We gathered by the edge of the river next to a pastel-painted cabin and a shed stacked with life jackets and paddles. The mighty roar of the Little Miami rumbled behind us. Some of us were kayaking mavens; others felt a bit of apprehension about the five-mile journey ahead. At least one of us entertained fears of flipping the kayak and flailing soundlessly beneath the water as her fellow creatives paddled serenely a few feet ahead.
It was our first-ever creative team field trip. Even though our department works closely together every day and gets along well, we rarely manage to coordinate a team lunch, much less an after-work happy hour—family obligations have us hustling out the door to school pickup, soccer practice and teacher conferences at the end of the day. So the idea of a workday adventure specifically designed to get us out of work mode was a novel one.
After a short bus ride to our launch spot, we clambered into our kayaks and were pushed out onto the water. As it happened, the first stretch of the river was alarmingly choppy. With some practice, I managed to maneuver my paddle to avoid collision with the most prominently jutting river rocks, adjusted my feet ever so delicately to avoid wobbling, and made it over the “rapids” alive.
As the water smoothed out, I began to relax and look around. Tangles of tree roots lined the banks on both sides, as turtles plopped off of logs and serene-looking homes presented their Adirondack-chaired back yards to us.
Something was smoothing out inside my brain, too. The usual chatter in my head—known in Buddhism as “monkey mind”—was quieting down, and I found myself feeling more present in the moment, taking in my surroundings with an uncharacteristic calm and focus.
It’s been scientifically proven that being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex to rest and rejuvenate. Cyrus the Great knew it when he built relaxation gardens in Persia 2,500 years ago. The landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (responsible for Central Park in NYC and the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina) sensed it when he advocated for the establishment of national parks. New studies show that people recover faster in hospitals when they have a view of trees and grass from their room, and that a 15-minute walk in the woods can cause a 16% drop in the stress hormone cortisol.
For creative professionals, in particular, being in nature can yield a number of benefits that make us more effective when we get back to work: increased brain function, a boost in memory, and an improvement in creative problem solving.
So for the cost of one afternoon away from the office, our entire team of designers and writers was able to reset our brains and improve our job performance. But beyond that, we had a chance to connect in a way we don’t often manage to do in the office—talking about non-work things, getting out of our typical interpersonal ruts and experiencing something new together. Weeks later, one afternoon out on the water is still paying dividends.