How to engage in “Attention Restoration Therapy” (ART) in a fast paced urban life

Source: my trek in the moss covered Yakushima

To concentrate, one requires directed attention. According to researchers Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, this limited resource gets depleted.

Holidaying in bustling, car honking Asian cities like Bangkok, Jakarta, Ho Chih Minh or KL gets me stressed by the loud noise. Given a choice I prefer padi fields of Bali with its restorative walks in Hue, Kota Kinabalu, Brunei and Sarawak, especially long walks in Japan calm me. Yet, being in New Zealand and Tibet although calming did not calm me.

What is it about a holiday in Japan that so fascinates me even though there are many other more interesting places in the world? I finally found my answer in an article by Courtney Ackerman on Rachel and Stephen Kaplan’s Attention Restoration Theory and the benefits of nature .

According to ART, a restorative environment possess 4 elements:

Being Away
Soft Fascination

Being Away
A change in environment gives the sense of being separate and transported from one’s usual thoughts and concerns. Although an individual does not need to be physically away, it can certainly be helpful.

Meditation, or changing focus such as reading a book, laughing at a comedy can help one be psychologically detached from present worries and demands, and distracted from the environment that is draining your attention and energy (Daniel, 2014).

Here, one’s attention is held without any effort expended. Restorative environments hold your attention without your need to focus or direct it in a certain way.

Two kinds of fascination according to Kaplan:

Hard fascination: where your attention is held by a highly stimulating activity; such activities generally do not provide the opportunity to reflect or introspect, since you are completely absorbed. Eg, vigorous exercise

Soft fascination: when your attention is held by a less active or stimulating activity; such activities generally provide the opportunity to reflect and introspect (Daniel, 2014). For me, thats being in an onsen, or swimming. Unfortunately, I cant have a pen with me.

This component refers to the quality of restorative environments that encourages you to feel totally immersed and engaged (Kaplan, 2001).

An environment must be familiar and coherent for it to be restorative. Although you do not need to have been to the environment before, it cannot conjur feelings of excitement, discomfort, confusion, or being out-of-place which will trigger your fight or flight or need to attend to the situation.

Whats your choice of a restorative holiday?

Can you recreate intermittent holidays before the big one?

Forest Therapy in Japan

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