Walking has been my exercise of choice for a few years now. Not that I have anything against other exercise genres, but when somebody says “downward dog” I look around for a puppy’s belly to scratch. Awhile back, I noticed I had some weird walking habits. One, I was always counting things such as my footsteps or cracks in the sidewalk. Two, I was almost always watching my feet.
One spring, I decided to begin hiking at some of the local state parks and quickly realized I had been missing out on much of the beauty around me because I was constantly looking down at my feet. I tried adapting my behavior – walk a few steps, look around, walk a few more steps, etc. (This may be where the counting habit came from.) It was taking the fun out of hiking, so I purposed to identify the root of my weird walking ways and resolve them.
What I learned was my foot-watching was a symptom of my depression, or rather an extension of it. Somehow my brain had landed on a literal interpretation of “things are looking down” and decided to personify that in my being by perpetually tilting my head forward. I also learned I was not alone. Look around sometime; you are likely to see there are a lot of people watching their feet.
Further research into my “pace” oddity revealed perfectionism in disguise. What do you think of when you hear “perfectionist”? Do you picture an A-type go-getter or perhaps a towel-straightening Sleeping with the Enemy kind of person? If so, you may be surprised to learn perfectionism is actually insecurity incognito. You can tell the difference between achievement and perfectionism by one factor: realism.
Achievers set goals with realistic timelines and expectations. To them, there is no such thing as failure. Every bump in the road is an opportunity for growth, thus making them even more capable of successfully reaching their next goal. On the other hand, perfectionism is loaded with “what ifs” – nearly all of which can be interpreted the same way… What if I fail?
Another important distinction between achievement and perfectionism is achievers tend to be more satisfied with life whereas perfectionists frequently suffer from anxiety and depression. Fear of failure or falling can cause us to look down, watching every step, and depression can convince us we have no reason to look up. I’d like to recommend two things which have helped me: a camera, and setting small goals.
Something about having a camera at the ready helps us see beauty where we otherwise might miss it. Today’s blog photo may look like some old steel girders, but for some reason one particular day, they just struck me as awesome and I snapped a photo. The content of the photo is not nearly as important as the fact I was looking up and looking ahead. Learning to shift my focus when I walk has brightened my outlook (it has also helped me to count less).
Why not give it a try? Set a small goal such as taking two pictures the next time you are out and about. When you do, consider not only your achievement, but the physiological benefits of it. Natural sunlight and natural wonders are good medicine for depression. Looking around for new things to photograph not only redirects focus from the negative messaging centers of the brain, it sends a new kind of message – a positive one which says, “Things are looking up”.