You Are Stronger Than Your Pain

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition”

Adversity is a reasonably simple concept. It’s an event, situation or thing that challenges you and makes life more difficult. It can vary in length, intensity or unpleasantness.

For some, it’s losing a parent. For others, it’s struggling with maths. Whatever it is, let’s start off by refusing to compare our situations to other people’s. It’s a pointless exercise. 

I want to show you that you are stronger than your pain. You are greater than it. For two main reasons.

  1. You are more than your pain.
  2. You can become better because of your pain.

My goal is to show you that this needn’t be a silly platitude. It is not about reading a quote about overcoming adversity, feel invigorated for a fleeting moment, then continue to feel defeated by the misfortune life has offered.

I want you to believe this because it’s true.

I

First, let’s admit that painful challenges life throws at us can really really suck. Ignoring that fact would be stupid. Yes, some things “aren’t that bad” when you put them into the perspective of other people or place them into the grandness of the universe. However, this misses an important point.

Some events are challenges and important ones because you’re experiencing them. Adversity might be the villain in your personal story. Does the existence of millions of other stories invalidate your own? Of course not. Continually dismissing problems as insignificant just prevents us from approaching them head on.

Adversity can not only feel like they’ve consumed you completely but actually consume you. They can be the only things on your mind for hours, days and weeks on end. Anyone who has faced a significant challenge knows exactly what this is like. Everything you do in your life comes back to this pain.

The pain just seems to last forever.

However, the first step to understanding why you are stronger than your pain is to understand that you are more than your pain.

What does this mean?

Pain is not the only part of our lives. Our pain plays a marvelous trick on all of us – it convinces us that the good in our day does not matter. Or worse yet, that good doesn’t exist at all.

This forces us to create unhelpful thinking habits which skew our ideas of reality negatively and create a vicious cycle of catastrophic thinking. An example of this is disqualifying the positive and over-generalising.

Let’s say you struggle with maths. You fail a maths test, try again and fail again. When you have the habit of dishonestly assessing your own efforts, you’ll miss that trying again at something you currently suck at is a positive step. You can be proud of the things you control and your effort is one of those things.

There are also aspects of your life that aren’t related to your problem.

If you wake up and have a good breakfast or see a friend smile, that’s an example of experiencing something other than your pain. The catastrophizer in you will continue to say nothing is good in life and everything sucks without ever pausing to catch the good in the day. Of course, the good things can be so small they’re easy to miss but with practice, it becomes easier.

For me, it’s making my bed once a day. It’s a very small thing but it shows me two things.

First, I’ve experienced something other than just being in pain.

Second, it is me who has demonstrated control over something in my day. Not the pain.

Putting our days into context helps show us that there’s more to our lives than pain. This cannot be misinterpreted as purposefully ignoring pain or believing in good things just because for the sake of it.

Pain, adversity, challenges, difficulty. Many events can be tough or extremely limiting but we must remember:

We are more than our pain.

II

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition”

In the dark depths of adversity, it can almost be insulting to suggest life can improve not only despite the challenge but because of it.

To understand this, it is helpful to return to the idea of adversity. It is something that prevents us from continuing in the path we are currently walking down. Adversity makes life more difficult.

In order to move past this obstacle, we either wait for it to pass or resolve to do something about it.

Choosing to wait is the easiest option but completely removes the autonomy that we have over our own lives. It also guarantees nothing.

Resolving to do something about it is difficult but at least opens the option for having some control over the problem.

Let’s assume we’re going to take some action. We’ll return to the struggling mathematician. You want to get better but understand that you don’t currently have the skills to tackle certain maths problems. Your teacher isn’t helpful because she doesn’t care.

Struggling mathematician then decides to go online and use a large variety of resources to get better at certain problems. In the process, she begins to focus harder and with fewer distractions. She takes the test again and passes.

Did she succeed in spite of her disinterested teacher or because of her?

