How Heading Outside Makes Your Brain More Creative (Cordele Glass)

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So often when we think about heading outside, we think about what it’s doing for our body and emotions — how we feel. But time in nature and, specifically, doing things outside your comfort zone has a real impact on your brain, which then has an impact on everything else. And one of those brain things is creativity.

In this episode, positive psychologist and creativity expert Cordele Glass talks to us about how spending time in nature works with our brains to put us in what he calls an upward spiral, increasing our well-being and specifically making us more creative. He also tells us how we can harness that experience for our own lives.

Some of the good stuff:

[2:25] Cordele Glass’s favorite outdoor space

[4:27] How definitions impacted his outdoor journey

[6:55] How he got into the study of positive psychology

[18:41] What is creativity?

[21:09] Does everyone have creativity within them?

[22:51] The difference between being creative and being good at something

[26:03] The impact of mindset

[29:35] How nature impacts creativity

[33:44] All about the upward spiral

[37:51] How spending time outside impacts the upward spiral

[43:23] Two ways listeners can increase their creativity outside

[48:13] Cordele’s favorite and most essential outdoor gear

[49:32] Cordele’s favorite outdoor moment

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Follow us on Instagram and share your outdoor life with the hashtag #humansoutside365.

Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on The Humans Outside Podcast.

Listen to the episode on iTunesGoogle Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

Amy Bushatz 0:53

One of the things we love to talk about here on Humans Outside is just what benefits you can find when you make heading into nature a part of your daily habit and routine. I believe that by exploring these benefits, we can learn how to make the most of them, leveraging getting out into nature to give us all the gifts we’re looking for, and many that we aren’t. Over my more than three years of going outside every single day for at least 20 minutes. that’s what I found. One of the best parts of being a journalist is when I have a question about something, I can just call up an expert and sit down for a deep dive to learn more. The benefit of having a podcast is that I get to share that deep dive with you. Today’s guest, Cordele Glass, is going to talk to us about how spending time in nature works with our brains to put us in what he describes as an upward spiral, increasing our well being and specifically making us more creative. Earlier in the season, you heard from watercolorist, videographer and runner Max Romey about the practice of art in the outdoors, but Cordele is going to take us deeper into the psychology aspects. And that’s something he’s especially suited for because Cordele is an expert in positive psychology. He’s also a creative wellbeing coach who has written about creative habits and told me that he absolutely loves talking about creativity in nature. I’m really excited about this. Cordele, welcome to the Humans Outside Podcast.

Cordele Glass 2:12

Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

AB 2:14

So I’m talking to you from Alaska. You’re in Washington, DC, but we like to start these podcasts imagining ourselves in our favorite outdoor space hanging out. Where are we joining you today?

CG 2:25

That question is really easy. For me the redwoods in California, Coastal Redwood forest, probably somewhere near Santa Cruz is definitely my favorite outdoor space. They’re just so big and so magical.

AB 2:40

Oh my gosh, they totally are. And you and I are from like the same general area of the country. I am from Santa Cruz, as we talked about before, and I grew up just a few blocks from the beach and little Rio Del Mar. Where are you from in California?

CG 2:54

I grew up in Fairfield, which is part of the North Bay. So kind of near Vallejo area.

AB 3:01

Yeah, awesome. So for people who are not familiar with the California geography, not directly on the beach, but certainly within access distance.

CG 3:10

Absolutely. Yeah, I would often take the ferry across the bay to get to San Francisco. And the ferry is like a 15 minute drive. So like all pretty close to the water. And then Fairfield is actually right on like a marina. There’s like a marsh area that kind of like is seeping out of the bay. So I’ve always been pretty close to the water. And then yeah, going out to Santa Cruz or San Francisco’s pretty regular for me.

AB 3:37

Awesome. So tell us, how did you become a person who likes to go outside?

CG 3:41

Man, it was all thanks to this very specific outdoor education program called Exploring New Horizons – shout out. They’ve got a few sites in the Santa Cruz area. But up until then I’d never really done a lot of outdoor stuff. I did go to an outdoor school when I was in sixth grade. But I remember thinking of it more like an amusement park than like a part of the world that I’ve connected to really that big sense. Like it was just kind of like going to Six Flags or something.

AB 4:14

That totally makes sense. And isn’t that how like – I mean, sidetrack. But isn’t that how we as adults tend to view it too, in a way, like it’s a destination instead of something that’s just outside of our front door?

