The Big Idea
We are living in an ever immediate society. Everything becoming ever more accessible at anytime of the day or night. Long gone, it seems, are the days when we would go to a library to look up information or regularly write and wait for a letter from a correspondence.
Now we are not technophobes – far from it! It’s just we got to wondering if we are losing something in this ever immediate world. After all we certainly didn’t evolve to have everything ‘on tap’ all of the time.
We have had testers telling us that a top #Tip for them is to delay the point of having something that they like. They say that this gives them something to look forward to and, what’s more, when they do tuck into their treat, a box of Maltesers, they taste all the better for it.
Earlier in the year we were joined on The52Project (@the52tips) by Hannah Powell (AKA @thecactussurgeon). One of the things she and our Dulcie (@itsnotbloodyrocketscience) really rated was planting bulbs as we approach the Autumn in an anticipation of the Winter and the new life to come in the Spring. Both said how much it meant to them to take time to plan and invest in the future. Again this made us think what is there in this for our health wellbeing? And in particular how can waiting for treats in the future help with our wellbeing in the now?
Well it turns out: a lot!
Got it…What’s the Science
Several studies have recorded the reduction in cortisol, a hormone related to the stress response, following a period of time in nature, or in particular gardening. Put simply: exposure to nature reduces our stress. This is not news to the initiated The52Projectors (#Tip11, 14, 15) and is part of a term called the ‘biophilia hypothesis’ (also called BET) first coined by Edward O. Wilson in 1984 in his book Biophila: that proposes we have a innate (inbuilt) affinity for connection with other forms of life. It is also documented in a Norwegian study that gardening has a more beneficial impact on mood, including patients suffering from clinical depression and bipolar disorder, than other activities such as reading. Ok so so far this is about the nature part of the #Tip. What about the part of waiting?
Well we know that there is a ‘dopamine axis’ running from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) – a region associated with curiosity – that projects to the nucleus accumbent (NAc) that is a major part of the ventral striatum and is a key structure in mediating emotional and motivation processing, modulating reward and pleasure processing. The nucleus accumbens (NAc) receives convergent information from subcortical (limbic – ’emotions’ and ‘working memory’) and cortical (prefrontal – ‘higher cognition’) brain regions and projects to motor-related structures, making it ideally situated to guide goal-directed behaviours (Hyde & Garcia, 2019; West et al., 2018). The seems to include delaying responses and behaviour to stimuli. This is likely to be circuitry that is needs to be established and mature in order for us to be the ‘grown up’, for instance, to be able to avoid pulling a child like tantrum when not being allowed to going home from work early. It also helps us postpone bing eating chocolate just because it is there. As the prefrontal cortex takes a little longer to develop, young children can struggle to repress the impulse to eat sweet treat, even when they are promised twice (or more) as much in the future (see the Marshmallow Experiment in the links). Although this is in part because children also find the abstract time concept of ‘later’ or even specific minutes – it’s much easier to go with the now than an abstract amount of time in the future. They see the now and don’t have the circuitry or experience to follow instructions that promise more for the future. Who has had that problem of trying to pacify a young child in the supermarket with the promise of treats such as sweets or Xbox ‘later’?
So this is in part your brain’s adult circuitry knowing it can put something off for greater rewards, something even better, in the future. We suggest that this can also be part of circuitry that, if exercised and strengthened, will help you ‘urge surf’ the impulse to react to frightening or uncomfortable stimuli such as for phobias – by putting off the ‘knee jerk’ impulse reaction because you know that by doing so you are preparing yourself to be more capable and less affected by the stimulus in the future. This is part of the cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approach. If you recognise this in yourself, if you struggle with phobias, or conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – where it can be a struggle for you to control impulses and urges – then do please consider getting some professional help to safely and incrementally address this (a good place to start is the BACP website). By challenging yourself to resist impulses you can take more deliberate and measured control of your behaviour. It can be incredibly empowering and freeing. It may even help protect you against the downfalls of a society that expects tings ever more instantly and immediately. When things don’t happen as quickly as you expect them to, how do you react? Is this really that important? We are suggesting practising delaying here can also help give you a broader resilience (by strengthening the brain circuitry) to things not working out as quickly as you’d hoped in life – to help keep you calmer – to gain the skill of patience. Calmness and patience – self-control – also tends to mean you can make more thought out responses to situations, allowing you to be more strategic, tactical and efficient in your responses.
Back to planting bulbs, well put something away for the future is undoubtedly helpful raising the hope that the future will still have something to look forward to. This is an important counter to depressive thoughts where we can feel the future is not going to be better and no different from the now. Looking forward to a reward can also help the sensation of actually enjoying the treat when you receive it, because you have been able to visualise, possibly even fantasise, what might enjoyable things might happen. The power of your mind means you can actually enjoying what you think you might get as well as the thing itself. It also means that your brain will preempt things to look for that could be related – this means our focus and enjoyment can be broadened to related stimuli, objects or incidents (remember the RAS?). As we are sure you can appreciate this then can raise the general sense of wellbeing and mood that we know is associated with serotonin. This probably includes the sense of purpose and control that comes from knowing that you had a part to play in making the flowers bloom in their time. This sense of control and significance also helps counter depressive thoughts of fatalism, inadequacy and uselessness by practising optimism and hope that lead to tangible pleasant outcomes. And this is all before we consider the benefits of scent (#Tip15 Be Smelly) and colour (#Tip17 Colour Matters) or being social about this #Tip. So yet again we give you a simple small #Tip that packs a mighty wellbeing punch at all sorts of levels.
Watch our #Tip37 on the Instagram Live Recording….
Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress – research paper Journal of Health Psychology
Optimism, positive affectivity, and salivary cortisol – research paper British Journal of Health Psychology
Arousal in Neurological and Psychiatric Diseases (2019) book chapter ‘Autism and arousal’ (Chapter 6) by Hyde, J. & Garcia-Rill.
Goal-Directed Decision Making – Computations and Neural Circuits (2019) book chapter ‘Distinct Functional Microcircuits in the Nucleus Accumbens Underlying Goal-Directed Decision-Making’ by West, E et al.
Unlike some of our tips this does require a small investment for the bulbs. But despite the offers in supermarkets at this time of year (Autumn) it doesn’t have to be money. There are plenty of seed and bulb swop groups that pop up at this time of year. There are lots of such groups on social media – just look on Facebook. If you haven’t got one, why not consider starting one? It can be simple as a box that you leave for others to collect and drop off seeds and bulbs.
What’s more you don’t need a big garden for this #Tip. A window box or even indoor pots will often do.
We’d love to know how you find this #Tip and what other monsters you tame or would like to tame. So why don’t you get in touch via DM or the feedback form on this website.
Watch this space…
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