Naturalist intelligence… It’s one of the most basic human intelligences that almost nobody develops.
Think for a moment about the last time you spent quality time outside – what was your experience?
- Did you use that time to flex your naturalist muscles?
- What could you tell me about the patterns in plants, birds, trees & animals you encountered?
- If I were to quiz you on what you heard, saw & observed about your natural surroundings, how well would you perform on that test?
While most modern schools play an active role in developing intelligence around math & language… many of the softer & less measurable types of brilliance get left behind.
Back around 2005, I began experimenting with ways of using sensory awareness in nature to stimulate my mind. The result was a dramatic change in my outlook on life.
I’m now convinced that the ability to observe patterns in nature is a core driver of the capacity to engage all the parts of the brain and live a more successful life, both in the forest and the office… (and the concert hall, the sports stadium, the therapists chair, etc)
There’s a great deal of evidence that much of human language & the other intelligence types like logic, spacial awareness, and empathy – actually developed from perceptions of nature.
This makes perfect sense if you think about it.
Before humans were lawyers & school teachers, we were drawing animal tracks & maps of nature on cave walls.
There’s a huge body of research showing that naturalist intelligence is intimately related to empathy, creativity, problem solving, as well as being essential to reducing the intense levels of stress that prevent most people from reaching their full potential.
This is a skill that every adult & child already has built in to their DNA.
It’s simply a question of how far have you developed it?
My job is to help people like you develop your ability to read nature like a book.
So here’s how to improve naturalist intelligence:
#1 Develop Your Naturalist Routines
If you want to improve your naturalist intelligence, the most important thing is simply to take baby steps on a consistent basis.
This means having simple naturalist routines that you can do over and over again, ideally every day.
Sometimes people think that in order to be a skilled naturalist, you need to live away from the hustle & bustle of a big city.
Actually, there are a whole host of things you can do no matter where you live.
The most foundational naturalist routine is having a sit spot. This is a favorite spot in nature that you visit over and over again to practice watching, looking, listening & sensing your environment.
I explained the Sit Spot process in my article about increasing curiosity with nature.
Then just think about what your passions are, and start there.
- Are you most excited about birds?
- Trees & forest ecology?
- Wildlife Tracking?
Pick one thing that excites you and take small steps every day towards gaining those skills. You’ll be amazed at the results.
#2 Practice Real Life Observation
Many people think nature is only good for recreation.
And yes… hiking, camping, walks in the park are absolutely lots of fun.
But to me, the really exciting part of being in nature goes so far beyond simple recreation!
One of the biggest shifts you can make is to recognize that nature is not just a place for recreation and fun… Nature is nourishment for your brain and your mind.
You can use nature awareness to exercise your brain and your mind!
The key to doing this is to focus on real life observation.
Rather than hiking along with your head up in mental reveries, thinking about this and that… try dropping into your senses and consciously look/listen/observe what’s happening around you.
Stop to watch the squirrels. Watch the birds feeding in the brush, and wonder about why they suddenly fly up to a higher branch, looking around… What are they doing? What plants & trees are blooming right now? How are these patterns affecting the insect life?
There’s a whole world to discover out there, and each new observation is stimulation for your naturalist mind.
Take on the mindset that each time you observe something happening in nature, you are increasing your capacity to keep a sharp mind in all areas of life.
#3 Keep A Nature Journal
One of the best ways to reinforce your naturalist intelligence is by keeping a nature journal.
When you write down what you see, hear, feel & remember from time outside, it adds another layer of reinforcement to your memory.
Most people have great difficulties engaging their sensory memory after an outdoor experience because they haven’t trained the parts of their brain that track patterns in plants, birds, trees, etc.
Think about the last time you spent an afternoon outside… how much can you honestly remember in vivid sensory detail?
- What sights & sounds were happening around you?
- Can you put yourself back into that moment & see the trees, plants, land topography?
- Can you remember which way the wind was blowing?
- What were the birds doing?
- What were the clouds doing?
If you really try to put yourself back into a moment standing in nature, you’ll very quickly notice there are blank spots in your memory.