Both. Her rubbish teacher did nothing to help but her absence also showed the student that she is capable of getting better at maths even if it required a harder route. This route also helped her improve her focus and confidence. As a result, she has become better because of her adversity.

As Ryan Halliday says in The Obstacle is the Way:

Blessings and burdens aren’t mutually exclusive terms.

This is a very simplified example but it is meant to show that with some honest self-assessment, we can find skills that we’ve developed because of adversity. Even if that is slowly building up your mental resilience when something goes wrong.

Adversity offers us a challenge. To get past the challenge, we have to develop certain skills, mindsets or habits to get through. Without the challenge in the first place, we will be perfectly fine walking an easy but less satisfying path.

We can become better because of our pain.

III

How you can help others.

Earlier, I lied. There are three sections not two.

Adversity is also not simple. The statement “you are stronger than your pain” is, to me, true because there are many reasons to believe we are not solely defined by adversity and we can often get through it if we plan our approach, let fear pass and occasionally utilise some Sisu.

There is one thing I haven’t mentioned.

Other people.

“You” don’t have to be alone when it comes to facing pain. A lot of the time, the help of other people is much more beneficial than anything you can expect from trying to force your way through life with brute willpower.

With this in mind, you can also be the helping hand for others too.

One of the mantras I try to inject into my day is to add value to other people’s lives. Sometimes that comes from writing these blog posts. Most of the time, it comes from being absolutely hilarious.

Screenshot (30)

Whatever help you give, it will be valued. Sometimes not explicitly but that’s OK. The aim isn’t to help others in order to be congratulated.

And that brings me to the end.

I want you to sincerely believe that you are stronger than your pain because you are.

You are more than your pain.

You are not solely defined by pain.

You can become better because of your pain.

You are stronger than your pain.

I promise.


 

Are there any challenges you’re currently facing?

As always, thanks for reading.

I have social media! Follow them if you want. It’s pretty great occassionally.

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Disconnect

It’s a friendly silence.

The silence that lets you think. That lets you create. That lets you enjoy peace.

In the journey of trying to design an enjoyable life, I started thinking back to some of the times that I’ve felt most satisfied or happiest.

I noticed, as did Derek Sivers, that they are the times when I’m not consumed by needless distractions. During these times of peace, I am completely engaged with whatever I’m doing. I allow myself the privilege of not dividing my attention all over the place because I want to focus completely on one task.

You can pick out these moments in your days too.

When your friend tells a joke, do you stop laughing to check your phone? Or when you’re writing an essay and you feel everything just fall into place, do you want to go onto twitter or continue working?

Peace is valuable

The peace found from disconnecting from social media, from people, from mindless consumption simply gives us a mental break and allows us to spend more time focusing on single things.

Given that we have a limited amount of time and energy each day, why not spend that time trying our best to become immersed in things that we truly enjoy. An example of what not to become immersed in is social media.

While Twitter and Facebook can be enjoyable, I’ve found in my own experience, talking to friends, and researching why we should spend less time on things like the news, spending too long on them is rarely satisfying. I see as something that stops us from being bored instead of keeping us engaged.

This is not my crusade against social media (you’ll understand why at the end). What is important here is to understand the problem with living with distractions all throughout the day.

The solution is to disconnect.

 

How to disconnect

Thankfully this is quite simple. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy given how tempting distractions are.

  1. Be mindful

Throughout the day, be aware of the times that you’re entering a distraction-rich environment. This can be as simple as sitting down and having all your social media profiles open at the same time to being at work and finding yourself just talking to coworkers and friends throughout the day.

Being aware that you’re simply floating on the surface of something engaging rather than diving in is the first step to removing needless distractions from your day. It’s easy to become consumed by distractions without realising you’re doing so until you’ve already wasted valuable energy and time.

Ask yourself, is what you’re doing actually increasing your well-being? Does it bring you any joy?

  1. Retreat

Sometimes it’s best to completely cut off from social media, other people and whatever takes you away from what you’re enjoying. This doesn’t mean tell all your friends you’re never talking to them again. Well, if you do, that wasn’t inspired by me.