CG 4:27

Totally! So yeah, growing up in Fairfield is pretty, I mean, just like a lot of the bay, it’s pretty urban. Right? And so I just got locked into a lot of urban and kind of people of color stereotypes about nature in a lot of ways. And I just didn’t understand it. But I just randomly got asked to volunteer at an outdoor school. It was like a lunch meeting in high school and I just walked in and they were like — yeah, you’d be great. And so I was a high school counselor at Exploring New Horizons which is in the redwoods. And this is the first time I’ve been at the redwoods. And it was the first time I had really done a lot of like, I guess, education. I mean, the high school counselors are more like babysitters, just make sure all the sixth graders don’t run into the woods. But I was just so involved in the classes like I was participating more with the naturalists than the kids were. And I ended up going back like five times during high school and you stay for a week at a time and I just kept going back. And I just absolutely loved it. And it just really kind of reshaped how I thought about outdoors and how I thought about myself and my interests. Like I’ve been doing music since I was about 10. And getting into the redwoods was the first time I found anything that made me feel as alive as music or drumming. And I just loved it. Yeah. And so I just like never stopped doing that. So I’ve basically been an outdoor educator since high school. From that one program, it was just so random. I wasn’t even planning on going to that meeting, I was going somewhere else. And one of my friends was like — hey, come to this meeting with me. I was like — Alright, I don’t have anything else to do. And then my whole life changed forever. Because that one meeting. Oh, bizarre.

AB 6:08

And it’s like serendipity. You know? I love it. What a great story. Isn’t that just how we always find our sparks, you know that that’s, you know, your parents maybe put you in a class that you didn’t actually want to do? Or you stumble on something like you did? And here we are. And you have the whole new focus. Oh, my gosh, I love it. So positive psychology is a very specific type of study. Can you describe it for us? And tell us what got you interested in it? And how you got into the field you’re in in that vein today?

CG 6:45

Absolutely. Do you want the short version, the medium version of the long version? There’s like, so much that goes into that question.

AB 6:52

Wherever the spirit moves you, man.

CG 6:55

Nice. I’ve been into it since undergrad. So positive psychology is essentially just the study, like the scientific social science study of happiness and meaning and joy and well being and all the things that make life worth living. That sounds like what all of psychology would be focused on. But it turns out just academically and research wise, most of psychology for a really, really long time has been focused on like, what are your problems? And how do we make the problems go away? Which is a really worthwhile valuable approach.

AB 7:31

But how people also, I’m sorry to interrupt, how people how people think about things, right, like why people make the decisions they do and how they get there?

CG 7:42

Absolutely. And so most of the focus was on like — Well, why are people depressed? Why are people anxious? Why are people angry and sad? And how do we make that go away? And it just became really apparent to a few people in the psychology world that people weren’t asking — Well, why are people happy? Or the people who have like, really great relationships, like what are they doing, as opposed to like, the people who have like, really abusive, terrible relationships? How do we fix them? And it turns out, just like, those on the surface might seem like the same question. But it turns out that there’s really different processes underlying them, and different ways of researching them, and really different insights that you can glean when you study it from the other side. And so that kind of spawned the whole field. And that was really resonating with me, just because I was really interested in the outdoors. And, you know, feeling connected in that way. That outdoor education led me into team building, which is really focused on just kind of like, trust and confidence and like these more positive aspects. And as a musician, I became super fascinated in expert performance. And just like how you get really, really, really good at something that you find really meaningful. And that’s not the type of stuff that you’d learn in, like, I was taking abnormal psychology classes and like, intro to like, you know, therapy and counseling. And all those things that I just mentioned, that I was interested in weren’t even close to being discussed or considered or researched, just about so far removed. And so I came up with this, like, the one of the nerdiest things I’ve done for a while that let me know I should probably go down this road, is I was taking developmental psychology classes. That’s what all my degrees have been in. And I was looking at early childhood stressors and predictors of like really poor childhood outcomes, essentially, right, which is like psychology as usual. Like, what are the things that lead children to end up dropping out of school, joining gangs, doing drugs, like that kind of stuff? And I was like — Oh, no. I fell into like so many of the at risk groups. I like really hit like a ton of these predictive factors. I was in a really, really bad spot – like single parent household like, really, really low income in an urban area, person of color. Like, there are gangs around me, there’s like substance abuse in my family, there’s just like all of this big list of like — Whoa, if I were just to go off of this, I should be in a terrible spot. But instead, I was like flourishing with tons of friends at a top tier university just like living my best life just like really happy and like, at that stage of my life conventionally successful. And so I was like — why? And so I just kind of reflected on my life, found all these protective factors and started to figure out like, why I went down a different road. And I started to recognize all these things that led to resilience, like I had music to give me meaning, I had really supportive parents and friends, I had that connection to nature, even though it kind of came a little bit late. But yeah, I had all these different things, and specific types of mindsets. And I just started to write them all down and put them into like a model, and of like, my own resilience. And then I was like — I’m at a research university. I feel like I just made this up, because it’s based on all my own experiences. But let’s see what’s up. So I just went to the Charles Young Library on UCLA campus, which is like, the second biggest research library after the Library of Congress. And I just started researching all the stuff that I was writing down in this model that I made. And I found out that there were absolutely people that were looking at exactly what I was looking at, and that they had started a field called positive psychology. And so from then on, I was just reading all the articles I could get, all the books that I could find, and looking up all the researchers, and I just became so intrigued and invested. And then it just became really obvious that if I really wanted to understand it at the level I wanted to, I’d have to go to graduate school for it.

AB 11:56

So that’s the rabbit hole.