These blank spots are a sign you’re not using your naturalist intelligence to the full capacity yet.
If you’d like to train your naturalist memory, I created a nature memory journal program to develop this exact skill.
#4 Avoid Tunnel Vision
A common pattern in naturalists is to find something you’re interested in and focus 100% of your energy on that one thing (like birds, or plants, or moss).
Now, I’m a big believer in passion-based learning.
I think if you have certain aspects of nature that call to you most strongly, that really is the best place to start.
But very quickly, I would encourage you to also start looking for the intersection between your passion with other related topics.
For example: Let’s say you’re totally stoked on birds. You’ve got your binoculars. You’re learning the different species. You’re even learning how to understand the different messages of their communication & body language.
But it’s important to realize you can only go so far with birds before you need to bring in other skills like tracking, knowledge of plants, weather, etc.
When your focus is narrow, eventually the questions get harder and harder until there’s a point of diminishing returns.
At this stage, you should find ways to get excited about other areas of learning. Use your passion to drive learning on a more holistic level.
With practice you’ll find that your passion begins to spread and infect other related topics with the same drive and excitement to maximize your learning.
Someone who studies birds AND tracking, will have more flexibility to know about birds than someone who only studies birds.
Studying birds AND tracking AND plants, adds yet another layer. You want to get to the point where the layers all weave together and inform you by relationships.
#5 Relax And Be Timeless
Always remember that relaxation is still very important!
With all these very direct awareness techniques & observation skills, it’s important not to get too rigid about how you experience nature.
Opening the naturalist parts of your brain is both a science and an art.
Throughout time, nature has been a source of inspiration for many of the world’s greatest geniuses, inventors, philosophers & leaders.
The real magic is found at the intersection between practical scientific inquiry, and limitless creativity, flashes of insight, or ideas that seem to come “out of the blue”.
If you can open your scientific mind… then balance that with timeless relaxation & openness to the moment, you will have a very profound experience indeed.
Here are a few tips for accessing the intersection between scientific deduction & timeless presence:
- Think about your intentions – What would you like to get from your time outside? What are you curious about? What are you excited to do?
- Then let go of your agenda and allow yourself to experience the forest without expectations or time schedules.
- Slow down & physically relax your body & mind.
- Stay connected to your senses. Don’t get lost in imagination-land!
- Take time to sit quietly & observe, or slowly wander without destination
- Journal when you get home. Record what you observed and ask yourself good questions to draw out further insight and reflection.
#6 Find a Mentor
One of the best ways to improve your naturalist intelligence quickly is by spending time with a mentor who has already cultivated their naturalist intelligence to a deeper level.
Everyone has blindspots that aren’t personally obvious until a mentor asks you questions you can’t answer.
Passion & good techniques can get you started, but they’re no replacement for the verbal exchange of information that happens through storytelling & dialogue.
This is why I continue to offer mentoring both individually and in group settings by distance.
I was lucky to be mentored in an unbroken lineage of deep awareness & wilderness survival skills. If these skills call to you, then I would love to connect.
A naturalist mentor has the benefit of many years of training & integration under their belt.
Ideally that person will also have been mentored in skills like bird language, wildlife tracking, knowledge of plants, trees, survival…
In this way, there’s an unbroken lineage back through time where skills are passed down from generation to generation.
You can get a sneak peak at how my group mentoring program works here.
#7 Take The Long View
With all of this, remember that the biggest transformations always happen over time.
You get out of life what you put into it.
The seeds you plant now create a path for who you will become in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, 20 years, and beyond.
This also means the earlier you start, the greater your returns in the long run.
What I will promise is that if you sincerely commit yourself to sitting in nature, and opening your senses, with the birds, trees, weather, seasons… you will change your life, both as a naturalist and as a human being.
I even go so far as to encourage my students to make a 10 year commitment to these skills.
It doesn’t mean you have to devote every waking moment… even 10-20 minutes per day will bring amazing results if done consistently.
You will FEEL the difference.
At the end of those 10 years, you won’t be able to recognize yourself.
It’s like any commitment to personal growth… meditation, sports, woodworking… it takes time, but there are gains at every step & it’s a great time.
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