Your Choice

MikeachimThe Everyday4 Comments

‘In the Industrial Age, Thomas Edison famously said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent.” In the Internet Age, more and more companies live by the mantra “create an obsession, then exploit it.”‘

– Bill Davidow, The Atlantic.

Hi! Thanks for reading this massively unscheduled interruption in your day.

I bet it’s not the only one.

Take that pointless argument you got into on Facebook.

That e-mail thread you were copied into that never, ever, ever seemed to end, I mean do these people have a life?

That video of clips from all the battles in ‘Game Of Thrones’ because OMG it’s back on Sunday oh, right, this has to be done by 3pm, I’d better focus.

Let’s face it: strangers like me on the internet are getting really, really good at deciding how and where you spend your time.

Take this blog post: did you really choose to come here?

What is this pseudo-philosophical  crap, your brain screams, of course I chose. But if you sat down this morning and decided, really decided, what to do with every part of your day, would you really be here, reading this? Or was it just another intriguing interruption you couldn’t resist, in a day pretty much defined by them? (“The interruptnet”.)

Anyway, you are here. And I’m part of the problem you’re having.

Thanks, and also Sorry.

If I may, I’d like to remain part of the problem for a few minutes, so I can explain what the problem is doing to us, and how we can make different choices.

First, here are three things you can already feel:

  1. Multitasking is utterly destroying your ability to choose. (That’s a link. Sorry. More distraction. At least it’ll open in another window, so you can keep reading this right now if you choose to.)
  2. Your attention span makes the average goldfish look like Noam Chomsky. Oh Jesus. Just Google him. Speaking of which…
  3. Google isn’t ruining your memory – but it’s certainly rewiring it, and nobody knows how.

Whatever. Science and numbers, TL;DR.

Are you feeling tired of articles like these, filled with Science Facts that hammer home how much you suck at being useful and effective? That’s productivity advice overwhelm, a common complaint of the modern internet user. It’s part of what traps us in this state of brain-stunned relinquished responsibility.

Our self-worth is being held in a head-lock by the super-smart advice of others.

(It’s not their fault, but it’s often the result.)

So we do this:

There’s too much to do/learn/achieve. Fuck it. I’ll just go for the easiest thing available.

Maybe, like me, you like video games. Maybe, like most young men, you find videogames far more appealing than ‘levelling up’ your own life. That’s understandable. Videogames are easy, they’re logical, and they give a sense of steady progression through life that’s really hard to beat.

(A fact not lost on the writer of this brilliant article.)

The Scottish writer Iain Banks was addicted to Civilization II. He found it was making far too many choices on his behalf about what he should be doing with his time. It was stopping him writing books.

So between book drafts, he deleted it from his hard-drive.

That’s choosing.

Iain Banks is no longer writing books. He died of cancer in 2013. Sometimes you can’t do much about the choices that are made for you. Sometimes “choice” seems like the wrong word entirely.

Oh please, said Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Yeah, okay, but how? How can we choose anything, when every day is such an impenetrable fog of potential actions and distractions, where we’re completely free to do anything so we end up doing nothing?

(And by “nothing” I mean Clash of Clans.)

To be able to choose properly, maybe we need to listen to ourselves harder – better known as “actually thinking for a change.


When was the last time you had the opportunity to think?

It doesn’t happen naturally to us these days. We need to make the time to do it. I’m big on travel and outdoorsy things, so I’d say something like, try going for a long walk (especially a meander), or sleeping outside without a tent, or just turning your phone off for a while, like we should all be able to do without losing our goddamn minds.

Anything that wakes the body up but gives nothing for the brain to do, sparking lots of introspection and deep thinking.

(Still too jittery or foggy-headed? Maybe it’s the crap you’re shoving into your stomach. Worth considering. Also, coffee shops are great places for coming up with new ideas – or maybe you need to be completely on your own for a while.)

So perhaps you don’t have to be constantly interrupted all the time like this. Maybe if you really knew what your thoughts were, nothing could ever disturb them.

Maybe you just need to hear them.

You know – the little thoughts on things too small to matter to anyone else (“actually, I really hate this shirt. Wow,”) and the big ones that have been far too big to think about when you’re constantly being interrupted, the ones that change everything.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear them all?

