Time, Part III

I’ve been going on walks.

Mostly in the evening or late at night, when it’s not 30 degrees outside, and walking outside isn’t liable to result in death from heat stroke, but I’ve been going on walks. Crazy, I know.

Why? I’m not entirely sure, but I think the answer is complicated.

It all started when I was arriving home late at night. I might have been coming back from trivia, or maybe I had stayed back at work for some reason. I stepped into the lift, joining a guy who lives on the same floor as me. Just as the doors were about to close, another guy I had seen walking along the street 30 seconds earlier also jumped in. From the way his hair was dishevelled and how he was drenched in sweat, I suspected he had been running — a suspicion that was soon confirmed after he told the other guy that he had just run seven kilometres.

I thought to myself: if this otherwise normal-looking guy can do it, why can’t I? Not that there was anything wrong with the guy, but for some reason, that’s where my mind went. It said that if this guy can do it, I’m probably capable of doing the same. Not running – every time I pass a runner on a bike path on my electric skateboard, I remind myself that running isn’t my thing, at least not while walks exist as the next-most attractive alternative — but walks? I can do walks.

So, spurred on by a piece I read recently that said walking is a superpower that leads to better health, more happiness, and might even make me smarter, I’ve been going on walks.

I’m sure it has something to do with my Apple Watch, too. I’ve seen so many other people post their activity streaks, and here I am, having only achieved a perfect week of all activity goals just the other week. I’ve owned an Apple Watch for over four years, and yet I’ve only managed to have a perfect week of hitting all my activity goals just once, and it happened just last month. That’s terrible, by any definition of the word.

I’m not naive enough to think that somehow closing my Apple Watch rings every day will suddenly make me incredibly buff, but what’s the downside here? It can’t hurt, right? It’s the ol’ climate change argument, only instead of asking what happens if we change the world for the better for no reason, I’m asking myself why I can’t get a little more exercise every day, especially if it only costs me a little time that I was probably just going to waste sitting in front of a computer on the internet anyway.

My parents have been telling me to exercise for years, so all of this should be a plus, as far as they’re concerned. They tell me all the time that because I have a desk job, I need to be getting some sort of exercise, so going for a walk is really the easiest, least-effort thing I can do. It’s the lowest-hanging fruit, in terms of fitting some regular exercise into every day goes.

While all of those are great, excellent reasons to go walking, I think the real reason is even more selfish. If that’s possible.

It’s time. Or a time thing, anyway.

When I lived in Hobart, work was a 90 minute round trip away. That meant I had 90 minutes, every day I worked, all to myself. A lot of the time I’d put my in-ear headphones in, cue up whatever playlist I felt like listening to at the time, and tune out the world. I’d stare out the window of the bus and let my mind wander. Other times, I’d read something from my Instapaper queue, or go over whatever blog post draft I was working on at the time, re-reading it, and maybe even adding a sentence here or there.

But now? Now I don’t get that kind of alone time any more, at least not in the same way that I did before.

Now, work is an all-too-short 10 minute commute away. That’s hardly enough time to catch up on Twitter in the morning, much less think about anything deep and meaningful. And now that I ride an electric skateboard to work, I’m usually thinking about how not to get run over, more than I am about how I should have said something different than what I did (or said something at all, as is often the case).

Back when I lived in Hobart, a colleague asked me when I get alone time. I replied with “bus rides”, and he nodded in realisation. It came across as a strange question, at first. I think I intuitively understood what he was asking, even if I didn’t really know at the time. He was asking about the kind of alone time that you only get when you’re not doing anything in particular. That he himself, as an avid cyclist and competing athlete, had plenty of. That time you need by yourself to think about things, to think things through. To process, to ruminate. Not necessarily about anything in particular, but at the same time, about anything that came to mind. Anything that was worth pondering some more.

Now that I live alone, I get a lot of alone time. I don’t have a girlfriend, or even that many friends I see outside of work, so basically any time that I’m not at work is alone time. But being alone, and having the kind of alone-time that is conducive to analysing whatever gruesome scenario I am currently conflicted about, are two very different things. Even though I am alone a lot of the time, I don’t get the kind of alone time that my former colleague was alluding to.

When I’m at work, I’m doing, you know, work stuff. When I’m at home, I’m on the computer pretty much all the time. There are times when I’m stressing about how my team, which has shown only limited competence so far, is ever going to destroy the other team’s ancient. Or I’ll be scrolling through my RSS feeds, catching up on my favourite YouTube channels, or otherwise seeing what the good people of the few forums I frequent are saying today. Whether I’m at home or at work, it’s like my brain is always switched on, always in high gear, and the only time I get to shift down a gear is when I sleep or take a nap.

I’ve tried replicating the kind of alone time I once had. I can do long-ish bus rides, but they’re not the same as they once were. Either I’m out of practice, or they’re too inconsistent to be of any real use. When GoCards used to give you free public transport after you had done 9 trips in a week, I used to take the train to the Gold Coast once every couple of months, but those 90-minute train rides were, somehow, too much time.

I can get pretty close to the ideal idle state for thinking about things by lying in bed and staring at the ceiling. The only problem with this is that a lot of the time, it’s too comfortable, so I end up falling asleep. If that doesn’t happen, then I’m likely to think about things too hard, or think about too many things, which usually results in the other extreme called insomnia. With sleep being as important as it is, I’d much rather not practice a condition that can lead to me having less sleep, so I don’t usually lay down in bed and think about things too often.

So I started going on walks during my lunch break at work. Just a little walk around the block, but enough for me to get some fresh air, stretch my legs a little, and clear my head from whatever negative work-related feeling I’m having. I feel like going on walks like that are important, given that I’m otherwise spending the rest of my day at my desk, including when I’m eating lunch.

And I get it, you know? I’ve been working for a little while now, and I get why there are some people that can’t wait to get home and veg-out in front of the couch and think about nothing in particular. I’ve been there, and I think anyone with even a moderately mentally-involved job has, at some stage. I get why people look forwards to the weekend so they can do nothing but ensconce themselves firmly in front of their TV and recharge. I’ve been there, and done that.

But the problem is when you’re doing that all the time.

I do a similar thing with video games. There were times when a new game comes out and I’ll come home, start playing it, forget to eat, realise it’s midnight, then go to bed so I can still get up for work in the morning and function like a half-decent human being. That’s fine and all, but totally unsustainable — any more than a few days of that and things start to get neglected. Housework isn’t done. Dishes aren’t cleaned. Clothes aren’t washed. Stuff just falls by the wayside, and then I have to spend an entire weekend playing catch-up, both on all the housework that I neglected doing while I was travelling the galaxy, pretending to be a tier-one operator, or carrying my team in many lovely games of Dota 2.

That doesn’t happen all that often these days, with work taking up as much of my time and energy, but the same thing is applicable to any extra-curricular activities that I’ve decided to take on.

So, I’ve been going on walks.

I’ll put in my headphones, cue up my favourite playlist, and fill my activity rings, all while thinking about whatever I want. It’s mindfulness and exercise, all in one.

I still probably won’t go to the gym or start running, though. They’re not quite me — but then again, I wasn’t sure filling my exercise rings was, either, and here I am, one perfect month and one 38-day move streak later.

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