How do you start your day?  Do you take a moment to plan, to center yourself?  Or do you just dive in to the chaos of your to-do list and your daily musts?  Perhaps you think that the "planning" option sounds nice on paper (and would look nice on paper) - but you just never seem to get around to that crucial step of creating a vision for your day before you get carried away in the current.  Well there's an easy way to get centered any morning, and it has benefits to your physical well-being as well as your mental clarity.  Take a walk with your dog.

There are a few items that you're going to need:

  1. Your dog.
  2. Yourself.
  3. A food pouch or a Tug Toy (depending on whether your dog is motivated more by pushing or by tug).
  4. A small notebook and a pen.

Dress appropriately for the weather, so you'll be comfortable walking at a reasonably brisk pace.  Also, give some thought to your route - particularly, can you think of some places that are more "natural"?  A walk that leads you past trees, streams, something green is preferable to one that's pure concrete, asphalt, and traffic.  Leash up your dog, and head out.

You're on a walk with your dog

You might want to review this article on how to walk WITH your dog.  Being with your dog helps you stay in the moment, but it shouldn't keep you from enjoying the scenery, the air, the smells, the weather.  When your dog takes a break to sniff, let that be a break for you as well, an opportunity to simply look at what's around you.  What do you notice about the things you sense?  How old is that tree?  What's the view like from that person's window?  How many dogs have peed on that rock?  You get the idea.  Ask yourself questions as a way to provoke your curiosity about your surroundings.

In between sniffs, pick up the pace.  Usually moving faster will help guide your dog to your side.  Vary your speed, from powerwalk to jog to meander - with an occasional sprint thrown in for good measure (look out for ice though!).  Your goal should be to get your heart rate up, as the pumping of oxygenated blood throughout your body will add to the clarity that you experience.  At the same time, you can use the varied pace as a way to keep your dog engaged with you - until it's time to sniff again.  Let your heart rate slow down as your dog sniffs, and go back to observing your surroundings.

You have the food pouch (or tug toy) as a way of redirecting your dog's energy should you come across something really distracting.  But the purpose of this walk isn't to practice redirecting your dog's energy, so you should feel just as fine about avoiding encounters (crossing the street if you see another dog approaching, for example) as you do about the redirection practice.  Sure, this walk is good for your dog, and for your relationship with your dog - but it's also good for YOU.

How about the notebook?

As you observe, and get oxygen, and move your body, and stay in the moment with your dog, a funny thing happens.  You start to think more clearly.  And the jumble of what might have been your day starts to take shape.  You'll get new ideas about projects that you're working on.  You'll figure out how to prioritize items on your list.  You'll get visions of the future, of what's possible for you.

So use your notebook to write these things down!

Once you've captured an idea in your notebook, your mind will be free to move on to another problem.  The act of writing things down prevents you from looping - which is essentially thinking about the same thing (even if it IS a great idea) over and over again.  Let your notebook be a repository of your good ideas, your inspirations, your insights, your observations.  And then keep walking.

If you can take ten, twenty, or thirty minutes in the morning to walk outdoors with your dog in the manner described above, I guarantee that you will notice a difference in your productiveness, in the quality of your ideas, in the clarity of your thoughts.  And, best of all, you'll notice a difference in the camaraderie that you experience with your dog.  My times with Nola have been responsible for some of the key insights of my adult life.  Not only will I always have the memory of the insight, I will also treasure the fact that she was there with me to commemorate the moment.

Down the hill, over the river, up the hill, and back again

Here in Yarmouth, Maine it's a balmy 40 degrees (F), the sun is shining, and it's the middle of February.  This morning I walked down the road from our house, past the 13-foot diameter stump of "Herbie" (who up until a few weeks ago was the oldest Elm Tree in New England), and down the hill towards where the Royal River meets the ocean.  I noticed for the first time a house perched right at the waters edge, with a foundation that had a huge arch in it - presumably where a small boat could row right up into the basement of the house (good for smuggling things in from the ocean, maybe?).  As I crested the hill on the other side of the river, I noticed a house, sun streaming in the windows, that must really enjoy its wintertime views of the harbor, especially on a sunny winter's morning.  Then back again on a different street, a different hill, a different bridge - a little loop that brought me back to the place we now call home.

This morning's walk also brought with it ideas for five different blog articles, two different workshop ideas, a renewed passion for my life's mission, and some quality time with Nola, who found many a newly-uncovered (snow is a-melting) spot to sniff.  She's getting older (13 this spring), so our sprints were shorter, our sniffs a little longer.  By the end we were both feeling the effects of a mile or so of getting the blood pumping - with her settling down to a morning's snooze, and me sitting down to a day's work.  With a surge of optimism for the days ahead.

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