The Joy of Morning Walks

Walking is such a natural act, but many people don’t do much of it. This isn’t (necessarily) because we’re lazy. Some places aren’t well situated for frequent walking. If that’s true for you it’s still worth creating the time to walk. Walking without music, podcasts, or headphones provides a perfect environment for inspiration.

This morning it was 37ºF (3ºC) when I started walking. It took a few minutes for my joints to warm up, then everything else did too. Listening to the birds, watching the squirrels, and saying hello to fellow walkers took up a bit of the walk, but most of the time was calm and quiet.

I planned for a department meetup. Marketing ideas bubbled and stewed. Concepts from a book resurfaced with ways to apply them.

As the sun came out it warmed everything up nicely. I watched a dog play in a creek, saw a squirrel make an impossible jump, and even ran across some deer.

By the time I received my first notification on my phone the day was planned and it was time to turn around and head for work.

So much of our life is spent rushing. Make time for a walk. When you have uninterrupted time to think amazing things happen.

Reflections on 400 Days of Journaling

In late December 2018 I decided it was time to start keeping a journal. 400 days later I’m a bit surprised at how quickly the time has gone by. This habit has become an important part of who I am and has some interesting side effects. Here are a few thoughts on journaling and how it can help us in the work we do each day.

A Place for “Hot Letters”

The internet has largely made cowards out of us. It’s all too common to see whiny posts about unnamed people and businesses that hint at identity but never come out and say it. I say let them have it! Write it all down in your journal, in great detail, with all the scathing things you want to say. Don’t beat around the bush. Getting all the anger and resentment out is cathartic.

Abraham Lincoln called this practice Hot Letters, and it’s something people used to do. I love it. This has become one of my favorite things about a journal. I can rant and rave, and there’s never any real danger my frothing drivel will see the light of day. The act of writing the hot letter is nearly always enough to calm me down. So far I’ve never felt the need to say anything in a hot letter in public. Just writing it down gives the kick of saying it without the real life consequences.

A Place to Work Out Problems

I’m a strong believer in the bed-bath-bus 3 Bs of creativity. Sometimes the best thing to do is let your mind stew a bit and ideas bubble to the top when you least expect it. Writing about a problem often helps me come up with an answer I hadn’t considered.

I don’t spend any time writing about solutions, I spend time writing about the problem and that process brings new ideas to mind. Something as simple as using different words to explain the problem helps to reframe and refocus it.

A Place to Spot Patterns

I was about eight months into journaling before I started to recognize patterns in my behavior. (I know, I can be a bit slow.) These weren’t dramatic patterns. I started to see subtle patterns around my emotional state at certain times of the month, or times when I had a hard day. By looking at what happened a few days before I started to identify the triggers. Once you understand the trigger you can work out a plan for a better outcome.

Setting the Habit

There are lots of other things I enjoy about journaling, but these are the three ways it helps me the most. It took a while before I started seeing these benefits. Don’t expect to see an immediate difference; the real power is in consistent writing.

When I started my goal was simply to write something each day. I used an app called Day One and most of my journaling happened on my phone. I used a habit tracking app to remind me to write. Many days I only wrote one sentence. Sometimes I just snapped a picture. There are a lot of entries about the weather. In the early months my focus was simply doing it each day.

As journaling became more ingrained I started branching out. Many days I write in a notebook instead of an app. Some days have lots of pictures. Once in a while it’s a hot letter. There’s still plenty of noodling around, playing with ideas and describing problems. I’m not writing for anyone else.

The journal has become a place for unloading and releasing, for downloading ideas into an external brain. As you come back and read previous entries you’ll start to see the higher level benefits.

Process Accelerates Creativity

Recently I was part of an off-site planning meeting. My company flew people from different parts of the country to Portland for three days. Part of the success of these types of meetings is of course the human aspect—when you get together in person you form closer bonds—but our great success this time came in the creative leaps we made. We owe this success to the process put in place before the meetings.

Two members of our group did a great job of getting everyone’s input and ideas written down. They produced a schedule that we used to guide the meetings. During the three days they adapted the schedule based on where the process took us. Most of the time the meetings were very free-form and spontaneous, or at least that’s how they felt to me. Once in a while we would be nudged back into the structure of the schedule. It worked amazingly well.

In our case, process enhanced and accelerated our results. The structure made creativity possible. Don’t ignore the importance of setting up effective processes.

You Are a Mashup of What You Choose

One of my favorite writers, Austin Kleon, wrote in his book Steal Like an Artist of how we are all mashups. From our genetics to our creative influences, we are the sum of many parts.

You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. The German writer Goethe said ‘We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.’

We are also shaped by our habits. I worry that in my life I too often choose to dive into a screen rather than spending time thinking or reading. Activities that used to be confined to our computers, such as social media, now live in our pockets and are available all the time.

Making hard decisions about what we allow on our devices can make a huge difference in our quality of life.

I don’t need a world of on-demand video on my phone. If it’s there I will spend time watching it.

I don’t need Twitter (or Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or Pinterest) on my phone. I’ll never be bored enough to get the benefits of boredom if I’m never more than a moment away from more content.

I don’t need notifications for most apps. Notifications pull my attention away from doing work (or anything else!) deeply and with quality. Context switching is brutal and I want to avoid it whenever possible.

Most of the convenience our devices give us is garbage. It’s input we should avoid. I need to curate the influences in my life because those influences shape who I am.