CG 11:57

Yeah. And then I figured it was the right yeah, it made sense. Just because like I said, I was already like, designing models and doing literary reviews and like breaking things down and taking notes. And none of that was for a class, I need to emphasize that like, that was all outside of my coursework. So I was like — if I’m doing this anyway, I might as well do it for real. And it’s definitely worth it. Because my first class in graduate school was Foundations of Positive Psychology. And I could have been a TA like already – there was one concept of savoring that I’d never encountered before. But every other topic in that whole semester, I was already like, up on, like, I had read into it, and like I knew exactly what they’re talking about. So, yeah, it definitely felt like the right fit. So it’s just kind of unfolded from there.

AB 12:47

Yeah, I just, I am an unabashed optimist. And so of course, I’m like, ooh, positive psychology. That’s me. You know? I, but as you were talking, I was thinking — you know, this is really this, what you’re asking is a question of resiliency, right? Like, what makes some people resilient and other people not?

CG 13:07

That was definitely my first interest into the field, and then it kind of brought in from there. But yeah, for a long time, that was my main focus. Even kind of my early coaching work, I called myself a resilience facilitator for a little bit, because that was just like, my main interest. But yeah, I’ve kind of broadened and focused in different ways since then. But yeah, bouncing back from adversity is still like the core of the type of work that I’m interested in and what I think can be most powerful for people.

AB 13:35

Oh, man, different topic for a different day.

CG 13:39

Well, I can link it back because one of the reasons I’m so interested in resilience and bouncing back from adversity is because that is kind of the foundation of a lot of experiential education and adventure education that I was going through. So I’ve spent a lot of time working for challenge courses and high ropes courses, to the point where I’m now even a trainer. I’ll just go around the country like training other people on how to use high ropes courses. And the whole premise is, this is scary, like a zip line is specifically designed to be scary, right? Or like, you know, even like rock climbing or whitewater rafting; part of the reason that they’re so fun is because they’re challenging, but they’re challenging in a way that helps us grow and connect with the people around us and connect with that challenging environment.

AB 14:24

So I want to describe really fast what a high ropes course is because some people may not have been on it. So it’s like a platforms and rope systems that are bolted into trees, for lack of a better description, super high off the ground. And you sort of climb up there. Yeah, you climb up there and you are in a harness so it’s not unsafe, like you’re not just walking around the trees like Tarzan, okay. You clip into the ropes course. But then you are in a very unstable feeling environment where You are navigating through these cables between these trees from one platform to another. And it is both terrifying and exhilarating. And it is a challenge. And then at the end, then often there’s ziplining between them. And at the end, you probably have to get yourself out of this tree. And the zip line may not be the way they have you doing it. And it’s, I mean, you’re jumping out of the tree, with a rope, but it’s a lot. My family and I did the ropes course a couple of times over at Mount Hermon, which is a redwoods ropes course, in Santa Cruz. It is very high. Yeah. It was outside my comfort zone.

CG 15:43

So there you go. Yeah, so that ties it all back in. Because you know, that’s like I said, I started doing that kind of stuff in high school. And although the outdoor schools didn’t necessarily have like high ropes, heavy challenges, it’s still kind of in there, right? Like, you’re away from home, you’re like camping, sometimes it’s raining. But you can still learn a lot from those challenges. The challenge course in team building and adventure industry is built on metaphor as well. So when I got to grad school, in addition to resilience, that was one of the things I was looking at is how do we actually learn from metaphors? And is this like a scientifically valid way of inducing development and change in people? And it turns out, if you do it in, you know, the right way, the metaphors are super powerful. So again, like outdoors as a metaphor for the rest of your life is a really strong way to build resilience, right? So like, that’s part of why after grad school, I became a whitewater raft guide. And I continued to do like rock climbing and things like that, because it became really easy for me to help people map your time on the river, like being thrashed around by rapids, and having to deal with that to the rest of your life. And how bouncing back from – like you felt sometimes you fall in the boat, sometimes you take a wave straight to the face, and it’s cold, and you’re tired. But there’s still something that keeps you going and something that really feels like it’s driving you and it’s just so much fun still. Right. And so trying to help people recognize that the rest of your life can feel like that as well. Just based on how you approach it, right? Just became really important.

AB 18:20

I want to describe and define creativity as well, before we start talking about that specifically, because as I mentioned, earlier in the season, we had on a watercolorist who talked very specifically about finding his own inspiration and using the outdoors to inspire art. But creativity can be more than that. So what is creativity to you?

