#033 – Your Brain in Nature (With Ty McKinney)

Ty McKinney

Podcast Summary

In this episode, we are chatting with neuroscientist and researcher, Dr. Ty “The Neuro Guy” McKinney and discovering the amazing benefits that nature has on the human brain.
The best part is that new research in this growing area shows how engaging with natural organic environments can produce tremendous improvements in physical and mental health, stress, resilience, happiness, and even productivity at work.
Tune in to learn the ways leaders and companies can use these tools and research findings to improve corporate culture, the overall employee experience, and of course company performance.

Listen to the podcast to find out more. 

Bonus Resources

Connect with Ty on:

LinkedIn: https://ca.linkedin.com/in/tytheneuroguy

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tytheneuroguy

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tytheneuroguy/posts

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tytheneuroguy/

8-Bit Cortex Website – https://www.8bitcortex.com/

8Bit Cortex App – https://www.8bitcortex.com/the-app


Resource Article

 

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Working Well podcast. I’m Tim Borys, CEO of Fresh Wellness group. This show explores the diverse aspects of workplace health and personal performance on the working well podcast. We dive into the foundations of what makes wellness work in workplaces around the. We connect with corporate leaders, executives, and industry experts who are helping make life more awesome at work and home. Join us to learn workplace wellness, best practices, personal performance tips, and access resources to jumpstart your personal and corporate programs.

In this episode, we discuss how to supercharge your influence and create change in a company regardless of your title or position. My special guest Catherine Mattiske explains why so much communication in organizations fails miserably. Her simple and learnable skills help people craft communication that resonates and inspires action in across wider audiences.

Ty McKinney – Background

Here’s a bit more about our guest, Dr. Ty “The Neuro Guy” McKinney researches, and develops technology for mental health assessments from brainwaves to smartphones. Ty is the Co-founder of 8-bit Cortex, which creates gamified mental health prediction software based on his research. Dr. McKinney is also the research director for Branch Out Neurological Foundation, which is dedicated to accelerating Neurocam research.

When not thinking about the brain, Ty can be found, exploring nature.

Welcome Ty. It’s great to see you again and so happy to have you on the podcast. And I have to ask, we’re going to talk today about work and your brain and nature. And so I have to say, did you get outside and do some activity this weekend?

I did actually. I really like running by the river valley here in Calgary. And then while it was snowing briefly, I’ve had a chance to do a run through that and it was very beautiful. Yes, the right amount of ambient temperature. So I can’t go wrong there.

And you get that nice little bit of snow on the ground and the sound, it’s really the deadening, the sound. You can be out there quiet, no music on or anything just running or do you have music when you run?

I know. I typically just listened to whatever ambient noises around. So that’s why I like running by the river. Cause then you got the river sounds.

Yes. And in the summer, when you’re running there, you get the people floating down the bow, yelling and screaming.

Well, we’ll figure out for up and coming summer for that. It’s the first time in this area for this particular.

Oh, there you go. Awesome.

How Being Out in Nature Positively Impacts the Brain

Well, mentioned, we’re going to talk about your brain in nature. And a lot of people thinking this is The Working Well podcast. We’re talking about work. Why are we talking about being out in nature. But being out in nature from what you’ve told me has really impacts positively your brain and that translates to work. So tell me a little bit more about.

Yes. So this is all based on a line of research cells participating in walls, doing my PhD down in Utah. And the long story short is we recorded people’s brain activity in an urban setting that got them to just rest quietly, then do some cognitive tasks on a computer. And then we replicated this process in the desert.

So we took people on a camping trip. It was three or four days of a fully immersive camping trip where there’d be lots of hiking that sort of. And then when we replicated the experimental protocol who we’re looking for, is there any differences in brainwaves or other cardiovascular measures the weekend record to see whether or not there might be some benefits for brain health when you are in nature? There’s a lot of research using self reports and surveys that suggest as much. We wanted to go that extra mile in order to see if that pops up at the neural level of.