OK. How about tomorrow morning?

No, really.

Set your alarm so you can get up an hour early. Go for a walk, find something comfortable and vaguely clean to sit on – and sit, and think…

and think

and think

and think

…until well damn, there you are. Hi. Where have you been?

Oh, you know, around. What shall we talk about today?

How about that?

Your choice, obviously.

Images: Pixabay, Mike Sowden

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A Mile A Day #16: Is It Safe To Go Walking In Costa Rica? (And Other Stupid Questions)

MikeachimThe Everyday7 Comments

san jose costa rica

“This isn’t a good place for walking,” says Mariana.

“You mean this suburb?”

“I mean, the whole valley.”

All of San José?”

“Plus there are unsafe areas. Not a good idea to walk through those, even in daylight.”

“But…I have these weekly blog posts that I’m supposed to be…”

She purses her lips. “I know. It’s going to be tricky.”Read More

A Mile A Day – Intermission: What Good’s A Walk If You Can’t Feel It?

MikeachimThe Everyday8 Comments

mexico city airport

There’s a whole new world out there.

I should stop and stare out this window that’s designed to look like film-reel when it’s photographed (nice touch). Somewhere beyond the tarmac is Mexico City, on a scale I wouldn’t believe if I saw it. I should go to some of the other windows and catch a glimpse. Isn’t that what excited travellers do? I may never be here again. I should photograph everything.

Instead, I head to the gate of my connecting flight, find a chair, and disappear back into myself.

Central America rolls past, thousands of feet below. It’s a stunning day, the kind where you’ll need Photoshop to tone it down. We float through a vast azure sky, and all the clouds are far below. It’s the perfect introduction to this part of the world – and I feel nothing. That’s fine. I’ve been feeling nothing for a few weeks now, so I’m used to it. I take photos – but of course, photos are meant to remind you of how you felt, so I guess these will be wasted. Nice to look at, academically interesting (that’s Nicaragua, look) – but not much else, perhaps.

It’s a blowy day in the San Jose valley of Costa Rica, and the plane has a rough time of it, lurching and juddering down towards the runway. Well, that’s nice, I think. Normally I’d be terrified at this point. Mountains rise around us, until they’re level with the window and then I’m looking up at them – and with a sway, a bump and a squeal of tires, I’ve arrived at my new home on the other side of the world.

Great – I guess?

I’m still barely aware that I’ve arrived.

It’s a month later as I write this, and it has taken this long to start dawning on me: this is the other side of the world. It’s my first time this far west, my first time this far south, and my first time in the Americas, barring a short hop to Canada a few years back. I’ve never had this many firsts in one journey, and never a journey this colossal. I’ve also never moved so entirely abroad as an adult, since I’m renting a house here with my partner for at least 3 months. We chose Costa Rica because it’s her home and I’ve never been. Those are good reasons.

I also needed to get completely away from everything.

That’s the third reason, and I feel really bad talking about it.

Depression is a serious thing, so I couldn’t accept I had it, even in its mildest form. It felt like an insult to the people I know who really struggle with it. How dare I suggest I was on that level? I’m not on that level. I should be ashamed for even thinking it.

What I was struggling with, and what I’m slowly dealing with, is an absence. A hole, somewhere inside me, where I used to feel lots of interesting things. In one sense it’s serious, because I need to be able to feel those things to write the things I want to write. It’s a requirement. And my brain (not my heart, my brain) knows why this hole opened up. Because of family issues, I was burnt out, filled with pessimism and numb lassitude, incapable of hoping for the best.

It’s understandable. I should give myself a break.

But in the other sense (says a voice that’s a big part of the problem), all this is pathetic, self-indulgent nonsense. I’m so full of shit. I’m not depressed. I’m just weak. I’m a failure, incapable of doing what I’ve set out to do with my weird, messy, freakish “career”. It’s not like walking 25 miles, where you grit your teeth and keep going until you’re done. I’m just not capable of keeping going. Until now, I’ve been pretending, and it’s time to stop lying to everyone. No wonder [x] unfollowed me on Twitter and [y] never replied to my article pitch. They’re sick of me. Why don’t you just go away, Mike? You’re such a bloody nuisance.

