Can’t Maintain Your Sanity? Take a Walk

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How Walking Kept Me Sane

It seems that through every hour of darkness, every moment of utter defeat, and every period of my life where I’ve felt at my lowest, I found solace in walking.

I maintained my sanity through long walks at night to be left alone with my thoughts. It didn’t matter where my destination was or whether or not anyone saw me all alone. “What a loser,” someone must have thought to himself as I walked around the lonely, quiet neighborhood. I can’t blame anyone for thinking that because at the time I sure felt like a loser.

The moment the clock hit 8 p.m., I took off into the night without any explanation to anyone. I dropped what I was doing, headed out the door, and returned an hour after. I always managed to return with a content smile on my face.

Forming the Ritual

Years passed since my last tragedy and I had gotten rid of that nightly ritual. I found myself no longer needing walks to keep my sanity. Why? I realized how great my friends were and began to emotionally invest in the “overpowered” group for support.

Over time, walking just soon became embedded into what we did. Sure, we were too young to drive back then, so we didn’t really have much of a choice, but we loved every minute of it.

A close friend and I spent two hours walking to the mall and while we did it, we just talked about anything that came up no matter how personal and secret it was.

Walking also taught us to embrace the moments of silence. It taught us to let go of our worries and just focus on the present. These sorts of walks kept us sane and we tried our best to take advantage of walks as much as we could.

We made it a point to walk to the local Starbucks every week or so where we continued our conversations once we sat down for a few hours and prepared to walk back.

Sure, there was that one time we almost got ran over by a man who wasn’t looking where he was going as we were on the crosswalk, but we waved him a signal of forgiveness because his face reflected true embarrassment (with a hint of fear.)

How Walking Kept Me Sane

The walks that had the most influence in maintaining my sanity are the ones that my friends and I would do at night.

We all used to live relatively close to each other so we would sometimes meet up at one of our houses and just walk around during strange hours. We even ran around at 3 in the morning at one point. Sometimes these walks inspired us to discuss topics that we dare not bring up while we were visible by sunlight.

At times we had a destination, other times we didn’t.

Why You Should Walk

While we walked, we didn’t have to worry about what we have to do later or where we should be going. In fact, walking is one way I stop worrying about everything. We stayed present in the moment and just enjoyed each other’s company; these moments were sacred and reminded us how valuable companionship is.

I dare you to take a walk outside and come back an hour later with your mind filled with worries. I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t be able to (unless you’re intentionally trying to prove me wrong.)

Walking lets you take in the scenery, something I’m betting you rarely do.

Walking lets you slow down and breathe.

Walking keeps you sane.

Question: When was the last time you took a walk just to take a walk?

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway. After landing his dream job with Empire Flippers he dropped out of school and moved to Davao, Philippines to work closely with the company's founders. Don't worry, he still publishes every Monday and hasn't missed a single week since starting this site in January 2013.

Latest posts by Vincent Nguyen (see all)

49 responses to Can’t Maintain Your Sanity? Take a Walk

  1. Thanks so much for sharing. Absolutely true, and beautifully written.

  2. Nice article. The college town that I live in is fairly small and one day a couple of weeks ago I decided to just explore the town on foot. I saw so many things that I had missed by just staying in my little bubble around campus. My favorite thing to do is go on walks in the early morning on the weekends when everything is so quiet and I can catch the sunrise.

    • Yup! You miss out on a lot when you’re either going through in a car or if you don’t go explore at all! It feels like even after walking the same path 20 times, I notice something different. The mornings are absolutely wonderful for walks because you’re bound to run into other morning lovers as well. Most of the time they may be a bit older, but it’s still great for a short conversation or a “Good morning.”

  3. For me, I find peace on my bicycle. On a cool evening I enjoy the smells of dinners being cooked… Or the aroma of flowering trees in the spring… And I can coast quietly through peaceful neighborhoods, just thinking of life. Last spring I woke at 4 am one morning and rode until the sun was up. And I was singing as I rode. I startled a jogger who didn’t expect to hear someone singing in the dark. I do that so seldom that it stands out in my memory.