Awesome. Well, I love that you’re very data driven and evidence-based. So yes, and three or four days, you’re not going to necessarily see cardiovascular fitness improvements as much. So tell me like what came out of that? What things were you measuring when they came back?

Yes. So more or less we would ask people to do a set of like really boring tasks. It’s designed to elicit particular types of brain activity. And then we would look at how those signals would change between the indoor versus the outdoor locations.

So most of the things we looked at were more cognitive in nature. So kind of looking at your attention, your focus, that sort of thing. But throughout the entire time, we also had them set up with ECG electrocardiogram so we can also look at cardiovascular activity as well. In particular heart rate, as well as heart rate variability. I wish those have both gone a lot of the predictive capabilities for overall health and psychological.

Yes, absolutely. And so from the sounds of it, people had more positive responses after they’d been out in nature. How long did this last for? What type of longevity would that be?

As far as like the study itself or the potential effects that we saw?

The potential effects. Well, we can talk about the study more in a minute, but the potential effects.

So in three days we didn’t see a whole lot of carry over until when we did the post testing. I think when we saw one brain-based measure that showed a test in like the subsequent week following up. But that could just also be a sample size issue. So that you and your listeners who might not necessarily be aware, I mean scientific studies are often limited by how many people participate in the study.

So that’s a limitation first, the kinds of claims that you can make. So it’s possible that we were able to replicate the study, get more and more people that we could start to find some of those effects. But most of what we saw was while there were actively within a natural setting.

The Challenges of Doing the Research in the Wilderness

Logistically challenging to put it mildly. So all the equipment that we use more or less had to be battery power or portable. We’d have like a whole system for like charging things up to make sure that all the equipment would be functional when we’re doing it. Obviously with the whims of nature. So I remember there was one day where my job was to hold the 10 foot didn’t blow away. Some of this brain recordings that we were doing because this is obviously like in the desert, like it was hot, some people were sweating. Sometimes that would impact the sublime quality.

So it’s just a lot of trying to contain that chaos and manage it as best as we could. So that way we could have as close of a comparison between the natural versus the urban settings as we could.

How Nature Can Benefit People at Work

Awesome. And obviously doing this research is great for research sake, but as far as how it impacts people and organizations and their performance at work, tell me a bit more about that. Like, what are the results coming out of these, your study, as well as other studies that are showing about how nature can benefit people at work?

So I guess the first thing is it’s actually good to step away from like the work setting itself and just think about from an evolutionary perspective. So the natural setting in many ways is our default, but we’ve constrained these urban environments where we do all of our work within. And in a more natural setting, often there’s periods of work, there’s periods of rest, and it kind of oscillates between that. Whereas typically when we’re more of an urban based setting, it’s just kind of work, work, work, work. We got our to-do list. We’re powering through it, and we don’t get nearly the same opportunity for rest and recovery as we would have in more of a natural setting. That’s kind of the first I would say a big thing to really consider is just the overall shift in the mentality that way. And this started to be reflected in some of the results that we saw.

So going back to the cardiovascular results, we expected the people that have lower heart rates in nature because all they’re relaxed, they’re calm. We actually found the opposite. It looked like people had higher heart rates in nature. And we saw again, a counterintuitive finding with the heart rate variability.

And when we took this collection of patterns, this collection of findings into account, more or less it suggest that people are more active and engaged in nature. So it almost, if you kind of, again, take that, flip-flop, it’s almost like people are burnt out and they’re really stress in the urban setting and they just can’t give it their full 100% of effort. But then when you give them an opportunity to rest, go on hikes, then when they do have a task in front of them, it’s like their brains are able to fire up much more quickly, firing on all cylinders and do whatever they were supposed to do with a greater fidelity. And then that was reflecting the cardiovascular data as well as some of the brainwave data that we saw.

And it might’ve been being chased by a bear as well. Right.

Not for this particular location, if we replicated this in Alberta, that that would be a concern.

