How River Walks Changed My Life

How Not To Start Your Day

Just one more snooze.  And then another.  And then… Oh man, I really have to get up now to prevent myself being sackably late, rather than ah traffic’s bad this morning isn’t it late.  We’ve all been there and back then, I was there pretty much every day.  And what a way to start my day!  I’d reach work with the most evil concoction of brain chemicals going.  A scrummy breakfast-substitute of shame on toast, served up with a nice cup of manic stress.  In this state, you’ve no way of knowing whether you actually despise this job or if it’s just you.  If you work in a fast-paced environment then everyone is a problem and everything is causing you to feel overwhelmed.  If it’s not so fast, you’re sat at your desk, your mind constantly alternating between the thought of, which task should I do first, god, I haven’t even started yet, and, I hate this job, I’m so bored.

Making A Change

I’m not sure if I was just ready for a change (cringe) or whether the depression of my lunch being the most exciting event in my day just got too much, but something very strange began to happen in my life; I actually developed the capacity to get up 30 minutes earlier than I had to.  Well, actually, that’s not strictly true.  I think it was a weekend when it all began.  As the gods tend to do when you are actually allowed to lie-in, they woke me up at around 6.30am.  Feeling completely awake, and strangely desiring of some exercise, I decided to go for a walk.  The river had always been my go-to place as a kid and something took me back there that day.  Immediately, as I got out of the car (yeah, I had to drive there, I wasn’t feeling that keen!), the coolness of the breeze on my face blew away all thoughts and I was completely and blissfully in my moment.

My New Addiction

There was no going back after this.  And I don’t mean to the river.  I went back there literally every day after that.  I became an addict, obsessed to the extent that I would even overtake people going 30 in a 30 just to get there on time in the morning.  Now this – not my lunch – is my new favourite time of the day.  But what do I do in these precious 20 minutes by the water, I hear you ask?  Well, not much. And that’s the point.  Usually, your whole day is occupied by thinking and doing, and this is the one time when there is no obligation to do any of this.  Most days I stroll at my own pace, like I’m a millionaire without a care in the world, crunching through my juicy apple, noticing the sumptuous flavours as they hit my senses.  I suck that cool, fresh air up my nostrils and take in the ducks, the fish, the noise of the rustling leaves.  The soft morning light tells me that whatever happens in my day I can always return to this.

Reset Your Mode To Gratitude

Problem Solving Mode

So, how are you doing, anyway?  It’s a question that comes up a lot in polite society.  It’s funny how it only takes our brains a split second to reel off all the problems we’re currently facing; all the things we think we need to solve.  If we could just get these out of the way, perhaps then we could say to that other person, yeah, I’m doing great, thanks!  Problems or – better put – things we are currently finding challenging in our life, are always going to be there, whether we’re 24 or 84.  So why is it, then, that we let them determine the quality of our state of mind so much?  The answer is, that this is all that most people choose to focus on.  Choosing to manage the amount of time we spend on this isn’t easy.  In fact, most people spend their days thinking about how to overcome the big thing going on in their life.  And then another big thing comes up, and then another.  Before you know it, life seems to be a bit of a chore – a series of problems to be solved.

Gratitude Mode

Stop.  It’s time you reset you mind to Gratitude Mode.  Resetting yourself into Gratitude Mode means resetting your focus.  Problem Solving Mode is clearly an important aspect of life, but it’s not healthy to live there all the time.  It always involves you looking at what needs fixing; what’s not rightGratitude Mode is actually the opposite.  It’s about taking time out in your day – whenever you notice you need it – to think about what is right.  Ask yourself, what’s right in my life right now?  This doesn’t come easy at first.  If you’re halfway through your day and you’ve worked yourself up into a frenzy with all the things you need to fix (right now!) then this can sometimes seem impossible.  For this reason, it’s good to practice this first thing in the morning.  Perhaps take yourself off for a walk in the fresh air and begin by focusing on the simplest thing that you’re lucky to have in your life.

Deep Thinking About The Little Things

I always start with the basics and use the words thank you a lot.  Thank you for this body that works, this air in my lungs, chocolate digestives, beer - you know, all the essentials.  To deepen my gratitude, I then think about all the countless processes that had to happen for me to be able to enjoy that one thing in this moment in time.  This morning I did it with a bag of Doritos!  I thought about the inventor and his struggle to get this exact amazing flavour, the people who had to grow the food to make them, the drivers who had to go through the boring lorry journeys to deliver them to my local shop.  And then I thought about how lucky I was even to be able to afford such a non-essential item.  It sounds absurd to spend 10 minutes thinking about a pack of crisps, but gratitude-thinking is about getting away from productivity.  Thinking about those crisps put me in a state of complete peace and appreciation of life… priceless!

Short-Term Memory Loss

Forgetting Things That Matter

I’m a big movie buff.  I love the feeling of looking at characters who are not me and letting them teach me something about me.  Some of my favourite movies are about amnesia; characters who have forgotten who they are, and are now on a quest to remember.  Total Recall, Memento, and Bourne Identity all have characters who are struggling to remember something life-changingly important.  In the more light-hearted movie, 50 First Dates, Drew Barrymore’s character, Lucy, has to play herself a video each morning to fill herself in on the entire contents of her life.  While these films seem a world away from our daily lives, how often do we wake up the next morning having forgotten something life-changingly important?  I’m not talking about things that an effective to-do list will remedy (like, have I remembered to buy a new shower head that will actually wash rather than dribble on me?) but revelations about what makes us happy.

What Was It That Made Me Feel This Good?

A nice moment happens every day – even to the least conscious of us.  No, let’s be more positive than that: a nice half an hour.  But what was it about that half an hour that actually put you in the state of mind where everything was okay?  Was it something you did, something you said to yourself, an inspired thought?  Perhaps that thought gave you such a great feeling that it didn’t just affect your next half an hour but the rest of your day.  By 8 o’clock, instead of using your last ounce of energy to push the buttons on the microwave, you’ve suddenly turned into a Jedi master.  The screwed-up piece of paper goes straight in the bin from an impossible angle and you catch a glass as it falls from the table.  More to the point, you have this incredible feeling of momentum and flow.  And then you go to sleep and let the amnesia set in.  You wake up, desperately searching for that same all-powerful feeling, but it’s gone.

Systems To Prevent Amnesia

What was it that gave me that feeling, you ask?  Your brain frantically searches its files but all it comes up with are the amazing moments that came after.  It then makes a plan to go after these moments, only to find that doing these things is not the source of its happiness and that it’s just trying to relive a memory – a moment that has now passed.  It seems you are back at square one.  But hang on a minute, what if next time you do things a little differently.  What if, like Lucy and all the characters in those awesome films, you look to find ways to manage your amnesia.  This is done by creating systems – like Lucy’s morning video – to help us remember.  A good coach will insist that you are always building up your own self-knowledge record.  Which thoughts leave me drained to the core and which ones lead me to an afternoon of flow?  All this needs recording and ritualising to prevent a life of short term memory loss – a life lived on repeat.