Set times for when you’re going to enter states of complete focus or for when you will not check distraction heavy places like twitter and emails. 

If you want, you can choose to go into complete solace where there is no internet, no other people. There’s just you and your desire to live an engaging day. These “internet-free” retreats have become more popular but you can just design your environment that way by turning off your internet and disabling data on your phone.

 

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  1. Find engaging things to do.

The newfound peace is helpful without anything else added to it. Simply sitting in the park or going for a calm walk has benefits when they’re distraction free. However, it might be difficult to maintain if your free time involves a lot of nothing. That’s why it’s helpful to use this calm to engage your creativity.

Spend time creating. Whether that is through writing, drawing, singing, gaming, whatever. Let go of the useless idea that you’re “not creative”.

You cannot get better at creating without creating. Nor does anyone start their day as the perfect creator. You practice. You suck at first. Then you suck a bit less. Then you start to think “Well, I’m not terrible”. Then you build more confidence and continue.

It’s more difficult to create than it is to consume. Thankfully, creating comes with much more intense benefits than mindless consumption does.

Creating is not the only way to be mindfully engaged with your days. You can watch films, read good books or go for a run. All without distraction. A time when you can enter the flow.

 

The friendly silence…

… is found through disconnecting from distractions and mindless noise that takes you away from being engaged with your own day. It might expose difficulties you purposefully chose to avoid but at least you can now confront the fear and defeat it.

It’s rare to focus but it gives much better rewards.


Thanks to Derek Sivers for the blog post on disconnecting. It reminded me how valuable it can be.

Similar reading:

The Low Information Diet

A very Short Guide to Meditation

Ok, this is probably quite ironic but I have some social media you can follow me on. Please don’t hate me. I just heard it’s a good thing. Still, don’t spend all day on it. Not even mine.

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Quiet Courage

My sister recently started university and seems to be having a good time. She has friends and made a good effort to meet new people.

The person most surprised at this is probably her.

Weeks prior to starting university she came into my room many times, sometimes at night, to say:

“What if I won’t make friends?”

“What if no one likes me?”

And so on.

The thing is, she’s very friendly and when she wants to be, she has a higher than 50% chance at being funny. When she does finally talk to people, the conversations don’t end in one person on fire and the other in tears. They’re fairly normal.

This, she didn’t believe. Even up to the point when we were saying goodbye, she voiced doubts about making friends and having a good time. Before she walked away, my mum started pointing out people she could talk to as if she planted people in the crowd to make the start of university easier.

Goodbyes were said and she walked away. But she didn’t dart to her right and run upstairs into her room. She joined a group of people and started talking.

Quiet courage

This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. All she did was say hello and not fall on the floor. She probably doesn’t think it’s a big deal but that doesn’t take away from what happened.

She had a small fear: she’s not going to make friends. It was at the forefront of her mind up until she said hello.

She stepped over this barrier and continued forward despite of the fear hanging around in the back of her head.

Not all courage needs to be loud.

Courage isn’t limited to those who have faced great adversity such as overcoming cancer, giving a speech in front of thousands of people or charging into battle in the front line. Nor is it limited to firefighters, surgeons or police officers. It’s something all of us exhibit.

It involves facing small fears we may have such as talking to new people, asking for help even if you think pride stops you or remaining persistent with something even though you’re not too good.

Since this courage doesn’t demand great attention from others, it’s easy to go unnoticed. Even to the person who exhibits it. It might be dismissed as something too small to be proud of.

Such dismissal might take the form of: “If Mary did [enter grand event here] why should I be proud of talking to a new person?”

Thankfully, there are many examples of quiet courage that we should take time to appreciate. Here are some examples I’ve seen in a few of my own friends.

  • She used to be overly critical about herself and university grades. Now she practises much more compassion.
  • He joined a group to help with weight-loss.
  • She started sharing her work with friends.
  • She told her business idea to non-friends and admitted it’s something she wants to pursue.