I guess, yes, Utah, rattlesnakes maybe.

That was a possibility that thankfully never came to pass because I’m terrified of snakes.

And that’s part of the excitement and fun about being out in nature. And if we’re talking a bit about the work environment, we’ll go back to that. But just in general, mental and physical wellbeing, the ability to get away from, the grind we’ll call it or the city, and breathe fresh air has to have, well, we know it has huge benefits in terms of our health and wellbeing. What types of things are the research showing about that?

So, more or less the way that we try to approach that problem is trying to take into account some of those other things that you normally would do within like a wilderness hike like setting So for example, like social engagement, I want people who were in the campsite, like, they were interact with other people. There’s a lot of like social dynamics. People are sleeping better. So the first thing we wanted to do is make sure that those additional benefits weren’t accounting for some of the effects that we saw. And we actually did find that was the case. That it was something specific about being in a natural setting and not those extra plus ones, like the fact that you’re getting better sleep. You’re eating more healthy, all those sorts of things. We’re able to rule out a lot of those as potential causes.
So it does seem like there’s something about being in a natural environment that is simultaneously it can be both calming, but then when you do need to do something, you’re able to turn yourself on and kind of muster all your energy and resources in order to deal with whatever that particular challenge might be.

Yes. But I know there’s been quite a bit of research done about just even kids playing in the dirt and every, especially with a couple of years of COVID everything’s so sanitized now and people aren’t being exposed to those microbes and things in the dirt, the healthy ones that, that help our body. And so, I would say now being out in nature is that much more important.

Oh, 100%. So we didn’t look at this in our study, but there’s been a bunch of work coming out of a Japan a practice called forest bathing, where it’s exactly the opera. They will go into the forest and just appreciate nature. Oftentimes there’ll be some meditative exercise that go with it. And they looked at a bunch of different biomarkers for the immune system. And more or less, they found that after being within nature for a period of time that their immune system is more robust.

So going back to what you were saying with getting interacts with all those different microbes and that sort of stuff. So the idea being that if you’re in a very sterile environment, that’s not actually how our bodies and our immune system are designed to work. They’re designed to be challenged, to constantly have microbes trying to invade us, that these little mini hassles along the way. And it looked like when you’re in nature, your body’s actually getting the opportunity to have those little microassaults and then it makes us more resilient overall, both from an immunological perspective, as well as a psychological perspective. And then also, as you mentioned earlier, from just overall a cardiovascular perspective, because usually if you’re in nature, you’re not stationary. You’re moving. You’re doing different things. You’re hiking.

Yes. Yes, physical, immunological, and the psychological is great. So I can hear a lot of leaders out there already being like, Yes, that’s all awesome but it’s not like I’m going to be able to take my team out camping every weekend or something like that.

Yes. Yes, physical, immunological, and the psychological is great. So I can hear a lot of leaders out there already being like, Yes, that’s all awesome but it’s not like I’m going to be able to take my team out camping every weekend or something like that. 

How Companies Can Apply This Research to Employee Benefits

From a leadership standpoint, what can companies and leaders do to help bring some of this research into some of the benefits of it into, into the office?
So I think there’s a couple of different things that we could suggest as far as that goes. The first one is again, going back to the idea of breaks, like in a natural environment, we’re able to have, periods where we’re turned on and then we’d rest and recover. So just being able to incorporate breaks into like our daily work is very beneficial, just being a little bit more thoughtful and strategic about that.

And then there’s another study that I’m really fond of where they ask people to look at either an urban skyline or have more of a natural setting where there’s a bunch of plants and stuff like that on rooftops. And then afterwards they have them do a proofreading task. And they found that after only 40 seconds of viewing kind of the green space they’ve seen that they’re actually more attentive to details in the proofreading task.

So it doesn’t actually take a whole lot of a nature so to speak in order to start getting some of these effects at a smaller scales. So even something a s putting plants around the office can start giving us some of those beneficial effects.

Okay, cool. And hopefully the real plants, right? Not the fake plastic ones.