That’s what the voice was saying, drowning out everything else in my last few weeks in England – and I’m here to shut it up.

So, it seems I needed a month.

I needed it to sit in the sunshine, carefully thinking bigger and bigger thoughts until my 3-month plan crept back into view, learning how to tamp down my negativity, sitting and working quietly on this and that, spending quality time with my other half, walking here and there (not easy in Costa Rica, as I’ll explain another time), and enjoying the 35 years of National Geographic magazines lining the bookcases in the study of the house we’re renting. I’ve been letting Costa Rica work its magic on me, wrought with overwhelming hospitality and great food and incredibly dramatic scenery, and now I’ve become a little too comfortable for comfort, just a little…

So I’m ready to get walking again.

And that feels damn good right now.

PREVIOUSLYA Mile A Day #15 – The Ultimate Guide To Walking Gear For Complete Beginners

NEXT: A Mile A Day #16: Is It Safe To Go Walking In Costa Rica? (And Other Stupid Questions)

 Images: Mike Sowden

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A Mile A Day #15: The Ultimate Guide To Walking Gear For Complete Beginners

MikeachimThe Everyday1 Comment

It’s those trainers with the split leather sides and the ripped shoelace holes, the ones you bought in 1997 for £5 and you’ve never been able to throw away.

It’s that t-shirt with the ragged holes in the shoulders and under the arms that you put aside to use as a pyjama top, but accidentally put back into commission, and then remembered how comfy it is, even if it makes you unfashionable enough to audition for the next season of Stranger Things.

It’s those jeans with the shredded knees and that hole in the crotch which means you can never sit opposite anyone.

It’s those odd socks you couldn’t be bothered to match up, old socks with broken elastic so they creep down your ankles in a way that makes you feel stabby.

It’s that sweatshirt that smells like something died in it a decade ago, and it’s that raincoat that’s about as waterproof as a string vest.

About half an hour into your walk, maybe less, you’ll start discovering the limitations of your crappy, crappy walking gear. Maybe you’ll get cold and sweaty at the same time – a miracle of thermodynamics. Maybe your legs will start to ache because your shoes are lopsided ankle-breakers. Maybe it’ll rain and you’ll get drenched right through to your underwear, leaving you with dramatic-feeling friction burns in intimate places.

Whatever happens as you walk, something will prove insufficient for the task at hand – hell, maybe everything will – and you’ll discover you need an upgrade.

Until that happens, you don’t need one.

All you need is to get out and walk with what you have.

Seriously. You know this, but it’s worth spelling out: if you want to go for a long walk, anything but walking is stalling. This goes for most outdoor activities, but it’s especially true for walking. There’s no uniform of entry, no minimum viable set of walking gear.  You just walk, for as long as you damn well like, suffering as much as you damn well want to, until you turn round and stomp home, cursing the item of clothing that’s made your day unnecessarily horrible.

(This might not happen, by the way. You might be just fine.)

So why are you on Amazon, browsing the outdoor gear section, pointless lusting over expensive things that only weigh this and that, and are guaranteed to work in temperatures as low as WTF? You know why. It’s because you’re fighting Resistance and it’s winning, because you’re here, instead of out there, discovering the actual proven limits of your existing (non-)gear.

That said…

You don’t go climbing England’s second-highest mountain in non-gear. That’s just asking for trouble.

So, there’s a limit. But for most low-intensity, low-misery strolls, your walking heroes have gone for long walks in worse gear than you have available right now. Sometimes for the comedy value, admittedly, but off they went. It didn’t kill them. It won’t kill you either – unless you’re daft enough to pretend your gear isn’t laughable/dangerous when it’s clearly proving to be so, as already stated. That’s when you come back and buy some shiny new things from Regatta or Craghoppers or the like, when you’re agonisingly aware of how much you need them, when it’s written across your body in aches and pains and odd-shaped rashes.

I could go on, but then this post would turn into another way of delaying that walk you could be having today, and I’d hate that almost as much as you would.

However rubbish your gear is, it’s good enough to start. Same goes for your legs, your knees – everything.

Make do. Get out.


PREVIOUSLYA Mile A Day #14: How Vitamin D Keeps You Walking

 Image: Mike Sowden

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