CG 18:41

The easiest question of all, you know, it’s a really hard question to answer. I think part of the reason that’s hard to answer is because there’s a lot of different ways to talk about it. And so something I’ve been focusing on for like the last year is almost like synthesizing all of these different ways and approaches into a bigger scope of what creativity is. But I guess the easiest, most conventional answer, at least academically, is it’s any type of behavior that blends novelty with futility. So something that’s new with something that’s useful is how you could tell like that’s a creative output. And useful doesn’t necessarily need to mean like, practical, but even if you’re like — I like it — then like it’s useful for being liked. And then you know, it’s got to be new. So like, I can’t just completely recreate something exactly the same that’s already been done. And if it’s useful, then it’s just like, not necessarily creative. But if it’s got some type of new element, and then it’s also valuable to someone, then we’d call that creative, but that is also really surface level in a lot of ways, right – because there’s so much about creativity that’s just personal and like your own preferences and motivations and inspirations like you’re saying. But then a lot of people focus on the creative process, like what you’re doing to be creative and how it feels while you’re creating. So like I studied under Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who vanguarded the scientific study of flow. So like the experience of being deeply engaged in a creative act is huge. And then finally after like that, then you have how your creativity impacts the rest of the world, right, so like, is it accepted by the field? Or do you have fans? Are you connecting with clients? Like, is it impacting the broader culture, all of that stuff is still really tied to creativity. So there’s all these different parts. But I guess for me personally, I just still really focus on the experience, like, are you living your life in a way that feels creative? There’s like this, this edge, where you’re like, doing brand new things in your life, that are super just valuable.

AB 20:53

Some people don’t feel creative, right? Like here are plenty of people who have a much narrower definition of creativity than what you just described. But based on what you just described, I’m thinking that you do in fact, think that everyone has creativity within them.

CG 21:09

Yeah. So again, I don’t know, I am planning on going into a Ph. D. program soon. And so I’m already preparing to give really academic answers to questions like this. Like, oh, academics like, it depends, like, that’s always the thing, or like, yes, multiple answers. And like, I always thought that was so annoying. But now I’m starting to understand it. Because even the answer to that question I used to, really, for a while be like every single person is always 100% maximum creativity all the time. And then I started to get into personalities and individual differences and environmental factors. And then for a long time, I was like — oh, there are really specific people that are just more prone to creative behavior. Or it’s just easier for certain people in certain contexts, with certain minds and genetics to just have an easier time doing certain things creatively. Which the inverse of that is like, it’s just harder for some people to be creative, kind of the same way. Like, you could say, everyone is an athlete, right? But like, some people just have the body and like the resources, right?

AB 22:18

Well, that I mean, that makes sense. Because like, I’m over here, like, I can write, right, and I can talk like, I can string words together. Okay. But I cannot draw, like, at all. And this was something I talked to our previous creativity guest Max about. I think during the actual episode, maybe people remember that. But you know, I can’t draw like, it’s really like, it’s embarrassing. But my grandmother is an amazing artist, right? So what’s up with that?

CG 22:51

It’s the difference between being creative and like the skill that you have. So you could be able to draw really well, but what you’re drawing is only things that other people have drawn. So in that case, you could have super high skill, but it’s just not very creative. Or you could, you know, have really poor dexterity, and like really bad, gross and fine motor skills. But what you’re doing is, unlike anything anyone’s ever done, and people love it, and it’s super valuable. And in that case, you could be super creative, even like an eminent creator with really poor, like conventional, quote, unquote, skill in that area. So those are actually really different. But like you were saying, a lot of people see their low skill, and then use it as evidence that they’re not creative. And that creates what we call like a downward spiral or negative feedback loop, where you say — I can’t draw, thus, I’m not creative. So I’m not going to try to draw. So then you have no evidence that you could draw, which just proves your point that you’re not creative, and you can’t draw. So then you just never draw. So then you never have any reason to think that you can draw and it just kind of reinforces where if you actually just try to draw, then you’ve got evidence that like — well, I can draw, I might not be able to draw as good as someone else, right. But I definitely can draw, and then you’ve got evidence that like — well, it’s possible for me to draw, so maybe I’ll try again. Or maybe an opportunity comes up and you’re just like in a waiting room, and you’re like — well, I could just draw. And then if you actually like it, you might just draw because you like it. And that’s like the spark that you’re mentioning before. Some people might find that spark. But if you just kind of shut yourself off from all these potential sparks, you’re like — well, I’ve never done acrobatics, so I can’t be an acrobat. I’ve never done this. I can’t do that. Instead of trying new things, then you have to pigeonhole yourself.

AB 24:48

You’re seeing my bad habit.

CG 24:50

You’re in that loop, where you’re like — I can’t do any of these things. I’m not gonna try.

AB 24:55

Yes, I am totally that person. I have trouble trying new things because I don’t like failure. And so I am so the person who tends to only do things that I know I’ll be good at, like, not intentionally. And I mean, I’m sure at some point that was an intentional choice, you know, when you’re in high school or whatever. But at this point in my life, I find myself only trying and showing up for new things that I can do. For perfect example, I signed up for and paid for a seed starting class, okay, here, and people are growing seasons really short, you have to start all of your stuff inside and then have this elaborate greenhouse setup and all these things. Now, there’s a variety of reasons that I was like — this is going to be more than I’m willing to do, like, having an elaborate greenhouse setup in my house, like I just don’t have the right spot for it. And it wasn’t something I was willing to tackle. But the primary reason I did not show up for that was — I kill things, this is not going to be something I succeed at, and I shouldn’t waste my time. Instead of like — oh, maybe I’ll learn.