No. I don’t think those would have nearly the same effect. Because again, if you think about what plants do for us, they purify air and all those other sorts of things.

So again, it helps us out in multiple different ways, not just one, and the more that we can kind of embed nature within our daily lives and within our workspaces. Then whenever we do take a momentary pause and a break, it’s almost like we’re supercharging that restoration process.

Okay. Going back to what you mentioned about breaks and their timing. Yes. I’d say most people probably take breaks already in some way or another, are there better ways to take breaks than not to get those benefit?

So this will kind of come down to like individual differences in a lot of different ways. So different people are going to have different degrees of attention spans.

So for example, if you’re someone with ADHD where you might struggle with attention organization a little bit it’ll actually be much more beneficial to take more periodic and frequent breaks. Whereas if you’re someone that’s more introverted, you’re able to, drill down and focus on your coding kinds of tasks. Those people might not need the breaks as frequently but it’s still important that they get them in there. So it’s kind of more of knowing about yourself and finding ways to work with you as opposed to against you.

One of the things I like to say is that there’s no one size fits all approach to mental wellness strategies. So having that flexibility within the office space for people to take the breaks when it works for them, as opposed to what might be the company policy, I think is really important.

But I can imagine that Yes, I agree with you on the different people are going to take different breaks at different times, but from a bigger picture organizational standpoint, and even in a call it community design standpoint, you mentioned greenspaces on rooftops; being able to find green space around whether it’s a foyer. I’ve been into some companies where they have this, plant foyer that you can walk into and have your lunch or sit down and even have a meeting or take a phone call there, other places around the city, all the little different pockets of green space around the city.

I’ve even seen people in the summer taking their shoes off and walking barefoot in the grass for a bit to just get that connection with nature, even stepping outside and taking some big breaths of fresh air, and hopefully it’s not beside the exhaust output of a building or like in a concrete car parking structure where everyone’s out there smoking. But yes, I think it’s having leaders be able to find those opportunities and promote them to employees.

Oh, no 100% agree. Again, I’ll take the idea that you just have to take it a one step further. If you can go onto some sort of like a walking break, where you’re able to get a little bit of physical activity within some green space that even further kind of supercharged the restoration effect. So the more creative you can get for how you can remove yourself from like that typical urban environment and just got a momentary escape into green space, no matter what it might be, it’s intensely beneficial. And then from there, it’s a matter of, okay, well how much more in depth can you make the green space?

So obviously going to one of those green foyers, like you mentioned is better than just having plants around the office, and going from a green foyer to an actual park is better than that. And even better yet is doing the four day camping trip, like we did. That’s all kind of thinking about, what is the dosage of nature.

Yes, absolutely. Yes. And one thing that briefly mentioned was the leadership side and having leaders be more aware of this type of research and the benefits that it can have, but then using that to promote opportunities like this for the team, because I’ve seen firsthand in countless companies where the marketing department says one thing but then the unwritten rules say something different.

And we see this from everything from going to the gym, taking a break during the day to go walk outside. It would look, be frowned upon.

What COVID Has Taught Us About Flexibility in the Workplace

And I know over the past couple of years with COVID, there were a lot of people taking advantage of that.

I know I’m working from home right now and I will go out quite routinely and walk around the block just to get some fresh air and go outside in the backyard. And when, well it’s snowing out right now, but we’d go outside in the backyard and just stand in the grass and breathe. And it might be two minutes and then come back in to join another meeting. But as people are coming back to the office now, that’s a lot harder and often the old ways of being in the office come back into being. So what are your suggestions about trying to take the best of COVID and bring it into the office in that sense?

No, no, I think that’s really important. And honestly, like the strategy that you just articulated, if a leader were to do that in kind of put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, that sets an example for the rest of the team. And then they feel like they have permission to start taking advantage of these opportunities as well.