There are more examples of this that can very easily swim around unnoticed and you can probably find examples like this among your own friends. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find it in yourself too.

Why is it important?

It’s remarkably easy to be harsh on ourselves.

If we do something wrong, it’s because of our flawed character. If a friend does the same thing, we don’t subject them to the same criticism. Not just because we don’t want to lose a friend but because that criticism wouldn’t be true.

Noticing and appreciating quiet courage helps remove us from the negative and often exaggerated thoughts we might have of ourselves. Doing so moves us closer to self-compassion and further from self-criticism.

It’s a welcome change noticing a small thing you can be proud of. Even if we aren’t bothered by self-criticism, it’s a good exercise in catching the good in ourselves and other people. If we do find ourselves in tough times, appreciating the good in small things is an unbelievably valuable thing to do.

It’s OK to appreciate our own examples of quiet courage.

You don’t need to scream from the top of our lungs “I spoke to someone new!” every time you make steps to beating social anxiety but you can congratulate yourself. It acts as small encouragement to keep trying. Which is, of course, the best we can do.

But if you do want to scream your encouragements to the world, please do. Just not in my ear.


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The Low Information Diet

I used to read the news every morning and thought this was a good thing. I’m sure that at some point, I thought more people should do it because it’s important to be an ‘informed citizen’. It wasn’t just a thing I did, it was a duty.

I’m sure I got this habit from my dad. He’s woken up by the news with his radio and continues listening to it on his way to work. He’s an extremely informed person and can probably tell you anything about politics on demand.

However, as I’ve grown up, I’ve strayed from my dad in this respect. I no longer read the news every morning and don’t think it’s necessary for anything.

In fact, I want to read the news less.

This is what this post is about. Reading less news and reducing the needless amount of information we consume every day for greater clarity, focus and more happiness.

Most of the links supporting my argument will be at the end (so you don’t have an endless number of tabs open at the end).

What is the Low Information Diet?

Consuming less information.

Mainly the news but it can also include blogs, internet forums and, email and so on.

There are a number of reasons for this and I think they support the aim to consume less information on a daily basis so we can pursue other interests and be more involved in our own lives through active engagement rather than passive participation.

Removing the passive aspect of news consumption means we’ll make a more deliberate effort with the information we consume and become more likely to consume higher quality information.

Why bother?

I want to highlight a few important reasons why we should consume less news and information. I will also address a few problems people might have.

A lot of this is inspired by the essay Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet by Rolf Dobelli. I don’t agree with everything he says but that’s not terribly important.

News is harmful

It is sometimes beyond useless.

The overwhelming majority of news is negative. Studies have shown the average ratio is 17:1 or 95% negative news!

You may come to the conclusion that it’s just the way the world is.

I was part of a lecture given by two BBC News journalists where they taught us how to create compelling headlines and write stories. There was a Q&A session at the end and I asked one of the women what she thought about the lack of positive news in the media.

“Positive news doesn’t really go anywhere.”

You can create stories from a murder investigation but stories about literacy rates increasing or cured diseases tend to stop after one news reel. It may be true that positive stories and tend to lack new developments the same way a negative one would but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Since news stations (even government-funded ones like the BBC) require views, they’re far more likely to include prolonged negative stories rather than standalone positives.

This attitude is compounded at times. Myself included. The attitude of ‘positive news isn’t real news’ pervades our thinking far too often. If we hear about an explosion that’s killed 30 people but see the news reporting about plastic bag use decreasing (which has important consequences for our environment) we might think to ourselves ‘This isn’t news. Why are they wasting my time?’

It’s unfortunate because it hides the good in the world using the excuse of ‘I want truth’ which is really a veil covering needless cynicism.

Assuming the world is bad and wanting the news to confirm that belief that is not truth-seeking. It’s ego-stroking.

Being bombarded with negative news is very good at causing anxiety.

