Eight plus years ago, I started walking every day in our seaside city of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Every morning at 5:00 a.m., I take a 7.2-mile journey, 14,962 steps, past the same barn, down the same path, by the same river, and experience the same headwind around the final turn. And every morning, I take a photo and post it on my Instagram (@parkhere), tagging it with #ThisMorningWalk.
Even though my route is essentially the same every day, I always see something new to document each time I walk those miles. It’s a conscious decision to get outside every day, regardless of the weather or mood, to seek inspiration, to create space for ideas, to find comfort, and to nourish friendship and community. Eight years later, I have walked the circumference of the earth, roughly 25,000 miles.
It is the key to my operating system.
It is my act of radical self-care.
As COVID-19 has vastly disrupted the routines many people rely on for their own well-being, I’m aware of how fortunate I am that my routine to stay creative and grounded is still allowed in this era of isolation and confinement. The current need for humans to shelter in place and practice social distancing has left us uneasy with the prospect of a very different way of life, void of the physical, mental, and emotional nourishment we otherwise received. A simple walk outside is being embraced as a true joy that helps us as we all attempt to navigate this new norm. Walking had become my medicine, long before we spoke of vaccines and antivirals.
As a different sense of community brings us together, with #AloneTogether trending on all social media platforms, and children placing rainbows in their windows as a sign of togetherness, we are suddenly brought together by the importance of free, intimate experiences such as walks in the park, dance parties in our living rooms, and shared virtual family dinners.
Here are some tips for maintaining creativity from my eight years of experience walking the Earth:
1. Begin with something doable
Anxiety is at an all-time high, with many scrambling to find ways to maintain mental health while working, parenting, and caretaking at the same time. Start with something achievable, a short 10-minute walk around the neighborhood, to ease your way into the routine and build good habits. Starting small allows you to enjoy the sun, the sound of the birds, the wind on your cheek, without impeding the necessary tasks being asked of you right now.
My commitment to daily walks was born out of the realization of how much time I spent driving my car, sitting in meetings, tending to-do lists, and going from place to place. I realized I had lost my footing and needed to get back to the essentials. As a society, we are now forced to adjust our daily routines, and committing to our best practices will help navigate through.
2. Repeat for five days, then do it again
The consistent effort of prioritizing mental and physical health can be difficult, but it is worth every ounce of commitment you can harness. Keep track of your progress and experiences. After every walk, I decided to post a picture on Instagram to keep a record. It was a visual diary for myself to remember the details of that day – a record of that wild snowstorm, the foggy sunrise, the lineup of ravens on the roof, the rain pouring off my hat brim. The photos are a byproduct of each walk and a way to keep me honest in my commitment.
Good things always happen on a walk, and I have never been sorry for committing to my daily ritual. It’s important to prioritize your mental health during this time, and by committing to a practice, you can see and feel the progress. This isn’t about an end game; it’s about being present and moving forward.
3. Stay curious about the process
There’s something to be said about the act of physically moving vs. stationary meditation. I start many walks with an intention, such as trying to figure out a creative challenge at work or handling a personal issue. The physical energy in this practice creates a dynamic I need to deconstruct and reframe an issue.
Having an intention and being able to step outside of your shelter will help you ponder ideas, address concerns, and create solutions.
A simple walk is now a luxury that allows people to escape their current work-from-home situation, maintain mental health and embrace creativity. Starting this practice and staying with it deepens what you observe about yourself and others.
These practices aren’t solely limited to quiet morning walks, but we all need to find habits, especially during this time, that will give us the physical, mental, and emotional nourishment we need. Many of us are currently isolated in our homes, with the new norm of video-chatting and calling others instead of experiencing face-to-face contact, knowing the daunting fact that this will continue for the coming weeks. This is why it’s crucial to maintain daily micro-practices that create the space, time, and energy to allow thoughts and feelings to deconstruct as we move forward.
Libby DeLana is the cofounder and creative director of Mechanica.