So I think that’s really important too. As you were suggesting to get a workplace culture around using thes e strategies. And it can be as simple as being like, Hey, we got a meeting in 10 minutes. Do you want to take a walk and do it? Like, we don’t need to look at a PowerPoint slide or anything like that. Can we just walk and talk and do that sort of thing. And then once a few of those experiences start to happen, start to set that trends, set that example, and then starts to propagate through the organization. And then before you know it now you’ve got everyone feeling like they’re comfortable taking advantage of a green space wherever they get the opportunity to.

Yes, absolutely. Well, I know even back ages ago, Steve Jobs used to do his walking meetings and that was sort of unheard of at the time for a senior leader like that to do that. But when leadership, particularly senior leadership starts to, as you said, walk the walk and put their money where their mouth is, then yes, it goes, so far in an organization.

I was going to say further still, like this can be like an opportunity for like a little more of a bonding scenario. So one of the other things that we’ve noticed a lot of people do report feeling less anxiety while they’re in natural settings. So if you are someone that might struggle with those emotions a little bit, you might find it easier to have a meeting with a potentially intimidating boss, if you don’t have to make eye contact the entire time, if you can figure out if they get distracted by a bird or or leaves falling or the wind, that sort of thing. It kind of breaks things up a little bit and makes it easier to connect with other people.

Nature and Mental Health in the Digital World

Awesome. Now, how does this research and this nature come into your app and your company? Cause you’re building an app for mental wellbeing. And so tell me a bit more about how nature and mental health come together in the digital world. I guess you would say.

Yes. So I guess for the super quick overview of our app, we’re trying to make a gamified mental wellness tracking platform. And then as we acquire more data within the building and burnout prediction analytics. And one of the features that we’re about to release, and by the time this podcast is released, they’ll probably be out, is actually letting people select what kinds of lifestyle factors, support or don’t support. And they’re going to get data driven approach, and try to figure out those variables.

So one of the things you can actually track is green space. So you can log into our app. After you did one of your meetings in the park or just took a break there and then you can report your emotions like anxiety, attention, happiness, trust, gratitude, those sorts of things. And then our statistics we’ll actually go through and crunch some numbers and if being in the green space was actually beneficial for those emotions. So in a very data driven approach, is it the case that after you take one of these green breaks do you actually return back to the office and are you more focused?

We know from the science and this is very likely the case. But we’re all unique. We’re all individuals. And we all need to find the specific things to work for us on a case by case basis. So we want to develop this technology that lets people have a more data-driven approach of figuring out those factors for themselves.
That’s very cool. And so how does that play into, I guess one thing with apps, is that people like us, it’s another app. How are you’re working it into the overall tech overload that people are having, because that in itself can sometimes be a stressor or an anxiety evoking situation.

Well, so I know it is somewhat counter to them we’re saying, Hey, in order to understand your mental wellness use this technology, given the very extensive literature that being over inundated data with technology can actually be detrimental to our mental health. But we’re actually hoping that people only use our app for say 10 minutes a day and not use it excessively. So just a small little burst in order to collect the data and then give people the feedback about what may or may not be working for them. And then hopefully they can start using that in order to build their own strategy.

One of the things that actually people can track as whether or not they’re using technology. So it might actually be the case that if you’re to do that, you can actually find it a very data-driven passion. Oh, when I spend lots of time, watching YouTube or Netflix, or what have you, or just scrolling through emails, that my subsequent attention performance actually declines a little bit. So that way it’s giving people almost a validation like yes, taking breaks from technology is beneficial. We know that in general but then they get that confirmation for them as an individual.

Yes. Oh, that’s, that’s so true. Yes. And I liked the fact that you say we hope people only use our app a little bit each day, because that’s pretty much opposite of almost every other app out there.

Yes. It’s a very fine line to balance because more or less most apps are designed to be somewhat addictive. And we’re like, okay, we just need to be addictive enough, just enough so that people can regularly use it, get a routine out of it, but not so addictive that people constantly spend all their time on it. So it’s kind of an odd balance to strike that way.