We get facts about some disaster and feel bad about it. It doesn’t affect us directly so we don’t do anything to help apart from say ‘that’s really sad’. Then we feel bad about something we can’t change.

For a lot of people, the news doesn’t inspire the amount of action that’s proportionate to the news we watch every day. So a lot of the time, we’re entertaining feelings of depressed helplessness.

It’s rarely substantial

Most of the news we read or watch isn’t substantial. They’re bound to be very short articles without much investigation. That’s the nature of first-then-fact news. These pieces are bound to just make us feel bad about an event without discussions (not assertions) about why the event happened or what progress is being made on the problem.

There are many brilliant articles and journalistic pieces out there. They take time and effort to both create and digest. The feelings they create whether positive or negative are a result of active engagement rather than a simple fact devoid of proper discussion.

You can test this yourself. Think about the number of articles and news pieces you’ve read today and count the number of things that have made a substantial effect on your day. The number is probably low. Unfortunately, if you haven’t already spent time curating your sources of information, then the ratio of useless to engaging will be skewed in the wrong direction.

Not everything you read or watch needs to be life-changing. That’s a high ask.

The aim here is to focus our attention to sources of information or activities that improve the quality of our lives and the time we spend taking part in the activity. A trip in the 24 hour news cycle is unlikely to do that.

Dobelli’s point here is important. He says it’s difficult to recognize what’s relevant but much easier to recognise what’s new. The news always offers us new things but can’t always be relevant to our own lives on a consistently enough to justify following it every day.

If something is relevant, the chances are we’ll hear about it from someone else who follows the news or from more specialised sources.

If we miss out, the world will keep on spinning and your day will keep on moving forward.

No, you won’t be boring

A fear I’ve heard expressed is that we’ll become boring if we don’t stay up to date with the news because we’ll have nothing to talk about.

It’s true that some small talk focuses on current events but I don’t think this is particularly important. There are two reasons for this:

  • News isn’t much to bond over.

It’s much more useful to take interest in the person you’re talking to rather than a news event that has a high chance of just creating pity.

  • Consuming higher quality information leads to higher quality conversation.

This does not mean academic information. If we focus on things we find really engaging (that can be reading a comic, book or watching a film etc.), we’ll be happier talking about them to other people and others will be happier to learn about them.

I’m confident that the best conversations you’ve had did not revolve around the most recent news event at the time.

If current events do come up, it means you’ll learn something new.

Don’t worry if it’s daunting to always say ‘I didn’t hear about that’ (not that there’s anything wrong with it). This information diet does not necessarily require no news at all but a deliberate reduction.

Too much information ruins our attention  

While I think the other points are important, I find this is particularly potent because it expands beyond the problems of the news.

There’s only so much time and energy we have every day to focus our attention on certain things. Bombarding ourselves with more information day every forces us to make many decisions about small things.

Nicholas Carr wrote an article expanding on this problem. A study was completed in 2007 analysing what happens to brain activity when novices to the internet begin browsing the internet for prolonged times. Their brain activity increased significantly but that didn’t automatically mean better brain activity. They were more likely to skim articles, and become more shallow thinkers.

This doesn’t mean skimming is bad. It’s a vital skill but clearly cannot become the only way we consume information. If not for the fact that slower and deeper reading leads to better comprehension, keep in mind that being engaged with activities is a key ingredient to being happy.

What can you do instead?

One complaint about the low information diet is that you might not have anything else to do. Another is that being fully engaged with activities is often tiring. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read a good book/article
  • Talk to people
  • Write a journal about your day
  • Look around and take in your surroundings (I’m serious)
  • Listen to music
  • Watch a movie or enjoyable videos (stand-up comedy is an example)

There are many things you can do which don’t require a lot of mental energy which are still enjoyable and remove us from anxiety-inducing news.

The Low Information Challenge

You might not be convinced by this.

I wasn’t at first and feared that I would lose my privilege as an informed citizen. None of that happened. I’ve strayed from this and wish to go back. Here’s a challenge that we can do:

  • No news for one day. Then a week. If you can keep on going, even better.