    • Glad you brought up biking. My friends and I used to have what we called “Friday Adventures” where we’d hop on our bikes and just ride to try to get ourselves lost and find our way back. Some days we simply rode far away to grab a bite to eat at a Carls Jr. far from home. We didn’t have lights on our bikes but we did have light reflectors so it was pretty scary when it got dark and we were still finding our way back. It is very peaceful and like you said, you just reflect on life as you cruise.

      I love that story of the startled jogger, that’s hilarious! I sometimes sang when I rode as well, but I haven’t had the pleasure of doing it in the dark near a jogger!

    • The summer can’t come quick enough now… As well as the walking, I’ll have to add some biking to the mix with a few friends. Slowly going along in the late afternoon when the sun just hits the eyes really is something special :)

  4. Wonderfully written! I used to do a similar thing in the morning, I’d get up and head out along the lanes for half an hour or so, it was brilliant. The sunshine (this was summer) gleaming down over the fields with clear blue skies, wow. You’ve made me miss that, now it’s just walking when it’s dark with a dumbbell in each arm, that seems distant…

    Walking really is underrated, I’ll use it to get away when I can’t stand the people I’m around. It’s great to know that you appreciate this art, when the summer comes I think I’ll have to pick it up again :)

    Thanks for the reminder, as well as the great read!

    • Beautiful imagery, Nick. I wonder if your UK mornings are as beautiful as the Southern California mornings I once knew so well. Farmer walks aren’t a bad way to enjoy a walk either. Try to worry about mundane things while focusing on farmer walks!

      Funny you say you’ll pick it up over summer. Now that the weather is reaching the low 90s in Arizona, walking is starting to look less pleasurable to me. I have to resort to very late at night or very early mornings now without even giving the afternoon a chance! Doesn’t help that I have a very hot black Honda that takes a while to cool down!

      Thanks for stopping by, Nick.

      • That’s funny, it’s starting to look pleasurable over here now! In summer, mornings are unbelievably beautiful (depending on where you are), in the countryside there’s nothing quite like it (well, as far as my knowledge of the world takes me, which may be quite narrow). Birds chirping, the distant views, and I don’t know about you but I love the smell of farms, which I’m fortunate to have nearby.

        • I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to farms. At times they have that clean, fresh smell you won’t get anywhere else. Other times it’ll smell like… Well you know.

          There are a few farms near my house, but other than those I don’t see them around too often on my commutes.

  5. This post made me realize something.

    I haven’t ‘walked’ in ages. Wow. There’s something so serene about walking. I used to go for weekly walks on the beach on Wednesdays as I didn’t go to the gym that day.

    We all need that time to think, do nothing but walk and think. It’s truly amazing. Hey, it burns off some calories at the same time as well! :P

    Great post Vincent!

    • It’s easy to forget how valuable walking is! Although I didn’t have too many walks at the beach, the times I did felt absolutely amazing. The last time I was at the beach was when I went to visit California over Christmas. We went hiking for several hours then visited three different beaches until it got dark. No direction, no goal, just walk and enjoy life.

      I don’t know about that burning calories thing since I need to GAIN weight, but that’s not holding me back from walking!

      Thanks, Sam!

      • Oh well I guess it’s a little easier over here in NZ then :P I’m about 3 miles away from the beach.

        Hey man, I know what you mean. I had the general public in mind as I believe people generally want to lose weight rather than gain. I’ve gone from 65kg to 85kg in a year (purposely, muscle building), so if you have any questions then let me know!

        • That is great, Sam! Those are some AMAZING gains. People look at others who try to gain weight as crazy and call them “lucky.” They don’t realize both sides are just as bad (although one is worse for overall health.)

          For me, it’s all about the diet that I slack on. I need to just get some more of those calories in, but 3k+ daily is really rough! Thanks for the offer. :) I’ll keep you in mind.

  6. 5 miles a day man, 8 on days off. I may still be a bit tapped though;) Mary article, V!

  7. Hi Vincent. Walking is our key to sanity! CJ already told you the miles, so I will mention the squirrels, trees, occasional armadillo – all of the things I missed out on before daily walks. We converse and enjoy the comfortable silences.

    Six years ago, walking really saved my sanity, and I’ve tried to do it every day since!

    I loved hearing what walking has done for you. Thank you always for writing such thoughtful articles.

  8. Most people feel uncomfortable when it’s silent and they try to fill it in but I find that walking lets them feel more at ease because they’re not completely inactive. There are moments when there’s conversation and then there is silence.

