The Daily Walk

>> January 21, 2020

>> Blog Post #14

I had been taking walks every other day for a few months now.

The primary reason for that was that I felt – I knew – I spend too much time sitting down. I sit down in my couch or at the kitchen table to work. I drive everywhere I go, and I will sit to eat, read and watch TV. Pretty much the only time I don’t sit is when I lay down.

Actually, I should write all of this in past tense, as I changed my habits quite a bit, as I started enjoying walking very quickly. Now I can say that I pretty much walk 5 to 6 times a week. What I call walking is going for a fairly fast-paced 40 to 80 minutes’ walk. That’s what I do. I walk across the countryside or in the forest since I live very close to both.

This to me is not exercise, it is just being active and not completely sedentary. I understand and am quite happy that it carries the benefit of being good for your heart and all sorts of other health benefits that come with some form of physical activity, but it is not my primary goal. My goal is to take time for myself. And here are some of the benefits that I noticed when doing that.

No matter what time of the day it is when I walk, doing it pulls me out of the rest of my day for a moment. The activity is so different from anything else that I do, that it acts like a break. A break in thought, a break in pace.

I was surprised during my first walks at how much I noticed the weather. It was a funny feeling, like I was actually realizing that you had a better sense of what the weather was when I was spending an hour walking outside than when I was walking from my front door to my car and back. Sounds like I’m being Mr. Obvious here, but there is a thing about noticing the wind on your face, humidity, the dryness of air, etc. It reminds you that you have senses, and that you are rarely relying on them.

The other great benefit in taking this time for myself is what happens in the head.

During my walks, I do one of three things. Either I just walk in silence, or I listen to music, or I listen to a book or a podcast. I’ll walk with an ultralight voice recorder and once in a while I’ll record thoughts going through my mind or things that I thought were interesting in what I heard.

Those are enjoyable moments, where I relax, and time slows down for me. I have a regular pace from one outing to another. It is a comfortable pace for me to wander around both physically and cerebrally.

As I was listening to Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow by Daniel Kahneman which I’ve talked about a few times recently, I learned that he too walks regularly. Just like me, he has a certain pace when he walks and usually covers a certain distance. It just happens that I was listening to his book while one of my recent walks and had to stop for a moment to do some math. It’s fairly ironic, because he talks about that in his book. When you walk at a normal pace, your system 1 is active and monitors your environment. Unless you are doing something else at the same time, that would require some kind of effort or concentration, your system 2 just sits back and relaxes since no specific control is necessary. If you read Kahneman, you’ll learn that system 2 – the controller – is lazy, so he’s more than happy to sit back. Anyways, I was walking listening to the author talk about his pace and what he was describing sounded so familiar that I had to do some math to see if his pace, described in miles per hour, were similar to my pace that I know in minutes per kilometer. Math being a big strain on my brain, I couldn’t compute and walk at the same time if I wanted to make sure I got the math right.

Believe it or not, our paces were fairly similar, mine being slightly faster but I might be younger than him too. I walk at about 10 min per kilometer. Professor Kahneman explains in his book that his pace, and therefore mine, are perfect for letting system 2 be inactive. Personally, it is something that procures me an incredible amount of well-being as my system 2 is probably taxed too much otherwise. And that is an incredible benefit I get while walking. I am giving my system 2 some time off.

Everybody is aware of the benefits of sleeping well and long enough every night. I wish people would talk about giving a break to your system 2 in the same vein.

What I noticed and that will happen several times a week during my walks, is that a lot of times, it helps me organize my thoughts. It is not something I do purposely. I am not thinking while I walk about things such as my calendar or a list of tasks I need to do, nor am I trying to solve difficult situations. And yet, answers will come to me spontaneously. Something in the back of my head is working, effortlessly and helping me out. This same something that doesn’t always work when I try to push it for the same results. It feels almost magical, but it is only the result of taking time to remove yourself from the grind and treating yourself to an effortless pace. Apart from the odd day off, I now do this every day.