When I started my daily walk around the lake in October of 2018, I didn’t know what I hoped to find; hell, I didn’t even know I was searching for something. I felt like I did the same things every day, and that those tasks counted as a routine.
That first walk happened on a whim. It was a beautiful fall day; Autumn always makes me feel so alive and inspired. I grabbed my headphones and drove the few minutes to Lake Elmo State Park.
The trail is a mile and a half long nature trail around the lake, and for whatever reason, I felt like I needed more nature in my life. For about thirty minutes, I strolled in the crisp autumn air, gravel and dirt crunching beneath my feet, sunlight reflecting on the lake while I listened to Blue October.
I drove away from the lake feeling accomplished, but also in a mood; one that had me thinking back on my childhood, revisiting old wounds in the quiet of my thoughts.
A daily walk can help you gather your thoughts
Those memories and feelings, or maybe it was the fact that the leaves were orange and the wind was cold, got me thinking about how I wanted to write a book someday. It seemed like every five years or so, I remember that I want to be a writer and that I have a story to tell. While I was young and trying to survive, I did two things: I wrote a lot and read even more.
I wrote paid blog posts as a teenager in the 90’s before it was cool. I wrote an article for the local paper and was hooked. After high school, I was going to go to USF and graduate with a degree in mass communications and be a journalist. I had it all planned out. I was awarded several scholarships and was determined to put the past behind me. Except, I ended up not going to USF. Instead, I ended up moving to Montana to live with my mother.
“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” Allen Saunders
A daily routine can help you focus
I have asked myself why my drug-addicted mother decided not to have an abortion with me, even though she had aborted three pregnancies before me. My parents officially split up when I was five years old. The custody battle was horrendous and involved my mother, father, grandma, and the FBI. My grandma filed kidnapping charges against my father, and I would end up growing up without hearing so much as a peep from him.
When I almost failed kindergarten because of my mother’s erratic and harmful behavior, I moved in with my grandma permanently. My mother entered witness protection in the summer of my 8th-grade year. I graduated from college before I graduated high school despite being emotionally and physically abused by my grandmother. I endured it all because I was singularly focused on not letting the past control my destiny.
Survival had been the only daily routine that mattered
And survive, I did. I fell in love, got married, and had children, and when I went back to college, I got a degree in business because it seemed the most practical, especially since I had been working in retail management for years. I started a Master’s program in the field of management. My life was full of things to do each day.
Surviving trauma is an all-consuming mission, surviving the first few years of parenting is another type of battle; being a working mom and trying to finish a graduate degree is a different type of struggle. The conflicts defined my life, but I didn’t realize they were taking their toll. After that first walk, I could feel this restlessness growing, but I had no idea what it meant.
A daily routine helps combat the effects of acedia
That one walk had me listening to my soul in a way I hadn’t in years. I looked up a writing group in town that met the first Monday of every month, and I showed up at the coffee house as if I belonged there. I wanted to write a book about my life, but I had no idea where to start.
I asked one of the authors if she had any advice, and she told me to write an entirely different book, which would unblock my brain and possibly enable me to write the book I wanted to. That seemed strange, but she was the expert, so I set off thinking about what other books I could write.
It had been about two weeks since that first walk, and I thought another one might help me come up with an idea. I was scrolling around on my phone, waiting to see if my sister wanted to walk with me when I stumbled across an article in my Facebook feed, You Might Not Actually Be Struggling With Depression.
I learned a new word that morning, “acedia.” I hadn’t heard of this until this moment, but Kathleen Norris, the author of Acedia and Me, describes acedia as:
“The demon of acedia — also called the noonday demon — is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all…He makes it seem that the sun barely moves if at all, and…he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself.”
I reread the article a second time. The words struck a chord; with each day’s passing, my apathy grew, and the sun seemed to move barely. I felt like I had lost myself somewhere, yet that seemed so dramatic to say aloud.
I decided that this second walk around the lake would be the start of a new daily routine. I wondered what would happen if I committed to going and walking around the lake every day, regardless of the weather or how tired I was from work or how unmotivated I might feel.
My first attempt at a daily routine
The idea fascinated me so much that I thought it might make a great book. That first time attempt at a year around the lake lasted from October 26, 2018, until mid-December. Remember, when I mentioned the weather? I live in Montana, so I knew walking around the lake every day for a year would involve cold and snow, but it blizzarded for about a week straight. I was not mentally prepared for that level of exposure!
I ended up missing quite a few days and pausing my project, but in those couple of months, the strangest things began to happen. I wrote daily, or almost daily, in the first draft of my book.
I discovered Medium and started writing on there, and in my week, I earned $9 from writing and wept with joy like I had won the lottery. I began to believe that maybe it was not too late to become a real writer. I rediscovered some of my self-worth. What was it about a simple walk that acted as a catalyst for achieving my goals.
The science behind having a daily routine
According to the team at BlurtItOut.org, there are several mental health benefits to having a daily routine. These include:
- Reducing stress
- Cultivate positive habits
- Prioritize self-care
- Improve our sleep cycles
- Create time for the important things
My walk around the lake helped me achieve these things. I was much less stressed out because I got outside every day and connected with nature. The sun was good for the spirit, but so was the cold winter wind on my cheeks. I began to implement other healthy habits slowly.
My half-hour to myself, while I walked around the lake, became non-negotiable, both at work and with my family, and I began to prioritize my time. I slept better each night and rose earlier each day. Most importantly, I found I was putting things that were important to me before things that were not. I was creating works of writing that were helping myself and others.
I started back up with my walk on August 16 of 2019. I was determined to complete my year around the lake this time. I even found a lake to walk around when I was out of state for my daughter’s dance competition. I walked around the lake when it was four below and colder than it should have the right to be. Thanks to COVID-19 and a few things beyond my control, I have missed a handful of days. However, the results of my experiment have been undeniable.
I write for Medium regularly and have over 1200 followers. I discovered Upwork because of a Medium article, and now I have multiple regular clients that have me write for them. My writing income has replaced my full-time job.
I discovered a few months ago that the random article I had read about acedia nearly two years ago was initially published on Medium. I had no idea what that was at the time. I had no idea how a simple walk around the lake would change my whole life. What routine will you start? What ways do you think it will help you find yourself? Only you have the answers to those questions, and I hope you discover them.