    What happened six years ago, if you don’t mind sharing?

    You’re welcome, Tammy. :)

    • I don’t mind at all, Vincent. It would take more than a comment to fully explain, but I took an antibiotic that wreaked havoc on my nervous system. I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t do much but work. It was life-changing and in a good way. This is how it became possible for The Great Jollyhoombah to evolve!

      I used to be one to fill all the silences in conversation, but now I am much more comfortable with them – and even welcome them!

      Thank you, Vincent!

      • Wow, that sounds terrible, Tammy. I’m glad you made a recovery and found comfort in walking. It’s great you identify that point in your life as a pivotal moment in your self-growth! :)

  9. Great article, Vincent!
    Walking is what changed my life about a year ago. Just a year ago I felt very unhappy with my life, and i felt that i couldn’t sit still. You know that feeling of “I want to run and never stop?”. Since i was in no shape for running, I took my iPod with Personal power program from Anthony Robbins, and started walking around neighborhood. First it was 30 minutes, then 45, then more than an hour…then it became addictive in a very good way. After my walks I felt energized and genuinely happy , and then eventually i started running. I am hoping to add evening walks to my routine when it gets warmer here in Canada:)

    • I definitely know that feeling, Alena. In fact, that feeling is what got me to start walking too! On my solo walks, I rarely took over an hour though so great job on that!

      We can trade places. It is more than just warm in AZ now. :)

  10. I’m a big fan of walking. I walk regularly. Right now that means a couple of times a week, but in the summer when I have more time it usually means 45 minutes a day. Walking is one of the best exercises there is for mind, body, and spirit.

    • It really does hit all three points rather well. You just get more interaction with the environment when you’re exposed and just going through the world with no rush.

      Not enough people walk to realize how hard it hits the mind, body, and spirit.

  11. Nothing will clear your mind of worry like a good long walk. Whether with friends or in solitude, it’s all good.

    You’re article brought back fond memories of late night walks my friends and I used to take. Talking about nothing and everything.

    I take walks during my lunch break. I go for hikes on the weekends when the weather is nicer. And often times I’ll just head out for a walk on the dirt roads near my barnhouse for an early morning stroll. Life is so much more relaxing when you’re out walking.

    Cheers!

    • You know, people think I’m crazy when I am leaving their house at 3am or 4am and I volunteer to walk home. When I visited California over Christmas, I would spend time with some of my friends until almost morning of the next day at their house and I would be excited for the walk home.

      Something about walking through the familiar scenes through a dark filter and dead silence gives me chills (not from the cold either.) It’s just so quiet and peaceful. I usually see the noisy and active side of it, but there is just so much peace I couldn’t believe it the first time I went. The 2-3am home differed greatly from 10pm-1am.

      Often times while walking home this late I just stood still in the middle of the street, looking both ways to make sure I don’t die. I stand in the middle of the street to take the view all around me in until I see the headlights of a car far off and I slowly continue my walk. I wonder what people would do if I just lie down in the middle of the road, arms stretched wide.

  12. Of course, walking has positive effect and benefits for the physical body, everybody knows that, though not all actually practice it. However, what you just revealed, many do not know, is that walking if good for your mind too! In fact, walking is a way to practice mindfulness, and you very rightly mentioned that – “We stayed present in the moment.” That’s it!

    Ideally when you go for a walk, you shouldn’t have any iPod or music in your ears – instead, listen to the sounds of nature, view the scene, feel the air, smell the freshness. A great post, Vincent! Thanks for this great lesson of life. :)

    • Exactly that, Harleena! Walking in any crowded area, I notice most people have their earphones on or are glued to their cell phones. Rarely do I see someone enjoying the actual process of walking.

      Sure, I have times when I want to shut the world out too or take care of things while on the move, but that only occupies a small percentage of the time I spend walking.

    • My thoughts exactly, Harleena. Practicing mindfulness or “Get to the Present” exercises are hugely effective in calming the mind, and the great thing about them is that they can be performed anywhere (even in public), at any time. I often practice on the train! My routine involves taking ten slow, deep breaths, focusing purely on the sensations of breathing. I then expand my awareness and perform the “Notice Five Things” exercise: I slowly notice five things that I can see, then hear, smell and can feel in contact with my body. Distracting thoughts that emerge while making these observations I try to filter out. Once I have completed this routine, I “check out” any thoughts that are not useful to me at that present moment, and find my mind is no longer filled with worries. Sometimes I can’t recall what was worrying me in the first place! Mindfulness is definitely a skill that takes time to develop, and while I’m not entirely there yet, I feel as though I’m making progress :)

      Harleena, Vincent, do you practice similar exercises when you become caught up in your thoughts and feelings (aside from walking)? I would love to hear about what works for others.

