It’s Spring! Get outside and open your mind!

This time of year seems to bring out our loosey-goosey side. Polish people have a spring tradition of dousing each other with water and chasing each other around with Pussywillow switches. South Asians pelt each other with colored powered as a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. And then there’s Mardi Gras – ‘nuff said. We tend to go a little wild.

This kind of behavior can be cathartic after a winter’s worth of suffering, but there’s evidence that it might be good for you, too.

It’s a given that cold weather can dampen spirits. Depression that returns during the winter months each year—seasonal affective disorder—goes by the extremely apt acronym “SAD.”

Warm weather doesn’t really have the opposite effect, though. A number of studies, including one based on 20,818 observations in Dallas, Texas, found that there was no significant correlation between mood and temperature.

So, if it’s not just the warmer weather that affects us, then what is it?

In a study published in 2005 by Psychological Science, researchers put volunteers through a series of tests to gauge how the weather and the amount of time they spent outside affected their mood, their memory, and how receptive they were to new information.

In the first test, researchers measured the temperature and barometric pressure (high pressure is typically associated with clear, sunny weather) on several days when 97 people reported their mood and how much time they spent outside. Then, the participants were asked to remember a series of numbers. They were also given a short, favorable description of a fake employee, and then given additional, unfavorable information about that same person, and then asked to assess the employee’s competence and performance. The more open-minded among them, the researchers thought, would be able to update their initial impressions with the new information before passing judgment.

All three metrics hinged on the weather and how much time the participants had spent outside. On days with high pressure—the clear, sunny ones—people who spent more than 30 minutes outside saw an increase in memory, mood, and flexible thinking styles. Those who spent the time indoors, though, saw a decrease.

In a second experiment, the researchers asked 121 subjects to either spend time inside or outside on a warm, clear day. Among participants who spent more than 30 minutes outside, higher temperature and pressure were associated with higher moods, but among those who spent 30 minutes or less outside, this relationship was reversed.

A third test was done to determine whether the first two tests were tainted by the fact that they took place in the spring in a northern climate. Data was collected through a website from 387 respondents who lived in various climates, and they correlated the submissions with the weather in each city for that day. They found that the participants who spent more time outside during the spring, but not during other seasons, had better moods.

Temperature changes toward cooler weather in the fall did not predict higher mood. Rather, there appears to be something uniquely uplifting about warm days in the spring.

In summary, across the studies, spending more time outside on clear, sunny days, particularly in the spring, was found to increase mood, memory, and openness to new ideas. People who spent their time indoors, though, had the opposite effect, and one possible explanation for this result is that people consciously resent being cooped up indoors when the weather is pleasant in the spring.

People in industrialized nations spend 93 percent of their time inside, but researchers suggest that if you wish to reap the psychological benefits of good springtime weather, go outside!

This just might be the perfect time of year to turn off your computer and lay a Post-it note on your desk (with a copy of this article) that says “OUT OF OFFICE”. Catch an afternoon ballgame, go fishing or just frolic around a park. You’ll feel better, smarter and become more open-minded. If your boss asks ‘what’s up?’ – just say “I’m brain training!”

Why Can’t I Get Motivated?

I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked the question, “What part of the brain can we tap into for more motivation? Is there a spot that we can focus on?”

That is a hard question to answer, because motivation comes from within; within the mind, body, and spirit. Research shows that both motivation and attention are controlled by the prefrontal cortex, which can be thought of as the “executive center” of the brain.

The prefrontal cortex, which continues to mature into early adulthood, controls functions such as planning, decision making and the ability to delay gratification.

There is a whole chapter on ‘Attention and Motivation’ in The Dana Guide to Brain Health, a great resource for anyone looking for more information, that explains the prefrontal lobe are its role in formulating complex goals and intentions. The authors note that “this means that the human brain is capable of creating models of the world not only as it is, but as we want it to be. The human brain is able to create models of the future. This is called intentionality. But merely creating a model of the future is not enough. We must have the ability to strive to change the world as it is into the world we want it to become. This ability is called motivation. Without motivation, no life challenge of any degree of complexity can successfully be met.”

We use the frontal lobes to set our short and long term goals, as well as to prioritize and keep our attention from being distracted from our goals. There is more to motivation that just setting a goal, as everyone is not goal oriented. Different people get motivated in different ways. For some people, motivation must come through positive reinforcement, such as:

  • Killing them with kindness; showering them with support. A positive brain approach.
  • Treating them with trust and respect.
  • Creating challenges.  Getting them excited!
  • Incentives and rewards.
  • Inspiring them – make them believe in themselves.

Inspiration – stimulating our mind and emotions to a high level of feeling and activity. Many of us can be inspired by the words of great leaders. One that rings especially true for me comes from Gandhi, who said “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” We may get inspiration from a speech we hear, a story we read, or a simple act of kindness that we see during our daily lives. Poetry moves us in different ways. Music is a powerful vehicle for motivation; just ask anyone who feels the beat of their favorite song fueling them to run that extra lap, or work just a little bit harder the next time they exercise.

For me, motivation occurs on all levels, cognitively, emotionally and spiritually. I want to share this video with you that provided the inspiration for this blog. Just watch it. Texas County Reporter: Blind Quilter It will touch you in a way you didn’t expect.

Go explore your local library, the internet, or even ask your friends and family for sources of inspiration. Find something that rings true for you personally, and use that as your own personal call to arms, as your mantra to spur you forward towards healthy behaviors. However, if you still find yourself saying “none of that works for me, no matter how hard I try” and you feel out of control, you should stop blaming yourself and start wondering. Ask yourself, could there be a medical reason? Is your brain out of balance and not working the way it needs to? Are you depressed?  These are questions that require investigation. If you think you were born that way and can’t change it, you are wrong. You can. Seek the help of a neurologist or neuropsychologist who can provide you with the tools and treatment to help you heal yourself.

You can create positive change in your life!