Yes. And I always think of the difference between sticky, I guess you would say, and addictive as addictive as pulling it over to the I guess detrimental side of the equation. So we want apps and any technology as a tool, and tools are fantastic, but if you take it too far, then it becomes detrimental. And I think that’s what a lot of people lose sight of these days is that we have all these amazing tools at our disposal, how they’re designed and how they’re used makes a tremendous difference in the value that we get from it.

Oh, no 100%. Because more or less, a lot of apps they’ll actually have internal metrics and algorithms are going to be like how can they put people on for as long as possible. If you think about Netflix, it’ll automatically queue up the next show for you before you even finish up the first one and kind of make it more streamlined for you.

Whereas going back to the nature research, one of the other, things that we had for part of that study is there was no technology. We asked people to, turn off their phones, but to start with, there’s no cell reception so that helped out quite a bit. But what does that digital detox actually do for people in more of that natural environment? Just reduce the amount of information that’s flying at you from all different directions.

Yes, absolutely.

Using Neuroscience to Improve Employee Health, Wellness and Wellbeing

And you’re the neuroscience guy. So you’re thinking about in terms of brain activity and brain function. How do you see that progressing in the corporate world? And how do you think executives and leadership teams are going to start using neuroscience research to improve employee health, happiness, wellbeing, performance.

So I’ll give you my hope for how I think this could play out. So more or less at the end of the day, the corporate executives, the leaders like they want increased productivity. They want their workers in order to make more widgets for the bottom line for the company to go up. But if you have that as your end goal, that might be somewhat counterproductive because you can end up like pushing people into burnout where they’d get into this chronic state of exhaustion where their brain is actually not working as effectively, and they’re not able to do the things as easily as it otherwise would be.

Whereas the approach that we’re trying to take that I hope a corporate leadership starts shifting towards is instead make the emphasis on the wellness angle. If you instead put people in a place of psychological safety, they feel like they can take breaks whenever they need to. They feel like they have permission to go to a green space if they want. As you said, being able to go for walks and work out whenever they feel like. If that becomes the primary focus, the productivity kind of follows after that. So that’s kind of the hope that I would like things to go. And then on our end, it totally can we establish the data to verify that that’s the case, that if you do prioritize mental wellness and use all the different tools at our disposal to promote that, then you’ll end up with a more happier engaged workforce and the productivity will go up, but that’s not necessarily the focus at the beginning.

Well, I think a lot of leaders and organizations lose sight of the fact that it’s not just about adding this extra perk here and extra perk there, and oh, do everything on your own time and do everything when you want to. And, a lot of leaders think, oh, well, people are never going to work. Productivity is going to drop dramatically. But I think they forget about the, Yerkes-Dodson law like the stress response curve is that there’s an optimal level, and stress is good. We want stress in our life otherwise we’re in a coma but if stress gets too far, we dropped down the negative side of that curve and productivity and performance decrease.

And so what can leaders do to improve the slope of that curve, improve performance while still keeping health, happiness wellbeing. And there are ways to do that, but traditional leadership isn’t taught that from my perspective. It’s about traditional leadership styles are driving people into the ground, and when someone craters, they hire someone else. And we know that that doesn’t work unless you have billions of people to just take the other person’s place. And then even at that point, it might work from a productivity standpoint, but it doesn’t work from an ethical or a societal standpoint.

So I was talking to another guest a while ago about the athlete mentality, and athletes perform at a high level, but they also do all these things to their brain, their body, their performance to allow themselves to do that. And if they push it too far, they get injured or they aren’t able to perform. And if we start thinking about workplace wellbeing as more of an athlete or performance standpoint, not to say people are going to be doing burpees beside their desk every day but I did. Some people might like that. But yes, having that mindset will, I think, shift things a lot in terms of how leaders start to look at mental wellbeing and getting out in nature and it’s not we’re not having drum circles and kumbaya in the middle of a park with everyone. It’s like, get out for five minutes, breathe some fresh air, come back in and be more productive. What are your thoughts on, on that? Or am I just rambling?

