

We have been programmed to believe that growth can only come from pushing forward with busyness. However, scientists now believe that growth can happen by taking time off. In fact, taking time off is necessary for growth. The work of Cal Newport, especially in his book Deep Work, Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World, influenced my thinking on productivity and impacted my life profoundly. I highly recommend this book!

Newport says that it is essential to take time off to remain productive but that not all time off is equally helpful. Time off is most beneficial if you switch off completely from work and social media and spend time in nature. He quotes a 2008 paper, from the Psychological Science journal, that compared two groups sent on a walk: one group through a bustling city centre and another on a wooded path. The nature group performed up to 20 percent better on a subsequent concentration-sapping task. Newport is also known for talking about the detrimental impact of social media on our work.

When we are idle – like when we’re walking in nature – not only do we gain mental concentration but we also give our subconscious time to work through complex problems, which our conscious thinking is not geared to do. Newport says that our conscious mind is like a ‘home computer on which you can run carefully written programs that return corrects answers to limited problems, whereas our subconscious mind is like Google’s vast data centers, in which statistical algorithms sift through terabytes of unstructured information, teasing out surprising useful solutions to difficult questions’. It’s why you sometimes have lightbulb moments in the shower or while you’re cooking.

It is why, over the next few weeks, I will be walking a stretch of the Camino de Santiago from Portugal. I plan to switch off to give myself an opportunity to return with renewed focus and new insights.

I will not be blogging over this time, in keeping with the total switch off recommendation, but I hope to have many new thoughts to share with you on my return.