CG 26:03

Exactly. So there’s kind of two really big things that impact that. One is like your mindset, like you’re just saying. So that’s a big part of the creativity coaching that I do is just the way you’re thinking about it. And one of the main mindsets in this case is a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. There’s been tons of research on this by Carol Dweck and she like inspired a bunch of other researchers to look into this where some people think like — Oh, my abilities are fixed and unchanging. So like, I’m just not a math person. I can’t do math, versus like, I haven’t put in the effort to do math very well yet. But I know if I try really hard and dedicate time and energy, I could grow in that area. It turns out, people can change. That’s like the whole premise of all of developmental psychology and education in general. And there’s tons of research on brain plasticity now, even in adults. So like, the truth is, you can definitely grow and change, right? Fixed mindsets are generally just incorrect. I mean, there’s, you know, a certain limit to everything. Like, you can’t probably grow five feet tonight. But for the most part, especially things like creative skills, everyone can definitely learn how to not kill a plant, you can definitely learn how to draw if you took some classes and put in time and effort and energy, right, but the mindset you have will really impact it. So that’s a big area. But the second part goes back to what we were saying earlier about is everyone creative. So on that side, everyone is definitely creative in that everyone can definitely do these things. Like everyone can draw in one way or another. Even if you don’t have arms, you can draw, I’ve seen people draw without arms, right? Like, there’s not really an excuse in that sense. However, not everyone is open to new experiences. So that’s the second part of what you’re saying is like, you’re not trying things once you know you can do them. That’s one of the main differences between people who are creative people, quote, unquote, and those who aren’t, is some people are just more prone to trying new things and enjoying new experiences, which opens them up to radical new ideas so that they have this novelty. And then they’ve got all these experiences that show them that they can like I love doing all these new things. And that’s proof that I can do more things. And so then it creates a positive feedback loop, the opposite of what I described, where you think it’s fun to try to draw. And so then you draw, and you really like it. And you’re like — well, if I could draw, I could do graphic design. So then you do graphic design, like — Oh, I can totally do computers. So maybe I should start building a computer because I did graphic design. And then you’re like — Oh, I have to code. So I could be a coder. If I could draw like code, let’s just try it out and see what it’s like. And then all of those just accumulate. And then all of a sudden, you’re doing code, but you’re using techniques from drawing. And you’re coding in ways that no one’s ever coded before, because you have all these unique experiences in your past that you blend in with your current practice. And then all of a sudden, you’ve got a brand new way to code that’s really, really useful. And then you’re like a creative coder. Right? But the only reason that figurative person got there is because they just tried all these new things in a way where they thought they could grow. And so that’s a lot of my creativity coaching is just helping people understand that landscape.

AB 29:09

You’re blowing my mind.

CG 29:10

Yeah, it’s, it’s a lot of parts. But once you see how it works, it’s like not that hard to navigate. And so in that sense, everyone can be creative, but you’ve got to be willing to try new things and be uncomfortable. That’s a huge part of the process.

AB 29:26

So I think I know where we go with this. How does nature – this is like the goodness here, right? How does nature impact that?

CG 29:35

Right? Well, that’s like, there’s so many ways, right? Like, there’s so many ways being outside can impact that there’s like a laundry list essentially. But going back to like that main point, I was just saying it’s like, nature is so diverse. And so if you’re willing to open yourself up to the diversity of nature. You’re just going to have unique ideas right? Like, you know, even just in Santa Cruz, like you could be, I guess this might be like a really California thing to talk about. But yeah, you could go to the beach, and then the next day, like, go into the mountains. And then the next day, you’re at like a foggy marsh. And then the next day, you’re literally in the desert, right? And all those experiences are really, really distinctive, different, even if you’re in the same place. Like I’ve been on the East Coast for a little bit. And I’ve been learning that seasons can be really, really different. Which, in California, it changes but not like out here. But yeah, so that’s a big one. It’s like, the more comfortable you are with being in nature, the more comfortable you’ll become with diverse new experiences, right? Like, imagine going outside, and then you see like, a deer that you’ve never seen before. Like, I’ve never seen a deer with those spots. And like those types of antlers. Could you imagine being like — I don’t want to see it, because I’ve never seen that deer before. Keep it away from me. Right? Like, I don’t want these experiences. Like there’s a river on the other side of that ridge. No, I can’t see that river because I’ve never been to that river. Right? Like, it doesn’t make any sense. So the more time you spend outside, in a way where you feel safe and connected, it’s easier to translate that and like — Oh, yeah, let’s go try out this new art class, right? It’s like — well, I can’t draw, I don’t want to do that. It doesn’t make as much sense, right? When you feel safe in the environment, if there’s something that’s new, you’re down to kind of check it out. And all those new experiences will give you like fodder for creative ideas. Right? That’s like the whole field of biomimicry is just like looking at how nature does stuff. And like that’s a cool solution. Let me try it in my own way in a new context, right?

