Smoking and Walking

Many years ago I had a nasty compulsive habit. I smoked. How I got started isn't entirely clear, but it's probably as mundane as thinking it made me look cool. But when I got older and entered the work force, it became something different. It gave me an opportunity to step out of context at different points throughout the day. Whatever I was doing, my addiction would give me an excuse to step out and give me time to think.

I wasn't engaged in profound thought or solving the world's problems. Nothing like that. But it did give me some time to chew on problems without the expectation that I would immediately act on them. It was just time pause and toy with a notion.

As the years went on I couldn't get around the fact that I was forking over a lot of money on a thing that was slowly killing me. After several abortive attempts I managed to successfully quit the habit. And for a while nothing took its place. But the other day it dawned on me, I have found it.

I've replaced smoking with walking.

Not just walking but tracking my steps throughout the day. That is my new addiction. My replacement compulsive behavior. Like the craving for nicotine, the need to get in 10,000 steps each day tugs at my pant leg at all hours, until I hit it.

"Psst… Have you got enough steps yet?" It asks.

And like my past cigarette breaks, my walks give me a chance to think. An opportunity to look at things from a different angle. Rumination time. I sometimes think that my walks would be a great time to catch up on my podcasts or listen to music, but I only ever find it distracting.

Working as a software developer, I spend the better part of the day behind a computer. If I want to log 10k on a work day I have to start walking first thing. I need to walk before my kids get up. Getting them out the door in the morning is a full contact sport that requires my wife and I to both be in the game. My alarm goes off between 5:45 and 6:00 AM during the week, I put on my shoes, grab the dog and leash, and head out the door.

This has turned out to also be a surprisingly effective way to motivate myself out of bed in the morning. The snooze button has been an addiction all its own. My morning walks are something I look forward to; a great motivation to get out of bed. Not hitting snooze each morning feels like an achievement all on its own.

At work, I will take fifteen minutes to walk the halls a couple times a day. When others might go outside to smoke, I'm logging steps. I don't feel guilty about it. I generally spend that time thinking about whatever problem it was I was trying to solve before I stepped out. Ultimately, my employer benefits from my walks too. By keeping myself healthy, I am keeping my health care costs down. And though I may not be at my desk writing code, it's very likely that I am thinking about the code I will be writing once I get back.

Photo: Untitled / Joe St. Pierre @ flickr / CC BY 2.0

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