No, I’m actually very much so agree with that. And I liked that you started off by talking about the Yorkes-Dodson Curves that’s kind of like the inverted U. Because more or less there’s this ptimal range of stress that helps out our productivity and overall helps out our mental health and wellness. And I think for the most part when there’s this very like grinding mentality in the workplace, then it kind of pushes people over to the far end of that, where now there’s too many stress hormones going on. There’s too much stress and that starts to impede our brain functioning.

So for people that are in that space, they need to take advantage of the different opportunities for breaks and restoration, wherever they can in order to come back down to that optimal level. But on the flip side, you can also have people where they’re not stressed enough as counterintuitive as that might sound. If you have someone where they have really tedious, boring tasks, they need something to kind of spruce some things up. They need a little bit of a time sensitivity or pressure, and that helps bring them up towards their peak performance.

So rather than assuming that everyone needs the same approach, taking more of a curated kind of on a case by case like a one-to-one approach, I think we can work towards that a little bit better. So it might be the case that some employees, they need to rest, they need to have an opportunity to restore themselves whereas other people might benefit from actually being pushed a little bit more. And then it’s all about kind of calibrating between those two extremes to slowly bring people more into whatever that optimal range is.

Yes, absolutely. And everyone’s optimal range is going to be different. And as leaders understanding that and seeing the signs when someone’s slipping down that the downside of the curve and how do you pull them back. One of the great things about the performance research is showing that that curve is not, inverted u is not fixed. You can stretch the curve up and to the right, and by teaching people effective coping strategies and the health, the wellbeing, the mental awareness of their own situation improves performance while reducing distress and improving and increasing U stress.

Exactly. Yes. It’s all about trying to figure out like where you are within that curve. And then once you have a sense of that kind of calibrating and then making sure that there’s a healthy foundation. So as you suggest you could shift the curve in order to get people in that optimal place. A good example for something related to that is a lot of people that might have some traumatic experiences in their early childhood, their biology is actually adapted to expect some degree of stress within their environment.

So these are people that are actually going to perform at their best when there is some degree of pressure upon them. So if you were to take their stress away from them, they actually might be slightly less effective. So it’s all about finding on that one-on-one basis, what’s going to work for the individual and then being aware if that individual is slipping in one direction or the other, how can you kind of help course correct them? And to the extent that you can be proactive as opposed to reactive about that so much for the better. You can have a sense, like, oh, I’m heading towards burnout. Now’s the time to take a moment, pause, see if you can shuffle around some of your responsibilities, regain that work-life balance, so to speak. And then you’re not going to get pushed to that far end of that curve, where now you need a more aggressive intervention or recovery period in order to get back to your office.

Yes, absolutely. And yes, but that’s, I would say not part of leadership training in the traditional sense and it’s up to individuals to know a bit of it and also leaders to see, to understand that in their team and see when that’s happening. So yes. I think that’s awesome. And hopefully because it becomes part of the future of workplace wellbeing and leadership.

Top 3 Things Companies Can Do to Help People Connect with Nature and Improve Their Performance

Now to go back again to the nature side of it, what are some takeaways that companies or leaders could use to pull in some of that research and if you want to maybe summarize what are the top three things people could do in the office to help people connect with nature and improve their performance?

I guess the first thing, I think we said this earlier is just put a plants all around the office space. Again, the more that you kind of make the office space resemble a little bit more of a natural environment, that it seems to have a bit of a calming effect. They’ve done some research and when you’re in more of a natural setting, it’s almost easier to slip into a meditative state cause your mind more easily drift between like this plant and that plant or that animal. And that in of itself has a lot of mental health and wellness benefits. So that way instead of checking your phone and being like, oh, I got six new notifications. You can instead like zone out and notice the flowers around you, all the greenery. And that can give you that restorative aspect as well.

