The Walk Pile: Try this for 7 days and tell me it doesn’t change your stress levels.
Of all the habits I’ve tried over the years to reduce my ridiculous stress levels, keep all my plates spinning, and generally try to maintain a base level of well-being, there are only 3 that have stuck:
One small addition to the 2nd — which pairs with the 3rd — has been to have a pen in my right hand, resting on a small piece of note card while meditating. (I’m most relaxed with a pen in my hand. Go figure.)
Usually I’m meditating right after waking, so my brain is a bag of cats.
If there’s a thought that bubbles up and keeps repeating, or it’s more of a ‘to-do’ that needs to get out of my head, I quickly jot it down and return to my breath.
Your brain will serve up all manner of madness during your meditations
Sometimes the best thing you can do is recognise the thought, acknowledge its existence, and watch it dematerialise. Other times, if you get it out of your head and onto a scrap of paper, it can live somewhere else.
As David Allen said,
The Walk Pile.
If there are things that don’t need me to be in the office/studio, and they’re thoughts that might need more time, I put the slip of paper by the door in my ‘Walk Pile’.
What the hell is a Walk Pile?
I get out of the house right after my morning meditation and walk the High Line in New York. It’s a threefold benefit: it exposes me to sunlight and fresh air after waking, it gives me some steps/light cardio before eating, and it clears my head for the day ahead.
If there are thoughts or to-do’s that need some attention that don’t require me to be in my studio, I grab them from my Walk Pile, which lives right next to the front door, stash them in my pocket, and attend to them while I’m walking.
There’s no reason your to-do list should be long.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a second look at the thought, scrunch it up, and throw it in the nearest trash can. Sometimes even a good idea just isn’t right for you at this time and you have to be able to let it go back into the ether. Either write it down for another day, or toss it to get it out of your brain. There is no better time to make this decision than while you’re in motion.
You can do a surprising amount of work on-the-go these days.
I can make my phonecalls while walking, I can respond to urgent emails, I can make notes in my phone, listen to news, a book or a podcast if I want, or I just just meditate on a idea and let it bubble away.
Walking might be the best of all habits to build into your day.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, your health levels, your job: if you have a working set of legs, you should be walking every day. If you need to get up 30 minutes earlier to get a walk in, believe me it’ll be worth it.
If you haven’t figured it out already: the above is yet another case of Habit-tethering. (ie. Finding something you already do reliably, and tethering a new habit to it.) I once tethered my coffee addiction to going to the gym to get me into an exercise habit.
These days I’ve been using the cards from the UgMonk system to jot down any stray ideas, thoughts, or to-dos and toss them into the Walk Pile. They’re small, lined note cards and fit nicely into my pocket. A scrap of paper would also do. Don’t get hung up on it: just make it as frictionless as possible.
I’m not going to tell you to do it for 30 days to build the habit — just try it for 7 days and tell me it isn’t bullshit. I hope it helps.
Full transparency: I work for Sam Harris on his Waking Up app. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get into meditation of any kind: it isn’t prescriptive of one specific method. The best way to learn is to just start.