By Ross Fretten, Experience Director at OgilvyOne UK
You’re in the shower at 8am you’re on the train by 8.30am — you arrive at work 9am sharp and pour yourself a coffee between 9.05 and 9.10 (depending on the queue). You’re at your desk by 9.15 checking your emails by 9.20 and by 9.30 you’re ready to start your work for the day. You keep your head down until 11, you have some form of meeting and by 11.30 you’re head is down again until 1pm lunch. The routine starts again (from the coffee) at 2 and you leave at 5, hopefully on time, ready to get home to the partner, kids and TV until you fall asleep and awake, once again, at the start of this paragraph.
There’s a cadence to your day that makes it feel productive. Routine is, after all, a way of ensuring efficiency and energy conservation is intrinsic to being human (that’s why you’ll always walk through the open door rather than the closed door next to it). But it’s also natural and critical to experience dead-time, time dedicated to no purpose or task so that the mind can wander unrestricted through new and unforeseen terrain. Instead we get locked into this routine, and bombard our minds with social media, Netflix or whatever topic Twitter tells us sits safely within The Overton Window (the window of acceptable conversation at that time according to society) this month and this is why I’m happier, more creative and producing my best work ever now that I have my dog Sailor and he comes to work with me.
The Science of Calm
Whilst many would argue that by walking my dog I’m disrupting my flow and wasting paid-for time, it’s actually when I’m at my most productive -creatively. During this time with Sailor, my mind calms and approaches boredom. It’s during this near-boredom that my mind seeks dopamine and kicks me into a cognitively excitable state as it tries to shift me away from complacency into problem-solving mode. People have been shown to make more remote connections between things during this excitable state, which basically means they are “more creative” or “think outside of the box” more and are less likely to come up with with the standard answer to a problem.
This mode acts as a regulator to ensure we’re continually innovating as humans, problem-solving to increase our survivability as stagnation would have previously meant death. In this instance this mode helps me solve problems and innovate for my clients, even if the stakes aren’t as high as a death. In parallel, this dopamine helps facilitate confidence in thought — i.e. I’m more willing to think about new concepts and pursue trains of thought I might not be comfortable or familiar with. It’s called positive affectivity and is something experience designers like myself use to create more intuitive, rewarding and positive experiences for consumers.
It’s a similar affect to what we experience in the shower. When we achieve this calm state we relax our prefrontal cortex, which is basically the brains central processing unit for decision making, goal setting and behaviour. Our minds switch into a special mode called the “default mode network” or DMN which is when your brain goes into a kind of wakeful rest or daydream state — it diffuses knowledge, memories and context by contemplating the self, the past the future and rationalising your emotions and ongoing narratives in your lives. This type of thinking is the antithesis of task-orientated and the DMN has sometimes been referred to as the “task-negative state” for this reason. It’s been shown during this state more alpha waves (the oscillation frequency of electrical energy in the mind associated with relaxation and increased creativity) will pass through our brains too — comparable to meditation. The result is a mind that’s far more ready and able to explore and forge new pathways and thinking that we might otherwise dismiss.
It’s the same principal with dogs in or out of the office, with the key difference being I can hardly integrate showers throughout my work day. Also dogs have been shown to have plenty of other benefits both to health and productivity. When I take Sailor to the park, for example, our interaction is producing oxytocin (the love chemical) in us both and my increased heart rate due to the exercise and play produces serotonin (the happiness chemical). Other studies have shown being around nature reduces stress, improves mood and improves cognitive abilities too so it’s scientific fact to say by walking my dog in the park I come back to the studio far more productive than when I left.
It’s not just the dog owner but their colleagues and the business that benefits too — dogs in the work place have been shown to:
- help employees relax
- reduce heart rate
- lower blood pressure
- reduce absenteeism
- help employees deal with stress
- reduce anxiety related illnesses
- help employees collaborate more effectively by acting as social catalysts
- be a cost-effective benefit for staff acquisition and retention
And beyond these quantitive measures, myself and my colleagues feel having Sailor in the office makes it all feel a lot less corporate and a lot more human (ironically). People constantly tell me how much better they feel for petting Sailor if they’ve had a stressful meeting and just walking him around the office elicits smiles from everybody we pass.
So if you have a dog, I suggest you talk to your HR department about bringing them into work. It doesn’t only work if you work in a creative job, a lot of the benefits above work irrespective of how creative you feel your job is. I bet you already feel happier just for seeing the pictures of Sailor throughout this article (here’s his Instagram btw). If you don’t have a dog then I suggest you at least make an effort to go for a walk and take in the grass and the trees at least once a day outside of your lunch break — screens off and with no purpose or task behind it. If you think you already do this, chances are you’re wrong. Surveys show only 17% of people actually walk with no goal in mind in or out of work (and that includes dog walking!). You’ll be happier and live longer for it.
You can read more from Ross at Medium here.