The Morning Walk Project

Powering Down

As I woke this morning an odd thing happened. I turned off my alarm, which happens to be my iPhone, then immediately checked my email. I never do this. I usually turn off my alarm, stumble downstairs, and head out the door, only looking at my phone to turn off my alarm. I then go for my walk, come back and make breakfast, then power up the computer for 40 minutes or so before heading out the door to work.

Little technology interaction in the first 30 minutes of my day is how I like starting the day.

Today though things were different. Checking my email, my mind freaked out. I got an email that wasn’t all that surprising, but pushed my mind into work mode. I spent my 30 minute morning walk thinking about work, how I was going to respond to the email and what I needed to do over the next week or so to move the project along. My heart rate rose, my body stressed and my mind strained. It was not the way I want to start my day.

Over the last few minutes of my walk, I realized I was in work mode already. I focused in on how I was feeling and the stress I was handling. I thought about how I usually don’t start my day like this and how I ease myself into the day by letting my mind wander. I enjoy starting my day in a more relaxed manner. I don’t enjoy staring it by staring at a screen.

The amount of time I spend in front of the computer during the day is pretty ridiculous.

After much thought, I’ve decided in the month of September, I am going to start my mornings with no technology. Instead of coming home from my walk and opening up my computer, I am going to read magazine articles, read a book and write in my notebook. I want to see how it makes me feel. Maybe nothing will change. Maybe I’ll stress about how I am getting a later start to my work day. Maybe I’ll love it. We’ll see.

I am going to use the time between my walk and the start of my workday at the office as a non-tech bridge. I can’t wait to see how this plays out.

(photo via State Library of Victoria Collection)

Refresh

The stillness of the cool morning air surprised me this morning as I headed out on my morning walk. The quiet solitude of the morning shook me from my hazy-minded state, propelling me to critiquing how I was feeling and how things have been going in every aspect of my life as of late.

While I often use my morning walks as a time of reflection, today was a different sort of reflection. It was more of a refresh. When reflecting, I often think about a past event or series of events, giving them the time necessary to process through my mind, usually coming to some sort of conclusion, then letting them go. This morning’s refresh took a different path.

When I have a morning I would classify as a refresh, it’s still processing a series of events or actions, but instead of processing them, concluding something and moving on from them, instead I process and conclude then immediately reapply those conclusions to how I am going to shape my day.

I’ve been working through ways to frame my day and actions as of late, which I am sure I’ll write about after one of my walks here soon, but today’s refresh is taking the thoughts of the morning and shaping the day around those thoughts. It’s a process I should work through more often, as it always breathes some fresh air into my routine, but for today I am refreshed and ready to move forward.

Thinking Simple, Acting Simple

The act of simplicity is something many of us crave. Pushing away the noise in our everyday lives, seeking something that’s more natural and less complex. This morning, as I rounded a corner and walked past a rose garden, a cyclist flew by me.

I thought about the cyclist for a moment and where he might be going at 5:30 am, but then I thought about his bike and that this gentleman chooses to ride to work (where I figured he was headed) every day on a bike, rather than drive a car. It’s an act of simplicity. The motion of a bicycle is simple. How one rides a bike (once learned) is simple. There is little noise that comes from a bike, riding it slows you down and you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Riding a bike is an act of simplicity.

Like the vast majority of things you might decide to do in your life, you first think about it, then take action on it. Simplicity is the same way. To reduce the noise in your life, to break down how you live to a point of finding balance, you first must think through where you are at and what you want, then taking action to creating such simplicity.

My morning walk is an act of simplicity. Each morning I think about the benefits of walking and the enjoyment that I find from it. I think about how basic it is, how it doesn’t cost money and how both my mind and body benefit from it. I think about minimizing my stress, minimizing the noise I create, then I set about on my walk, creating simplicity for myself.

Positive Thoughts

Stay Positive

“A man is but the products of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.” – Mahatma Gandhi

It’s so easy to wake up in the morning, head out the door for my morning walk and just get in the habit of talking negatively about whatever comes to mind. A little sleepy and a little hungry, dusting the cobwebs off the mind, leaves one susceptible to negative thoughts.

It’s something I’ve been working on being aware of as of late. When negative thoughts start clouding the mind so early in the day, it sets a bad tone for the rest of the day. Thoughts build on each other, whether positive or negative, so why would one want a bunch of negative thoughts piling on one another?

When a negative thought comes to mind during my morning walk, I generally try to either switch the subject or just think a quick positive thought. This, more times than not, does the trick. Every few days though, one thought sticks in my head and I find myself focusing on that negative thought for a block or two. When this happens and I can’t switch it up, I decide to challenge it, asking myself why I am having that negative thought.

When I question myself, really pushing myself for the answer, I get to the root cause and can go about changing my state of mind. It allows me to think clearly, jump back into a positive state of mind and ultimately helps me have a positive outlook towards what I was once negative about.

(photo via return the sun)

Sleep

The first few minutes of every morning walk, I stumble up my walk route, probably looking hungover or still sleeping. I am sure it’s an amusing sight. It takes me those few minutes to wake up, get my mind thinking and my body moving. It’s a challenge, but once I get a block or two into my walk, I am wide awake.

While my morning walks are the perfect way to start my day, every so often I think about the fact that almost everyone else I know are still sleeping. I am a morning person, so getting up at 5:30 and heading out the door isn’t all that difficult, however, at least once a week I wish I was still sleeping.

