A Mile A Day #10: Why I Hate Walking As Much As I Hate Writing

MikeachimThe Everyday1 Comment

(Inspired/adapted/stolen from semi-rad‘s brilliant blog – and h/t Al Humphreys for making me aware of it.)

I hated going for a walk this morning, but that’s nothing new.

I also hated sitting down to write this, especially these first few minutes. These minutes are why a lot of people don’t write, and I cannot blame them. Starting to write is always shitty and brutal. My brain tries to stop me with lazy-person propaganda, fake news and lies, and then it tries to distract me. Statistically, the time I’m supposed to start writing is when I’m most active on Facebook or most likely to do chores.

I’ve tried tricking myself, getting up earlier, but it doesn’t work. There’s no ducking around it. You just start, and for 60 seconds or so, it just feels terrible.

However, experience has taught me that not writing feels a lot worse:

Day 1 of Not Writing: “My Writing is Shit.”
Day 2 of Not Writing: “I Am Shit.”
Day 3 of Not Writing: “Everything Is Shit.”

So I pick the option that makes me feel least bad. That’s usually what gets me started.

(Well, that and not being able to pay my bills if I don’t.)

Then, for the first 10, maybe 15 minutes of writing something, I’m faking it all the way. I’m faking it now, as I write these words. It takes a while for actual writing to kick in, and until then I’m just present, a professional lorem ipsum generator, keeping the seat warm until Actual Mike hopefully shows up.

Walking’s like that too.

Mentally and physically, I could be a lot fitter. My anxiety & stress levels in 2016 were catastrophic, thanks to severe illness in the family and the effect it had on my plans and my ability to focus and keep a smile on my face. I’m still rebuilding myself. My mind isn’t tough, it’s prone to bleak moods that rush in like unexpected squalls out of a blue sky. I get frustrated when this happens, the same way I get frustrated when my knees start aching after a few hours of walking in a way they never used to. I want to take myself back to the shop and say, Am I still under warranty because this thing is NOT working like it should.

Walking helps, but not at first. At first, it just amplifies everything that’s wrong. I’m absurdly grumpy when I set off, and my body complains until it warms up. I feel like I’m operating a mechanical version of me, like Ripley in her Power Loader in Aliens. It never feels like I’ll be able to continue, but experience tells me that’s not true, so I keep walking against the current wishes of my brain until all its lies are exposed.

I approach walking (and cycling, and all other forms of exercise I’m easing myself back into) with a militant attitude. I can’t be trusted. I have to assume every thought I have until I’m actually out there is self-defeating bullshit designed to get in my own way and hand ultimate victory to all my enemies. I brim with resistance – as coined by Stephen Pressfield in his wonderfully motivating productivity guide, The War Of Art.

Resistance is smarter than you, so you can’t argue it down. You beat it by bloody-mindedly defying it. There’s no other way. And after a while, it hurts less and you get more done.

That’s how you get better at stuff, and in this case, that’s how I became a better writer.

(Sometimes I think I’m being pathetic and self-important, thinking like this, The Tortured Writer (TM). Writing isn’t hard, the same way archaeology was hard, or proper professions are hard! And yes, there’s truth here, but ultimately, it’s just more resistance. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Stop gabbing, haul ass.)

I’d love to now say something inspiring about the joy of writing/walking kicking in and transporting you to a deliciously comfortable realm filled with sensual pleasure and moist, unbridled joy, but the truth is, you just get used to it. Writing well is a state of flow, and when you’re flowing, you’re not aware you’re enjoying yourself. You’re just doing it. That’s just who you are right then.

You might as well ask, Am I enjoying breathing right now?

But there is satisfaction. It feels good afterwards, and sometimes at the time. There’s learning how the world works, by attempting to see it better and attempting to put it into words. Even the worst walk and the most soul-destroying piece of copywriting teaches me something new.

And then there’s the relationship between the two. I have my best ideas when I walk (and my second-best ideas in the shower) – which mirrors studies elsewhere. It makes sense: your brain is part of your body, your body is raised to an elevated state of excitement, your brain is too, but has nothing to do, so….bingo: idea explosion.

(There’s also the ambient noise around you as you walk. Get it right, and it helps you think creatively in the same way coffee-shops do.)

I have a theory about long-distance walking: if I show up and pretend enough times, I’ll one day be capable of doing well enough to not be totally disgusted at my inability to do it. It’s kinda working that way with my writing, so I’m applying it to walking as well.

I’ll stop writing now, so you can stop reading. Because it’s February. Remember that thing you said you were going to do this year, but haven’t started yet? That’s your resistance at work.

Anyway, I hate writing and walking. But you should totally try them.

PREVIOUSLY: A Mile A Day #9: Why Power Lines Don’t Fry Birds (And Other Natural Wonders)

NEXT: A Mile A Day #11: The Art Of The Start

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