It will require a deliberate effort since checking the news tends to be an ingrained habit nowadays. That’s why we’re starting off small rather than diving into never reading the news again.

If that sounds too difficult or simply absurd try the softer version.

  • Restrict news consumption to 10 minutes at the end of the day

Rather than welcoming endless streams of information, we limit it on purpose.

I recommend trying going cold turkey first though. There are benefits to just not reading the news at all.

In a month, I’ll report back about how the low information challenge went. I hope you join in too!

‘til next time.


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Further Reading:

Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet by Rolf Dobelli [PDF]

A short objection to Dobelli’s article (highlights some of the disagreements I have with Dobelli)

The Low Information Diet (Mr Money Moustache)

News is 17:1 negative – Studies like this tend to be he-said-she-said where they’re repeated ad nauseam without a source. I found one in Democracy Under Attack: How the Media Distort Policy and Politics by Malcolm Dean p.415 (he actually has it at 18:1)

Why We Love Bad News More Than Good News

Why Bad News Dominates Headlines (very good discussion about our tendency to say we want good news but read bad news)

The Power of Ignoring Mainstream News

Some Great Articles:

The Blind Man Who Taught Himself to See

Lionel Messi is Impossible

How David Hume Helped Me through my Midlife Crisis

This blog I found is full of them…

If you have any recommendations, feel free to mention them below!

Let the Fear Pass

Fear is like a cloud.

It hovers over your head and the tasks you want to complete. But after a while, it passes and the sky becomes clear again.

When I notice myself putting something off and ask why, I tend to feel uncomfortable. Usually because there’s not much reason other than  ‘I don’t want to’. Appealing to laziness is the same thing.

Usually, the bigger the task, the greater the uncomfortable feeling. This, and generally poor energy management, is probably why students tend to leave big essays until they begin to panic about the deadlines.

I experience this feeling a lot. It often leads to potent self-criticism that only serves to make me feel bad.

One thing I’ve found helpful is to meditate on this feeling. It takes less than a minute.

What am I experiencing right now? Am I worried about what’s going to happen if I try?

More often than not, it’s fear. Either the fear of discomfort or fear of failure. Every time I catch myself experiencing these feelings, the less powerful they become.

We don’t have to fear the discomfort of trying something new because it can signal a challenge that fosters some personal growth. It’s important not to diminish this growth even if you think it’s tiny. If your challenge was to pick up dirty clothes from the floor and you surpassed it, that’s a cleaner room you didn’t have yesterday.

Neither should we fear failure to the point where it stops us from moving forward because we can only succeed at something if we try and the joy of succeeding is greater than the pain of failure.  Giving ourselves the excuse not to try is only a disservice to our abilities and passions.

Once permission is given not to be consumed by fear and not influence our actions, it passes. Just like a cloud.

As with many things, observing fear and letting it pass takes practice. I still fall victim to putting things off due to these fears as they will always pop up somewhere. It’s a normal thing and it’d be silly to expect everyone to be fearless all the time.

The goal is to move forward despite its existence.

At first, even noticing you’re afraid of something is difficult then moving past it can be a small battle. But don’t get discouraged if you notice its been victorious. Next time you’ll focus on the feeling again and it’ll become easier.

With time and practise, the fear will weaken and you will be immersed in the present moment.

***

Further Reading: 

  1. Create without expectation
  2. On Productivity and Presence
  3. What’s wrong with now?

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On Productivity and Presence

For the longest time, I was obsessed with being more productive and fell into the productivity trap.

I felt I needed to get more done in less time. My pain denied me the luxury of spending a long time on essays or problem sets, so I made it my goal to learn how to make the most of my time. Which I think is a perfectly fine goal and I still hold it. The problem I want to focus on arises when productivity is reached to the detriment of presence and being mindful.

There’s a slight divide between living with presence and productivity. The former is often lost in the latter.