So really trying to embed that within like the office environment. The next thing is again giving people the flexibility to take those breaks when they want, when it’s helpful for them on a more of a case by case basis, and wherever possible see if you can encourage them to be supercharged with a nature in some capacity.

So whether or not it’s leaving the building, going to the green foyer, or going to the park or giving people the option to maybe take off early on a Friday so they can go hiking in the mountains. Whenever your people have those kinds of permissions to engage those activities, and as long as they still maintaining their deadlines, then they’re going to feel like they have more autonomy over their time. And they’re gonna be more efficient overall. Because again, then they’re able to modulate where they are on that inverted U curve more effectively.

Yes, absolutely. And in that, I guess the challenge comes in when people are in meetings. If one, person’s like, oh, it’s my break time now, I want to go out and take a walk. And they’re in the middle of a 10 person meeting. How do companies mediate around that when you’ve got competing interests and when people need to be in a certain area at a certain time?

No. So that’s always a challenge and you’re never going to get to like the perfect harmony, because I think over COVID in many ways, we were blessed with much more freedom than we typically would be afforded to in a conventional office environment. So I guess one thing is like, what are some of the lessons and practices we may maybe developed over the course of COVID from the support from home scenario that could then be implemented in an office space. So maybe it could be instead of having, an hour and a half long meetings, we know that people’s attention is going to start to wane after about 45 minutes unless you’re super engaged. People are going to start to kind of zone out a little bit. Making your meetings shorter, having your meetings less frequently, having more asynchronous responsibilities. So, you don’t need to be present for this chunk of time all the time, but as long as you get your stuff done then you can have a little more of that flexibility.

Absolutely. Yes. That’s a conversation that’s come up quite a bit is asynchronous working is very helpful and it helps people realize, and I guess, reassess who needs to be in certain meetings. If a meeting is actually necessary. If it is necessary, do people need to be there in person? How many people need to be there? And I think there’s a lot more of that going on these days. And before it used to be just like, well, everyone’s there like may as well, just show up and maybe not everyone needs to be.

Oh, no 100%. Because I think when a lot of people are present in a meeting and they almost feel an obligation to participate even if it’s not necessarily constructive for the overall purpose of what the meeting is for. I think Elon Musk actually has a policy where 10 minutes into a meeting, you feel like you don’t have anything to contribute, it’s acceptable in that culture for the said person to leave. B ecause if they’re not contributing, they could probably be doing something else with their time, whether or not it’s another productive task, taking a moment to recover, and that’ll overall serve the organization a little bit more effectively.

And I like how you brought up, like being more thoughtful about who needs to be present and when, and all those other kinds of constraints. That way people are left to feel like they have autonomy over when and how they do their work. And when you give people that sense of that capability, oftentimes that does inspire them to want to work at their best capacity.

Absolutely. Well, Ty, this has been awesome. I’ve learned a lot and I know our listeners have as well. Where can people find you?

So if you want to check out the app that we mentioned, you can go to 8-Bit Cortex dot app. And that’ll be a one way we can check out some of the tools that I mentioned. So by the time this episode is released, you’ll be able to see, you can actually test and do your own experiment. Is it the case that going into green is beneficial for whatever your particular mental wellness goal might be?
You can check me out. I think most of my social media handles are Ty, The Neuro Guy. Trying to get a little of a moniker go in there. So I think I’m on there for Twitter, although I’m most active on LinkedIn. And then 8BitCortex.com is our landing page. You can check out as well and connect with us.

And then, we also do lots of different events. So if you follow some social media, then you can stay posted for when we can have more conversations, just like you and I were having on a whole wide range of topics on how to be more inclusive in the workplace for people that might be struggling with different mental health challenges or might just otherwise be neurodivergent. And if the workspace was tweaked ever so slightly, it could be really beneficial for them as an individual and the organization.

Excellent. Well, I will make sure that those links go up in the show notes. So definitely check them out and check Ty out online. Ty, thank you so much for joining me and I look forward to our next conversation.

All right. Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure to be a guest.

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