How Walking Can Help You Build Margin

I have the skill of not remembering. I don’t remember movies or TV shows. Not sure why, but it’s very handy when I watch something more than once. I’m going through West Wing now for the fourth time and the episodes feel fresh. It’s a great skill to have.

But, every now and then a scene gets stuck in my head. Like the one from Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi is teaching Daniel how to do karate. Except he’s not…but, he is. Mr. Miyagi has Daniel wax his cars (wax on…wax off) and then paint a fence. No karate skills in those jobs, but the movements required for both get burned into Daniel’s muscle memory.

That approach to learning (starting with seeming unrelated tasks) struck me as genius and I still look for opportunities to use it…like today.

Rest is a critical part of fitness. More so…it’s necessary for life itself. But, our culture doesn’t value rest the way it should. Sure, we like vacations and taking days off, but rest is more than the occasional break from work. Rest needs to be part of our daily lifestyle…just like fitness.

I’m in the last quarter of this 20k One Year Step Challenge. That’s at least 20,000 steps every day for a year with no breaks. But, that doesn’t mean I’m getting no rest. In fact, getting all these steps is helping me with both fitness and rest.

There are two ways I’m making rest part of my daily lifestyle. One is obvious…sleep. I’m also using my new Fitbit Inspire HR to help me sleep even better. I’ll explain more next week.

The other component of rest is margin. I’m learning how to build white space in my day. Having margin surround my activities has been a life changer. There’s now time between stuff to think, create, and even nap. Margin allows meetings to run long without messing up the rest of my day. Conversations can linger and traffic can slow. Margin lowers stress and reduces anxiety. Margin better allows me time to savor life. But, even more importantly…

Margin gives me rest when I’m awake.

But, margin is not easy. Like karate, it’s a learned skill. This one, though, does not rely on muscle memory, but more on mind memory. Hmmm…is that a thing? It is now.

With apologies to Mr. Miyagi, here are your three “wax on…wax off” projects that may not appear related to building margin into your life, but they are:

Practice Contentment

At it’s core, contentment is an attitude of enough. Most often, it is applied to stuff…the things we own or want to own. How much is enough?

I’m feeling this one pretty acutely right now. We are beginning the process of downsizing our lives. That means I’m going through all the junk we own that I threw in the basement when we were done with it.  Oh my gosh!

To think that I worked actual hours to buy this stuff and even more hours to buy a house big enough to store it all. When you make that connection to everything you own the game starts to change. An attitude of enough becomes real.

Contentment isn’t just limited to possessions. We can also learn to develop an attitude of enough with our activities. Blaise Pascal, a 17th century French mathematician, once said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Can you? Sit quietly in a room alone?

In many ways that is the very essence of contentment. Yet, most of us simply can’t do it. In fact, we do everything possible to prevent that very thing from happening. We don’t want to be alone. And, we certainly don’t want to sit quietly.

To be clear…sitting quietly doesn’t mean scrolling your phone, or watching TV, or even reading. 

A couple weeks ago, I took Ava to the ER. She has a low-functioning gallbladder and it was not happy. We were concerned she was on the brink of something more serious. Thankfully, she wasn’t. But, if you’ve ever been to the ER you know it’s not often a quick process.

We spent three hours in that quiet room waiting for test results and the doctor’s diagnosis. Ava was not feeling well so conversation was at a minimum. I had my phone and I wanted to see how long I could sit there with my it off.

The answer was, NOT VERY LONG. I’d put it down and leave it alone for a few minutes then pick it up again. My longest stretch might have been ten minutes. It was a good reminder of how much I need some sort of activity. I was not content to be “alone with my thoughts.” .

I don’t think Mr. Pascal was arguing for all of humanity to stop leading productive lives so we can sit quietly alone.  I think he understood that the need to always have our senses engaged in something leads people to do things that aren’t always good.

Learning how to live with less and disconnect from non-stop activity is a good thing. It’s a skill that can be learned and must be practiced. 

Say NO to Yourself

For most of my adult life I have been part of a morning radio program. It’s what I always wanted to do. There’s even a cassette tape of the 12 year-old me pretending to be on the radio interviewing my parents and sisters. Pretty funny stuff.

Doing morning radio means I get up very early. That also means I go to bed early. Like 8p early. I’m OK waking up while it’s still dark out, but I’ve never been a fan of going to bed while it’s still light out.

That’s my life right now. It’s hard climbing into bed when I can still hear people outside enjoying a warm summer evening. I’d rather be sitting on our backyard patio. Weeknight baseball games at Camden Yards are only in the third inning as I’m putting my head to pillow. The summer concert season is in full swing and the music isn’t just happening on the weekends.

There’s a lot of stuff I’d rather be doing than going to bed at 8pm. Yet, I’ve learned to say no to myself…every night. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I do. But, being relentless about this one issue…being in bed by 8pm…is having unintended benefits.

I find it’s now easier to say no to myself in other areas. There’s real freedom in that. It takes practice, but it can be done. Start small. Find one little area in your life that you’d like to change that requires using the word NO to yourself. Give it a try and see what happens.

Take a Walk Every Day

This blog is all about the benefits of setting a step goal and reaching it every day. I’ve written about finding opportunities to exchange sitting for walking and how if you do that often enough and long enough you can develop a lifestyle of fitness.

But, this is different. Aside from fitness, there is great benefit to simply taking an extended walk every day. For some, that means 30 minutes. Some can go longer…some can only squeeze in ten minutes. Whatever works for you, find a chunk of time and go for a walk.

But, not just a walk…make it a Quiet Walk. Leave your phone at home, or at least, in your pocket. Go alone, if possible. And, don’t listen to music or podcasts.

Of course, you’ll get steps on your Fitbit, but that’s not the purpose of this daily walk. This is simply an opportunity to disconnect for a few minutes every day. If that feels so NOT possible, start small…even five minutes a day is good. As you lean into this, you’ll probably discover you want to go longer.

And Then One Day…

Margin is so important to making rest a part of your daily lifestyle, but it’s hard to achieve. You can try and create white space by eliminating a few things from your calendar, but it’s usually temporary. If you haven’t built Margin Mind Memory you will probably just end up filling that calendar white space with other activities.

If you can work on those three things…practicing contentment, saying NO to yourself, and taking a daily Quiet Walk, a curious thing will happen.

Margin will start to appear and you will have the foundation to create even more. Life is richer with margin. It’s more productive. And, it’s way more restful.

If you struggle with motivation to stick with fitness this blog will help. Don’t be intimated by the title. That’s my goal…not yours. But, my bigger goal is to help you start a fitness journey that doesn’t stop and builds momentum. If you click FOLLOW (below on your phone and to the right and above on your computer) you’ll get an email with a link to each motivating article the moment it’s published.

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