AB 31:42

It’s so interesting that you’re saying this, because I’ve never thought about the propensity to try new things outside or the necessity to try new things outside in my case, as being part of spurring creativity in other ways. So here in Alaska, it’s very cold right now, when I’m talking to you. It is, well, it’s not the coldest day, it’s a hot 28. So that’s actually pretty warm for today. But it can be very, very cold. If I have a commitment to go outside every single day for 20 minutes at a time, as I mentioned, like bare minimum of 20 minutes, often more, okay, in the summertime, you can do that sitting by a campfire or on your porch and reading a book like no new things necessary. This is fine, right? Sedentary checks the box? Yeah, in the wintertime, it’s too cold for that nonsense. You got to be moving, you got to be doing stuff. And like, there’s only so many times I want to walk down the same path in the woods, right? So I have tried a lot of new winter things that I would never ever, ever, ever have done. Because I first of all was like — I don’t like being cold. So I’m not going to go do that. Right? Like why would I put myself in a situation where I’m going to be cold? But because I have this commitment, right? I’m outside trying these new things. And that’s just been one of the side benefits I’ve seen to having this habit is that I now ski even though I am very much on record to say — my family and I filmed a reality TV show episode, which is like a very normal Alaska thing to do. It sounds so crazy. But um, yeah. And I’m like in this TV show saying — I will never ski. And here I am – take like, this evening, my kids have Nordic ski class. Off we go, you know, um, and it’s just it anyway, you’re blowing my mind. That’s what I’m trying to say.

CG 33:44

One particular kind of way of thinking that might fall into another mindset that you could call like, unique perspectival or multi perspectival, which is just like trying to look at something from a new perspective, right? So you might be like — I can never ski, I will never ski is the only perspective that is correct. It is a very, quote unquote, uncreative way of looking at things. Whereas like, skiing seems like a terrible option from this perspective, are there any other ways to look at where skiing might be valuable, and you just kind of proved it to yourself, right, like in retrospect, now, that is a different context. Skiing could be really cool. If I look at it from a different perspective, skiing could be super valuable. So creative people are really good at seeing perspectives, multiple perspectives, and just kind of choosing ones that are most valuable and interesting. Feeling limited is usually not the most valuable perspective. So if there’s another perspective, you’re like — I couldn’t be a skier in this context. It just feels more empowering and fun and interesting. So creative people tend to pick those perspectives which lead to more fun, interesting experiences.

AB 34:55

I wonder if this is not something that is a skill, you build, like, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

CG 34:59

It’s absolutely a skill. So it’s really tied to a lot of work done by behavioral therapists. There’s actually a new emerging field I’ve looked into, which is positive cognitive behavioral therapy, because these mindsets we’ve been talking about are very cognitive in nature, right. And so they’re really malleable in that sense, where, with some practice, it becomes like a skill. So like, with some practice, you can recognize when these particular thought patterns come up, and then decide if you want to go with them or not. And you can literally train yourself to just come up with different explanations of experience, right? So again, it’s often used for things like depression, right? It’s pretty obvious to a lot of people to recognize, like, someone’s like, well — I’m worthless, and everyone hates me. You can be trained to be like — Well, my mom loves me, and my brother loves me. And like, I do provide value to people. And you have to, like, look at that thought pattern, recognize that it’s not helpful, and then actively choose another one, right? And so that’s easy to understand for like, really serious depression or anxiety or something. But the same thing keeps happening, right? And so I’m really interested in those things for creativity, or some mindset patterns just make you way less creative, right? Like I could never ski, right, like, is the really specific one. That’s this, fundamentally the same as like, no one will ever love me, right? Like, it’s not that dire that serious, but it’s still just like a statement that you could believe, or you could question and look for evidence and kind of consider a new way around it. And it’s absolutely a skill. So some people are just really, really good at recognizing limiting self beliefs. And then just like doing it anyway, right. And that’s part of why I love challenge courses and outdoor adventures is because I’ve seen it so many times. You have no idea how many times I’ve seen someone about to do a rock climbing wall or do a zip line or jump off a pole, like you’re saying earlier, and they really sit there and tell themselves — I can’t do this. I’m not a person who can do this. It’s impossible. And with a little bit of coaching, like they are able to do it. And it just happens so often, when people will have these beliefs about themselves. They’re just untrue. And so doing the work to just reflect on those and then just try it out. Because like, if you can’t do it, then it’s you know, it’s fine. Just don’t do it. But a lot of people make that claim way before, right. So like, there’s a possibility that you really can’t ski. Like maybe your knees are just designed in a way where like that type of pressure will break. Right? Or like, you know, there are cases where there’s things you can’t do, like I said, you can’t grow five feet overnight. But like, by and large, that’s not what people are talking about when they’re limiting themselves. Right? Like, there’s usually things like — I can’t draw. But they mean like — I can’t draw expertly, right, that’s not the same thing. Mm hmm.

AB 37:51

Yeah. You talked about downward spiral earlier, the opposite of that is an upward spiral. How does spending time in nature impact your ability to have that upward spiral?