This morning, as I rounded the corner by the quaint coffee shop that lives along my morning walk route, I thought about how much sleep I get over the course of the week. I generally get around 45 hours of sleep a week. I figure the average adult in Portland, which is definitely a city that embraces sleep, gets around 55 hours of sleep a week. 10 less hours of sleep a week is significant. That’s nearly 20% less sleep. Thinking about how little sleep I get was surprising, as I generally think of my sleeping habits on a day-to-day basis, not as a weekly whole.

While I won’t give up my morning walk to sleep for an extra 30-60 minutes, what I can do is be more aware of the sleep I am getting and be more stringent in what I time I go to bed, especially during the work week. An extra five hours of sleep could have a big influence on my daily energy, especially later on in the week, as my body wears down and loses the restfulness it gets from the weekend.

(photo courtesy of wwarby)

Sight

Waking up and heading out for my morning walk while it’s still dark, whether the sun has yet to rise or it’s hidden behind clouds, can be a unique experience. While I wear glasses during the day, I generally don’t wear them when I walk, instead allowing all of my senses to fully wake up, giving my mind the opportunity to craft what it’s seeing.

This sounds strange, but not wearing glasses forces me to slow down and focus more on my surroundings, thus making me feel more connected with my community and with nature.

(photo via Joshua Ganderson)

Creating Routine

I recently made the move to Portland, Oregon, packing up everything and moving across the country. This is easily the most trying time of my life, with stressful thing on top of stressful thing each and every day. Two weeks ago, I found myself complaining that I had lost focus, creativity and overall happiness, much of which I attributed to my lack of daily structure. For the past year in Chicago I had set up a series of simple morning events, anchored by my morning walk, which helped me organize my day and work into a flow. Since moving to Portland, that routine simply didn’t exist.

Knowing the need for structure, and feeling the itch to start walking again, reintroducing the 25-30 minute walk into my morning routine to me made great sense. Since I started my morning walks in my new neighborhood last week, I’ve experienced the following:

– My stress level (heart rate, irritability) has gone down. My heart is feeling lighter and I am happier.

– My mind is clearing up. My mind felt cloudy for quite some time (before I left Chicago), leaving me frustrated. It’s like the clouds lifted.

– My body has more energy. I don’t feel as wiped out at the end of each day like I was for the first month of living in Portland.

Getting up at 5 am and going for a walk has helped energize me again. I am thinking clearer, less stressed and feeling a surge of energy early on in the day, all of which have helped me regain the creative edge I was desperately searching for.

Direction

I noticed something was off this morning, as I walked past the half way point of my first loop. Looking to the sky, I realized that planes were flying over every few minutes, quickly descending towards Chicago O’Hare Airport. Walking this route at 5 a.m. for over a year now, this was the first time I’d seen planes flying overhead, with my walk route being in their flight pattern.

Over the next few minutes, I thought about why these planes changed direction. I came to the conclusion that the rain that had swept through the area over the night somehow pushed this batch of planes to come into Chicago at a different angle, thus pushing their flight pattern over my walk route. While the rain and weather pushed them off their normal route, they still made it into Chicago safely, soundly and most likely only a few minutes late.

While I can sit back and complain about poor experiences I’ve had flying, I’d rather not, focusing on the amazing fact that it’s possible to fly from Seattle to Chicago for example, get to the end point in under four hours, changing direction mid-flight in order to create the smoothest path possible, all while keeping an enormous piece of metal floating in the sky. It truly is amazing.

Changing your own direction can be like a plane changing its pattern. It might take a little extra effort, it might make you a few minutes late, but the scenery is new and the journey and final landing can still be amazing.

(photo via MarinaAvila)

Armor

For over two weeks now, I’ve seen a large piece of tree bark in the road. It’s directly in the path of cars, not just off to the side. I’ve seen the bark get run over a few times, I’ve seen it get walked on and it’s dealt with some hard rain. The thing about the bark is that it has barely broken apart. It’s stayed strong, even after falling off the tree it was hugging. The strength the bark has shown gives me a new understanding for it.

A bark’s main purpose is to protect its tree. It keeps harsh elements away from the tree’s core, keeps pests from burrowing in and acts as armor from anything else that might cause harm. It shows strength, it has layers, it’s complex. The strength and beauty of bark is powerful if you really go up and touch a tree. Feeling the curves of the bark, feeling how it’s connected, adds appreciation to understanding it’s value and necessity to that specific tree.

Bark represents so much.

What’s your bark?

(image via John Tann)

Refresh

Last night, the rain poured down and the lightning struck for quite a while. The wind howled and the thunderstorm rolled in and out of town for most of the night. Waking up this morning, stepping out the door for my walk, I was struck by how refreshed everything seemed. The trees, grass and flowers seemed thankful for the water, the air cleaner and the puddles on the ground so beautiful, with buds and petals floating in them. Even the birds chirped livelier than usual. I love spring.

Not only did my walk route seem refreshed, but as it’s Monday and all, I felt refreshed, too. Despite not sleeping well, I woke up this morning knowing that a new week lies ahead. My mind takes a fresh approach on Monday mornings. On my walk, I do think about the week ahead, what my hopes are, what my tasks are and how I hope to be next weekend. It’s a time of reflection on the past week and then excitement moving forward.

A refreshed walk route and a refreshed mind is the perfect way to start a week. Clean, strong and ready to grow.

(image via kicksave2930)