      • Hi Steph,

        I appreciate you sharing these mental “hacks!” I can definitely see the value in all of them. It is pretty funny how we end up forgetting what we were even worried about in the first place. As for learning Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh’s book on it has been my main resource.

        As for the exercises, I use a lot of James Altucher’s recommendations. What I try to remember is everyone is time-traveling. They’re caught up in what happened and scared of what will happen, but no one is really present. I remember this and I consciously make the effort to realize what is going on.

        Another trick is to ask yourself “Will it bother you later?” Not five years from now, but five hours. Will that small remark someone made about your shirt really bother you tomorrow? Chances are, you won’t even remember who said it or what was said. Both of these things keep me grounded most of the time. :)

  13. I really enjoy taking a talk walks with my wife! Especially when we walk along the beach. It really allows us to enjoy each others conversation while working out at the same time. It pulls us away from our bust life’s to truly connect and catch up. Great post and thoughts!

  14. Hey Vincent. Great post and some really interesting comments too.

    There must be a study on this somewhere but the therapy in walking lies in the body and mind being focused on a destination, even if you do not have a destination in mind. Your energy is focused on getting somewhere, and it indirectly takes your mind to focus on that, and not on whatever was worrying you.

    Walking and talking to solve an issue with someone is also a great way to guarantee you will find a solution by the end of the walk. Whether this works *every time*, I don’t know, but it certainly has worked every time for me!

    – Razwana

    • Hi Razwana, thanks for stopping by.

      I don’t doubt the validity of that claim because we do work on auto-pilot a lot of times whether or not we realize this. It’s a great thing our minds are wired that way because it’s amazing to be able to do something as simple as walking to get rid of worries.

      I wouldn’t go on to say it has a 100% success rate, but for me it is definitely in the high 80’s. :)

  15. Walking is addictive. Have jsut started again after long break.
    Interested in more of the benefit of not using podcasts, music etc
    while.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorphins

    Cheers

    • It is addictive once you give it a chance and realize how powerful it is. Once you treat walking less like a chore (e.g. no music,) you surprise yourself by how enjoyable it really is. All it takes is a different perspective. :)

  16. Vincent, this is a great post! I can honestly say I’ve never read a blog on the advantages of taking a walk. Very creative. I take walks all the time, especially when the weather is warm. I walk the nearby neighborhoods. I seek out new parks. Just the other day, I walked around the campus where I attended graduate school. If you need a jolt of creativity, taking a walk is the best medicine.

    • Thanks, Chris! The fact that you haven’t is a good thing for me. That shows I’m on to something right. :)

      I wrote this because my friends and I have all realized how underutilized walking is. Walking is seen in a negative light because it’s “cool” to be lazy for some reason. Not many people realize there are effects beyond the physical when it comes to walking and that is exactly what brought me to this topic.

  17. I love walking with my wife through our neighborhood and city. You get such a different perspective of your neighborhood when you are actually on foot. You become much closer to your city and neighborhood.

    We also discuss many important topics during our walks. Something about the entire process that gets thoughts and creativity flowing. I can’t wait to go on my next one!

    Thank you Vincent for writing about walking. So simple, but so profound.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Scott! It’s great that you and your wife can enjoy something so powerful together. It does bring out certain topics that don’t come up outside of walking huh? I find that there’s something about it that just helps people unwind.

  18. LOVE this. I have a Fit Bit tracker and I try to walk 10,000 steps every day (around 5 miles). As I work from home, this requires me to do a whole heck of a lot of random walks outside.

    I combine it with meeting attractive women near campus and pushing myself socially so it is equally as purposeful, though that side can be stressful.

    • Whoa, that’s an awesome goal you set for yourself. Five miles may not sound like a lot to some people, but I think we both know that is a lot. Heh, I can imagine some pretty good openers using the 10,000 steps thing.

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