Jim Duffy: How to change your life in 40 minutes

The simple things in life we can take for granted. We can even miss them in an age where technology occupies so much of our time.

Walking by yourself without listening to music through earbuds has a refreshing effect on body and mind, says Jim Duffy (Picture: Justin Spittle)
Walking by yourself without listening to music through earbuds has a refreshing effect on body and mind, says Jim Duffy (Picture: Justin Spittle)

The simple things in life we can take for granted. We can even miss them in an age where technology occupies so much of our time. So, recently I have been getting back to basics. Heck, I even built a small dry stone wall after watching a few ‘how to’ videos. But, bringing it back even further to a pastime that requires no tools, videos or manuals, I want you to re-experience the emotions and thoughts that can fizzle around your mind when you take a walk. Yes, a simple walk. It is truly amazing what you can see when you take the time from your day to put one foot in front of the other and gaze with purpose.

Firstly you need to make a conscious decision to walk on your own. It can be nice and empowering to walk with someone, but you can miss so much as you natter. Being alone with your thoughts as you stride out brings powerful focus on so many things. This is key to a successful, thought-provoking and enjoyable walk.

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Next think about how much time you have and want to dedicate to your walk. I would suggest about 40 minutes is a good time, considering how long you can focus for and how beneficial the walk is for your health. Then just head off and walk. No need to jump in a car if you don’t need to. Urban trekking or the bucolic idyll is fine either way.

Now that you’re out and about on your walk, it is time to really enjoy it as you stare, scrutinise, interrogate and gaze.

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For various reasons, we have lost the ability and capacity to focus on the world around us. It is all part and parcel of how technology is killing off human nature. Simply looking at the landscape wherever you are livens up the signals to between your eyes and your brain. From architecture to woodland, there is so much to fathom out. Why did the farmer build a well there? Why did the city fathers use one type of block over another? And so it starts. And you build layer upon layer of questioning and analysis on what is around you. No mobile phones. No listening to music through earbuds. Just utilising and honing your senses.

Our sense of sight is a true gift. But, we fail to appreciate what is in front of us a great deal of the time. We see what we need to see. For example, as we navigate around a town or city, we look for the cues that give us pointers like street signs, traffic lights, lane markings, pedestrian crossings. Stop. Go. Turn Left. Wait. And while all this is taking place as we are on autopilot to get to work, to park, to eat, to go home, we have pulled up a metaphysical drawbridge to everything else that exists around us.

Simply by looking up, we can delve into so much more context and history on our walk. Looking up in a city throws up an incredible amount of detail. The complexity of roofing. How the guttering works and drops down on the outside of buildings via pipes deep into the sewer systems. The types of slate that have been laid – everything from Scottish to Spanish – tell a story. Satellite dishes hanging off walls where the phones lines are attached. A whole city exists above the city pavements if you take time to look.

Conversely on your walk, you can choose to look down instead of straight ahead. Looking down offers an insight into special places that ordinarily one would walk past and miss. In places like Edinburgh there are voluminous garden flats secreted at the side of the pavements. These dwellings run beneath whole tenemented buildings with a dual aspect at the front and back. And as you walk, you can see the stairs leading down to them. It is so easy to miss them. Then you will notice that the pavement you are walking on is above the cavernous store rooms that accompany these garden flats. What a clever use of space by our Victorian city planners. And so it goes on ...

Whether you walk straight out and straight back or take a loop, there is always a new sight to pick up on, a new smell to notice.

But, it takes some effort on your behalf. If you have ever tried yoga, then you will understand the energy needed to unthink your current thoughts and focus on your heart beat and get in the moment and in tune with your body.

This is exactly what it is like as you forget the rest of what is taking place in your life and focus on your walk.

Instead of reflecting on the issues and problems you are facing back home or at work, you are reflecting on the environment around you. And it will throw back observations to you as you question why things are as they are.

And then your 40 minutes is up. You arrive back at the house or office with a whole new perspective on life around you. Selfishly, you have re-energised parts of your brain that have been dulled down over time, while benefiting from the exercise you have undertaken with minimal stress and strains on your joints.

You can come back to reality and I guarantee you will feel better in your mind and spirit.

Give it a go this week and see what new worlds open up for you in a landscape you thought you already knew ...