Why outdoor coaching and mentoring work better than indoor

The virtues of being in an outdoor environment for coaching and mentoring have been supported by a number of recent research studies into the connection between being in the natural environment and both mental and physical well-being, creativity, attentiveness and memory. Now an even stronger link has been established between well-being and being near water, via a study asking 20,000 people to register their mood at frequent intervals. Being by a river or coastal area gives us a substantial boost.

The key to this link with nature is called “attention restoration theory”[1]. It seems that we have two forms of attention:

  • Directed or voluntary attention, where we actively focus on something and where our thoughts control our actions. Here, we exert mental energy suppressing thoughts and sensations that may distract us from the task we are concentrating on.
  • Involuntary attention, where our sensory experience influences what we think. This gives our mind a refreshing rest, stimulating wider awareness.

The researchers behind these studies suggest that a sense of well-being and more innovative thinking come from alternating between these two states of attention. Walking in nature while coaching or mentoring provides us with an opportunity to do just that – just noticing, sensing and wondering to prepare the mind for deep and original grappling with issues.

[1] I am grateful to Catherine de Lange’s excellent summary of the current state of research in this field in New Scientist 16 July 2022 pp 38-40

David Clutterbuck 2022

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