What’s the point of all this productivity? Why am I so interested in the next thing rather than what I’m doing now?

We shouldn’t be so focused on what will happen next and don’t do what’s in front of us.

Nor should we be so focused on completing a task that we forget to experience it.

When I started read about self-improvement, I came across meditation and adopted the practice. Mindfulness meditation places an importance on being focused on the present moment alone. When thoughts come into our head, we let them pass like clouds moving through the sky.

We remain in the present which helps free us from anxiety about the future and regret from the past.

The difference between presence and productivity can be seen in everyday tasks.

Discarding productivity when reading means we aren’t concerned about when the book ends so we can start the next one. We’re just enjoying the dialogue, the story, and sometimes, the absurdity (I’m looking at you, Catch-22).

When we eat food, we enjoy how it tastes rather than inhaling it to get back to work.

And so on.

This divide definitely isn’t a strict one. I don’t want to mislead people into thinking that being concerned with productivity means we are unconcerned with presence and vice versa. There are a million and three qualifications one can make to this general idea of aiming to be more present than productive. For example, an employer may not care so much about how mindful you are if you’re always missing targets. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Leading a productive day can be much more fulfilling if we go through it mindfully.

It’s easy to ask how to be more productive while forgetting what it means to be productive and then forgetting why you desire productivity. When we get to that point, it’s an apt reminder for us to slow down and become aware of the present moment once more.

The moment we can be the most engaged in.

On Purposeless Walking

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

Henry David Thoreau

In the evening, when the business of the day is over, go for a walk. Walk with mindfulness and without purpose.

I remember I started walking because there was a day when I became angry and irritable. Instead of staying in the same environment that caused the anger, I went for a walk. My initial purpose was to calm down but I began doing it every night and eventually I just ended up walking for the sake of walking.

Nowadays, we don’t really go on purposeless walks any more because walking in general has become a bit of a luxury. In the UK, 25% of journeys include walking but only 17% of people landed in the ‘just to walk’ category. And that category included dog-walkers. So we can imagine that number would drop if fewer people owned dogs. Of course, some people have to or simply enjoy walking more than others but the category of just walking for the sake of it seems to be decreasing.

Most of our entertainment is in our homes, we can take transport to most places or if we do go on a walk, it tends to be in order to get somewhere else. Like school or to the shop.

I say we should go on more pointless walks.

Why?

Going for walks without purpose relieves us of the multiple distractions that plague us throughout the day. With the increasing connectedness we have with other people, walking without purpose grants us permission to spend time alone. It means we can appreciate our surroundings better because that’s all we need to focus on. No longer do we need to remain captivated by the glare of our phones.

Many famous writers like Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf walked without purpose as it helped improve their creativity. They have time for solitude and lack of distraction. They can work through ideas in their head or just find more inspiration in the simplest of things.

The Thoreau quote at the beginning speaks an important truth. If we want to create deep mental paths in our minds, we have to do a lot of thinking. Too often I find myself giving up if I cannot express myself properly or if I’m stuck on a problem. We can’t figure out everything instantly or with minimal effort. A lot of things are difficult and embracing it rather than running from it gives us a much greater chance at overcoming them. Walking gives us a better chance at doing that.

How do I start?

  1. Go outside.
  2. Walk somewhere.

More seriously, there are a few things that help.

  • If you unfortunately have reasons to think you might be unsafe, walk with someone and during the day. If not, walk alone.
  • Don’t use your phone.
  • Be mindful.
  • Find new places but don’t map your walk.
  • Walk without listening to music or audiobooks.

***

Walking is another source of peaceful solitude. I remember many times going for a walk at night and looking forward to seeing the moon in the sky. Some days it would dominate the night like a king seated in his throne. Other days, it would be quieter and hidden behind a few clouds. Walking outside without any purpose allowed me to appreciate that properly. Instead of being preoccupied with other things, I looked up and was mindful of my surroundings.

Free from distractions and consumed with peace.

And that is the purposeless walk.