I’m not talking about hanging a Picasso in your practice room.
Attention Restoration Theory
In this case, ART actually refers to Attention Restoration Theory, a concept developed by Stephen Kaplan that argues you can renew cognitive resources through interaction with natural environments.
Kaplan developed this theory in the 1990s through analysis of the cognitive processes that sustain high-level executive functioning, including attentional focus and self-regulation. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?
Basically, Attention Restoration Theory just means that your brain needs a break in order to restore its capacity for focused attention and, as a result, increase overall productivity.
The Cognition of Focused Practice
Have you ever noticed that you feel mentally exhausted after an incredibly constructive practice session?
That’s because directed attention — or, focused practice, as we musicians like to call it — is a type of high-level executive functioning that requires more brain power than other types of cognition.
Think of it this way — driving a race car in a high-speed race uses a LOT more gas than letting it idle in the pit.
Your brain works the same way.
Some types of cognition require more gas (energy) than other types of cognition and you need to replenish that gas when you run out. That is the premise behind Attention Restoration Theory.
The directed attention you use in the practice room conditions your body to expect high-level executive functioning when you enter that room. You begin to associate the physical environment of the practice room with mentally draining activities and sometimes you need to physically give yourself a break from that location in order to replenish your cognitive resources.
In contrast, other situations or places make fewer demands on your mental stores. Collado and Von Lindern found that people often report feeling rejuvenated and energized by those places. Some of those settings include vacation spots, spas, social settings, and even home. The location does not have to be anything specific; it just needs to be associated with feelings of getting away from your routine or work.
ART Model of Restoration
The ART model suggests these soothing places share four essential qualities that result in a feeling of restoration.
Fascination: They are interesting
Being Away: They are set apart from their surroundings
Extent: They are free of distractions
Compatibility: They are compatible with your purpose and intent
What are the Most Restorative Places?
Through their research, Kaplan and his colleagues found that natural environments, in particular, are deeply restorative. People who spend some time going for a walk in the park or sitting on a garden bench are better able to concentrate, control their thinking, tolerate frustration, and generally perform more successfully on a wide variety of mental acuity tests.
If you cannot go outside for a break between practice sessions, photographs or video clips of nature scenes also seem to have a positive effect on cognitive restoration. Try downloading a nature meditation app on your phone for a fifteen-minute restoration break during long practice sessions. Make sure to physically remove yourself from the practice room and take a short walk around the building.
In addition to restorative breaks in natural settings, sleep and meditation also help to rejuvenate attention. Take a short nap or spend 15–30 minutes in a guided meditation somewhere other than the practice room.
WARNING: Watching television does NOT aid in cognitive restoration, so save the Netflix for home, AFTER you have achieved your practice goals for the day!
How to Use ART to Improve Your Productivity in the Practice Room
The best way to achieve the full benefits of ART is to create a designated restorative place for yourself.
If you can’t physically go somewhere “away” to rejuvenate, print out some color photos of places you would love to visit, have visited, or places you associate with peacefulness and calm. Keep these in your music folder/binder/storage-system-of-choice, and take occasional breaks to look at them and envision yourself there. When you take a practice break, instead of checking your Facebook feed for the 8,054th time that day, spend a few moments contemplating these images and picture yourself there.
If you really want to up your rejuvenation game, pull up a YouTube video of soothing nature scenes and let your mind drift to your location of choice. Five minutes later, you will feel refreshed and ready to tackle your next practice goal!
Here is one of my favorite 15-minute nature sound meditations on YouTube. I love the sound of flowing water, so I tend to choose aquatic meditations for quick rejuvenation breaks in my own practice. Feel free to explore and find something on YouTube that evokes a sense of peace and calm within you!
If you already have a place you like to visit during practice breaks, use this handy guide to determine if it is truly restorative or if you can make some changes to reap the full benefits of a designated restorative place.
Do you already have a restorative place? If not, what would your restorative place look like?
Collado, Staats, and Sorrel. “A Relational Model of Perceived Restorativeness: Intertwined Effects of Obligations, Familiarity, Security and Parental Supervision.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 48 (2016): 24–32.
Forsyth, Donelson R. Group Dynamics. 7thth ed. United States: Cengage Learning, Inc., 2014.
Kaplan, Stephen. “The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward an Integrative Framework.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 15, no. 3 (1995): 169–82.
Kaplan, Stephen, and Marc G Berman. “Directed Attention as a Common Resource for Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 5, no. 1 (2010): 43–57.
Von Lindern, Eike. “Perceived Interdependencies between Settings as Constraints for Self-reported Restoration.” Journal of Environmental Psychology 49 (2017): 8–17.