This is perhaps one of the defining mantras of our age. ‘How to achieve more with less’ is usually applied to the workplace and business, what with spiralling costs and a crashing economy and all that. We hear it so often that we might overlook how the idea can be used to improve our personal lives as well.
The concept is simple, and because it is counter-intuitive (how can ‘less’ produce ‘more’?), it is appealing. It sounds as if it might just work. Maybe it is Eastern or something… they know a thing or two about productivity in the orient… Isn’t that where Zen comes from… etc.
We’ve seen the headlines that apply the idea to business, then there was weight-loss (No More Crash Diets); eating (Slow Food: Eat it to Save it); exercise (The Bare Minimum Keeps you Fit); and even school homework (Less is More When it Comes to Homework). For anyone used to taking a Solution Focused perspective this is not such an odd concept: rather than struggling to solve problems by doing something new, simply look at what you are doing that works, and do more of it. Repeating success is easy, enjoyable and affirming.
Now it seems that there are situations where we benefit from the perception of doing less, while we are actually doing more. In Green Care: A Conceptual Framework, the authors draw on studies that compare walking in green spaces with walking in a built-up environment. When we walk in a natural environment we actually expend more energy and move a bit faster than we do in the latter, but we feel as if we are doing less.
Green is good
The benefits of a natural environment don’t stop there. It has been known for a long time, for example, that greenery promotes healing, so that hospital planners factor this into their designs, and that disruptive behaviour in children diminishes when they are outside connecting with nature. Trees and landscapes also reduce stress and increase resilience, and for those who can’t get outside even a picture or a screen-saver has benefits. The link here is that though popular notions about benefitting from nature often involve extreme challenges and tests of endurance, the reality is that, as Oliver Burkeman says “Even the tiniest kinds of engagement with nature deliver a psychological boost.”
So, as we are constantly exhorted to do more – both by others and our own expectations – it is worth remembering that our species has been shaped by the natural environment, the ebb and flow of the seasons, and our innate ability to reflect and learn. Strive as we might to do more, aiming to do less may enable us to reach the same ends, and find more enjoyment while we are at it.
Oliver Burkeman, This column will change your life: nature and nurture.