CG 38:03

Absolutely, yeah. So that’s just another really great way that nature helps you be more creative, just brings more well being. Just being out in nature is just really good for your body in so many ways. One, like you’re generally active, like you’re saying, You’re walking around, the air is usually fresher, right. And also, just being exposed to things like bodies of water and green spaces has been proven to really like reduce stress in your body and cortisol levels go down, it literally impacts your immune system, like you produce more white blood cells. And just there’s like lots of physiological benefits to being outside. And so an upward spiral is really just the process of a positive benefit leading to more positive benefits. So like your physical body just feels better, because you’ve been going outside. So now you’re getting better sleep. So then you’re more well rested, so that you’re in a better mood when you’re with your family and friends. So then they feel more connected to you. So then you have more opportunities to spend time with them, which leads to more opportunities for doing fun things, which then makes your body feel better. So then you get more sleep, and it just like, they all kind of connect and lead to an upward spiral. It’s the antithesis of like, you know, you get laid off from your job. So then you start to stress really hard, so then you don’t sleep. So then you feel exhausted and frustrated. So then you don’t hang out with your friends. So then you feel isolated. So then you’re not motivated to look for a new job. And it just like spirals downward. It’s the same kind of process, but it just builds in the other direction. And so getting outside is like a really easy component to add to an upward spiral for the most part, like if you’re trying to build that kind of forward positivity momentum. Getting outside is like one of the easiest and funnest ways to add an extra element that’s going to like lift you up in that way. Just physically or you don’t have to do anything. Just hang out next to a lake. And your body’s like yeah.

AB 40:00

Yes, I like I know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s that you know, that you find yourself that deep sigh that I find myself doing after just, you know, five minutes on a walk away from my phone, but in some, you know, not even trees necessarily just some bushes, right. Like, whatever nature I can find offers that release just by proximity.

CG 40:24

Yeah. And I have a really technical explanation of why that happens. And then I have a really personal theory that excites me. So I could share both of those if you’d like.

Unknown Speaker 40:37

Tell us.

CG 40:38

So there’s research on this theory called Attention Restoration Theory. And some of that work has been done by Ohly and White. And we learned like a whole bunch of people, it’s a theory, right. So it’s got a lot of evidence behind it. And a lot of different people have looked at it. And essentially, Attention Restoration Theory is like your attention can be used up. So there’s lots of research that shows like your willpower, or just like how much you can focus is essentially muscle, like your brain literally uses glucose when you’re trying really hard to focus, and then it can get exhausted, and then you make way different decisions. But when you’re spending time in natural environments, which are green or there’s lots of water and open space, it will like help those restore themselves, like your brain and your attention and your focus, your ability to focus just gets stronger. And it just feels like you can feel that it feels nicer, right? It’s like you feel restored like that.

No one really knows exactly what happens. There’s like mechanisms that people have like looked at, you know, but I have a guess as to exactly why that’s happening. Just from my own experience, is, yeah, everything in the modern kind of developed, urban world is made for a reason. Have you noticed that like, these headphones are for listening to things and this microphone is for accepting sound. And this desk is for holding, like laptops and coffee mugs – everything is for a reason. It has a purpose. And it has like a message, it’s telling you something when you go outside, like what is that rock next to the stream for? Right? Like, what is this? What is this tree for? Like, you can come up with reasons like we were saying, like this tree is for a challenge course. And that’s kind of what I was saying before. It’s like seeing outdoors as like a theme park, like this is for playing tag, and this is for fishing and like you can absolutely see it like that. But you kind of have to make that. Like you have to kind of construct that more than you do if you’re in a house or in a city or something. And so there’s just less demand on your mind to come up with reasons for why these things are here and what they’re for. They’re just being, they’re just hanging out. And so it’s easier to just be on with these things.

AB 43:12

Can you give us maybe just one or two actionable steps that people can use to increase their creativity outside? Just like — go forth, do this?

CG 43:23

Yeah, absolutely. I think the big one is what we’ve been talking about this whole time is just trying new things outside. Like if you’ve never climbed on a rock, like go climb a rock. You’ve never been in a river, like find a way to safely do it. Right? Whether it’s like with a guide, or an instructor or someone who knows a lot. But yeah, I think accessibility is like really, really important part of what the outdoor industry is starting to look at is because, like the simplest thing you can do, like we’re just saying, like, you don’t have to do anything, like just go sit next to the ocean, and like you’ll get all these benefits. So kind of just working on accessibility and figuring out ways that you and your family and friends can access the outdoors is great. And I’ve learned that a lot of people think it’s way harder than it is. Like camping, like literally just Google campsite near me and find one and then just go there. And you don’t even need to like camp for a lot of days. You don’t need tons of equipment. Like that’s been a big thing that I’ve been interested in is making it easier to get outside. So for example, I made my backpack from scratch with like a $5 tarp and like a bunch of sticks and strips of leather, just like tied them together and it works exactly the same. So I’ve been on trips with people who have like $400 backpacks. And mine was made out of like $10 of material and sticks – exact same thing. Like there’s like this whole culture of like, you need all the fanciest equipment and you need like the really nice Whisperlite, you have to have all the climbing gear and like you need to do specific things. Those are just barriers for so many people. And so I don’t know, I would say like just kind of being able to see through those barriers and just try to get outside one way or another is like my biggest piece of advice, I would say. And if you can try something new, that would be like the second part for you, because I know you’re getting outside every day. So you’re like, go outside, that’s not advice.

