Many people try to develop new habits, rediscover old habits, or focus on growing as individuals during the New Year. Whether you call it a resolution, an intention, a goal, or nothing at all, we believe that you can find a way to incorporate the outdoors into these life endeavors. Upon first thought, you may find this unfeasible. Your journey may seem unrelated to the outdoors. Or, maybe it centers around becoming more organized and/or less busy, and adding something like outdoor time to your already hectic schedule seems counterproductive. However, it is my hope that the suggestions in this post will make achieving your ideal outcome easier. 

I won’t go into the scientific details of why outdoor time, especially time in nature, is so important for humans. Suffice to say that time in nature, or “green spaces,” has many proven benefits, including mental benefits. Some of the key mental benefits of time in nature include decreased anxiety, stress, and depression, as well as increased happiness and energy (read more here). Now you may be thinking, “that’s great, but it still doesn’t relate to my New Year’s goals.” Think of it like this:

  • If you are trying to add a new habit to your life, you may be more likely to do it if you associate that activity with something that increases your mental wellbeing, like time in green spaces.
  • If you are trying to break a habit, replacing it with something that supports your mental health and makes you happier, like time in green spaces, may help decrease your dependence on the habit you are trying to break.
  • Most New Years journeys contain some element of difficulty. After all, you wouldn’t set aside an entire year to focus on your journey if it didn’t require some form of long-term commitment. We are all busy, and the last thing you want is to get burned out and stop your journey because it is too taxing when combined with everything else in your life. Spending time in green spaces could keep you motivated by generally increasing your mental health and resilience. Plus, you can often make very small life modifications that turn time in green spaces into a multitasking activity like walking your dog, going to the grocery store, hanging out with a friend, reading a book, listening to an audiobook, writing in your daily planner, etc.

Hopefully, these insights have sparked some inspiration on incorporating nature into your upcoming year. However, it is not always that easy, so we have outlined some ideas below if you are still searching for inspiration.

Want to read more? Try…

  • Reading library books in a park or local green space
  • Listening to audiobooks while walking your dog, walking to the store, or sitting in a green space (many libraries now have apps for your phone that allow you to borrow audiobooks for free and download them directly to your device)
  • Join the Shelter in a Sense of Place reading group, which focuses on reading nature writing

Want to get outside more? Try…

  • Completing the 815 Outside Choose Your Own Winter Adventure Challenge
  • A free 815 Outside hike
  • One of the many different nature-themed events at Severson Dells Nature Center
  • An environmental stewardship day at Severson Dells or the Natural Land Institute
  • Scheduling regular walks with friends
  • Mapping walking/biking routes to some of your favorite local stores or entertainment
  • Bringing your morning coffee or tea on a walk around your neighborhood
  • Taking your meetings outside
  • Taking a 5 minute walk during breaks
  • Making outdoor time a family activity
  • Taking a photo outdoors each day-check out the 365 Day Photo Challenge for inspiration

Want to save money? Try…

  • Limiting your gas usage by walking/biking to stores or work (if possible)
  • Having your entertainment be outdoor based: taking photos outside, reading outdoors, playing with the dog/family outside, going on walks, attending local free outdoor events (try looking at Severson Dells, Go Rockford, and the Rockford Park District), visiting free outdoor parks and preserves

Want to make your body healthier? Try…

  • Completing the 815 Outside Choose Your Own Winter Adventure Challenge
  • A free 815 Outside hike
  • An environmental stewardship day at Severson Dells or the Natural Land Institute
  • Scheduling regular walks with friends
  • Mapping walking/biking routes to some of your favorite local stores or entertainment
  • Bringing your morning coffee or tea on a walk around your neighborhood
  • Taking a 5 minute walk during breaks
  • Making the outdoors into your “gym
  • Doing yoga in a park
  • Walking through a local farmer’s market and getting local produce
  • Starting a backyard or patio vegetable garden

Want to spend more time with loved ones? Try…

  • Scheduling regular walks with friends
  • Playing outside with your kids or dog
  • Attending local outdoor events with loved ones. Try looking at Severson Dells, Go Rockford, and the Rockford Park District for ideas
  • Walking/biking to a friend or loved one’s house
  • Having an outdoor exercise buddy that you meet up with at a local park
  • Starting a book club with your friends and family that meets at a local park
  • Walking your kid/s home from school (if possible)

Want to embrace the moment or live in the present? Try…

  • Experimenting with outdoor meditation
  • Making a phenology journal to observe the seasons
  • Making a sound map to notice what you hear
  • Taking a photography walk and take pictures of things you would normally not notice
  • Sitting outside and watch the sunrise/sunset from a park or preserve
  • Journaling outside- try your hand at a sit-spot
  • Drawing or painting nature
  • Making art out of things you find in nature

Hopefully, these ideas will continue to spark inspiration for you as you continue along your New Year’s journey. We wish you the best of luck on your adventures, and be sure to use the hashtag #815outside if you post your wanderings on social media so we can see where the journey has taken you.

Wishing you a happy, healthy 2022!

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