Habits all the way down

In November last year, I watched several Ryan Holiday YouTube videos that affected me in several ways. Ryan is a stoic and he talks about stoic values and texts, especially Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. The videos are well produced enough, and the information he shares is intelligent and helpful philosophy of life.

One thing he mentioned was how he spends the first 30 to 60 minutes first thing in the morning outdoors and screen-free. This helps him to wake up physically and mentally.

Physically because he is outside moving around and interacting with nature. Mentally because he is away from his phone or laptop and with his thoughts and interactions with other people and life.

My life is so much about screens that taking a break from them is something I need to do. Daily and as much as possible. I earn all of my living on a screen, but that isn’t all of who I am.

In November of 2022, I started spending 30 to 60 minutes each morning going outside and getting some very light exercise. Sometimes I take Enzo for a quick short walk, but I always get in a lap or two around the property. I start a walking workout on my watch and then do my best to think of it as something other than a workout.

We got our first substantial snowstorm in November, and I used my snowshoes a few times to get around the land. As that snow melted, I switched back to walking in my boots. Then we got crushed with 2 feet of snow in late December in under a week. Since then, I have used my cross-country skis to tour around in the pre-dawn light, moonlight, or almost no light. It’s pretty dark here at 6 am in the winter.

The experience has been revelatory on a few levels. The first one is that I consistently get up and move around without any distractions besides being alive. Second, I appreciate being active and outdoors first thing in the morning. This sets a tone for the day and puts the rest of my life into perspective.

I see deer eating breakfast in a field, which causes me to change my path and let them be. I notice various animal tracks in the snow and wonder where they slept last night and what they will eat today. I appreciate these little things before I move on to the big stuff like work and existential dread.

Ryan Holiday also mentions writing in a physical journal. He has a great story where he appreciates a friend’s extensive library of personal journals and says, “I wish I had started doing this when I was younger.” The friend shares the old proverb: “The best time to plant an apple tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now.”

From that moment on, he started keeping a physical journal, which changed his life. I have been keeping a digital journal for years. It has been convenient, and I can easily add photos and look up old entries, but it requires me to be on a screen, which works against the habit of avoiding screens as much as I can.

So I started keeping a daily physical journal. Once I am done with my morning sojourn, I come in and spend twenty minutes or more writing in the journal. I start with my morning routine and then meander into whatever is on my mind. Sometimes I write about work stuff, but mostly, it’s just about life in general.

Between my morning walk/ski and writing in my physical journal, I have started a few other habits and quit some others. I don’t know if this will work for you, but it has changed my life. If you wonder where the day went and need help to get things done, this may be an excellent way to create space in your day by starting it more clear and focused.


Leave a Reply