AB 45:26

A lot of people listening to this are too and, and the whole point of this is I mean, it’s twofold. It’s get outside everyday and build that outdoor habit. And then once you have it, you gotta keep it.

CG 45:37

Yeah, now, like, habits are only habits because you do them. So I think if you can understand that part, being able to tie it back to other parts of your life is probably really valuable, right. Like, outdoors are some of the most palpable metaphors possible. And what’s crazy about metaphorical thinking and analogical reasoning is it could be anything you want, right? Like you could be climbing a mountain and just decide this mountain now represents my relationship. And you’ll just start to see all these little things that really tie on.

AB 46:12

In a new and useful way.

CG 46:15

Yeah, exactly. And so yeah, if you can take any insights, and just bring them to your life, and yeah, new and useful way, you’re gonna just start being creative, right? So even that piece of advice I said before, right, I was like, just go outside and just see what you can do with accessibility. If you’re already kind of going outside, you might be like, yeah, that’s obvious. But even that, if you can understand that without doors, take that somewhere else, right. So like drawing, for example, you’re saying, like, you’re not a drawer, right? Just draw, just like, sit down and draw something. And if you don’t feel safe, get an instructor. The same way, like, just get in a river. And if you don’t feel safe, like get a river guide, right. And like, if you can understand that it’ll benefit your life. There’s all types of benefits for drawing, and for painting, and watercolor and making music. That’s why there are whole industries of art therapy and music therapy. And like, there’s tons of crazy benefits, in addition to the fact that it’s just fun and cool, right? Like, it’s just enjoyable to do. And so if you can really start to connect with the outdoors, start to recognize that the outdoors map on directly to the rest of your life is like, I guess, it sounds kind of philosophical, but I swear it’s really actionable. Right? Like, there’s so many really specific examples, like we were saying, like, even you know, going down at zip line, for example, that kind of leap where you’re like, it feels scary, but I know the process is going to be valuable, that shows up in people’s lives all of the time. Yeah. And I get that a big one is just being like — I’m not the type of person that can do these things, right? When you’re outside, you don’t have to be any type of person. Just like that rock doesn’t need to be for anything, right? That tree is not the type of tree to like, anything, it’s just being what it is. And so being able to do that, when you’re inside or outside, it’s just really going to help your creativity a lot.

AB 48:13

So good. Okay, so you mentioned a few seconds ago that you dislike this idea of outdoor gear. And we always ask people what their favorite outdoor gear or most essential is at the end. But I want to caveat that with it’s really broad question. I consider snacks to be an essential piece of outdoor gear. Depends on you know, how many kids you’re taking with you and how much you like snacks. So, tell us considering the broadness of this, what is your favorite outdoor and most essential outdoor gear?

CG 48:45

I have really sensitive eyes. If I’m going outside, I need those sunnies. I gotta have some sunglasses. That’s necessary. But not required, but I just have this strap that I use for rock climbing. It’s literally just like a loop. That’s, I think it’s rated but it’s just so fun. I don’t know what it is. I just love playing with it. I love having it. And I love like daisy chaining it, tying it to myself. It’s not supposed to be a toy. But yeah, it’s like my favorite item I have. But yeah, utility, definitely.

AB 49:18

I love it. Yeah, I’ve had people tell me, they think their most essential or favorite is a good attitude, which I’m like, yeah, sign me up.

CG 49:28

Can I change my answer?

AB 49:32

All right. Leave us now if you will, with your favorite outdoor moment. If you close your eyes and imagine yourself in your favorite outdoor moment, just that something you harken back to: where are you and what are you doing?

CG 49:46

There’s so many good ones. I led this backpacking trip in Anza Borrego State Park, which is like a desert area in California, and is a desert mountain. And we hiked all the way to the top. And the trip theme was meaning and purpose. So we’re having lots of activities and discussions on how to kind of craft our purpose in life and how to recognize and find meaning. And we were literally on a plateau like at the top of this peak, and we’re having a conversation. And the conversation just completely stopped because the sun was setting. And all of us just sat in silence and watched the sun set and we’re at a peak, so it was just like 360 – you could see the horizon all the way around. And I swear that sunset said more than like the entire conversation we were having about meaning and purpose, like looking at that sunset had more depth than deeply contemplating why we’re here and what we want to do with our lives. Like, it just seemed like nature was like — let me explain it to you. And we all just sat there and watched and it was like, yeah, time stood still for a while.

AB 51:11

Cordele, thank you so much for being on the Humans Outside Podcast today.

CG 51:14

Thanks so much for having me. This was really fun.

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