The Brain Benefits of Daily Walks, Making an Ulysses Pact & the Peripheral Gaze
🤸♀️ Stretch 26
I'm not gonna lie.
I find AI scary. Cool - but scary. All it takes is a wacky mind and the right prompt, and you can generate the most incredible images in a matter of seconds. Like the Nike shoe render - spat out when the machine was fed these words:
"a pair of Nike shoes with flowers on top of it, a bronze sculpture by Victorine Foot, behance contest winner, cloisonnism, rendered in cinema4d, ornate, rendered in maya, ultarealistik, 8k, HDR, cinematic --ar 2:3 --upbeta"
But I'm resisting the urge to look away, to pretend it doesn't exist. I'm playing around with ChatGPT, Lexica Art, Midjourney. I'm running toward what frightens me because I believe that's how you stay fresh and creative.
Oh and speaking of creativity - I'm running another Creative Experiments workshop on February 6. The feedback has been amazing. If you've caught yourself thinking a variation of "I don't know where to start" or "I wish I could do that" ... then I really think you should join. Free & easy signup here.
IN THIS WEEK'S STRETCH:
Daily Walks. You owe it to your brain.
Ulysses Pact. Why sometimes you need to tie yourself to a metaphorical mast.
Peripheral Gaze. The best and easiest Tiny Habit.
🏃♀️ 5 UNDERRATED REASONS TO GO FOR DAILY WALKS
AI is impressive, but one thing it'll never do, is replace how good it feels to move our bodies (ugh, or will it? I hope not because then we're truly doomed.)
Every time I go out for a walk, I come back and think: "I love life; walks are amazing; I'm on top of the world!"
And yet. The following morning, I have to convince myself again to get up and get out.
I've been told getting a dog will remove all that resistance instantly, but since I don't want to bring another life into my mess, I'll have to rely on mentally running through the list of below 5 reasons:
#1 - Modulate your circadian rhythm
One of the biggest regulators for a balanced circadian rhythm (our inner 24-hour clock) is natural light.
It's the primary 'timekeeper' - the way in which our body knows when to turn certain functions on & off.
Starting the day with a walk (as close to waking up as possible) + going out a couple of times throughout the day, is giving your brain and body extra information about light & time of day - which in turn will improve your sleep, focus, and moods.
#2 - Get creative juices flowing
The brain is an organ - the most metabolically demanding organ in our body. The ravenous thing uses up ≅20% of our body’s oxygen supply. When it’s not getting enough, we feel foggy & unfocused.
Movement increases blood flow to the brain, delivering the oxygen & nutrients it needs to operate better (aka biggest creative cheat code.)
#3 - Reduce overwhelm & anxiety
When we generate our own forward motion (nerd speak for "walking"), visual images pass by us on all sides. That is called optic flow.
As you're walking, your eyes make lateral movements to engage with the optic flow & update your brain on where you are in the environment.
These lateral eye movements and the generated optic flow have a powerful effect on the nervous system, reducing the amount of activity in an area of the brain called the amygdala (which plays a key role in feelings of anxiety and fear.)
#4 - Appreciate your brain & body
One single step moves more than 200 bones & 600 muscles in the human body, activating multiple brain functions for all of this to happen simultaneously.
(Another thing technology hasn't managed to replicate yet. I mean, have you ever seen a robot walk?)
So next time you're out, consider the absolutely unimaginable power & beauty of what you're doing.
#5 Take care of your visual system
Visual system? Wasn't this about the brain?
Fun fact: the eyes are two pieces of brain, pushed out of the skull during development. They're not just connected to the brain - they are brain.
Plus, turns out they are responsible for much more than "just seeing."
A healthy visual system drives mental and physical performance.
And some of the best exercises to train your eyes are smooth pursuit and accommodation, which are perfect to do while out and about.
These exercises are too important to explain in just a few sentences, so read the details in my full post (+ more interesting nuggets on the first 4 points):
📲 ULYSSES PACT TO GET YOUR DEEP WORK DONE
I've made a Ulysses Pact with myself.
The term refers to Ulysses, a brave Greek warrior, who made a pact with his men as they approached the Sirens - beautiful creatures of the sea, whose singing bewitches sailors and lures them to their deaths.
Ulysses wanted to hear the Sirens' song, so he put wax in his men's ears and had them tie him to the mast so he could not jump into the sea.
Today, The Ulysses Pact is a technique from behavioral psychology where we make a choice in the present that "binds us" to an action or decision in the future.
I really want to get my internet habits under control. I think about this a lot. For me, it's not necessarily about spending less time on my phone or laptop, but about doing what I said I'd do - without checking my emails or opening up Twitter every 15 minutes.
I should probably leave the visuals to AI
So, I'm tying myself to a metaphorical mast in 2 ways:
Cold Turkey on my computer. A website blocker that allows me to block specific websites for specific chunks of the day. I've set up daily recurring blocks every morning (9-12 pm) and every afternoon (1-6 pm), every weekday, with no way of disabling them.
Phone Safe for my phone. I tried the trick of charging my phone in another room, but I would still fall into the trap of "quickly checking my messages" on my way to the bathroom or while taking a break. With this lock, I set a timer (up to 12 hours), and the phone is locked inside the safe.
Bit drastic, but I need to protect Future Charlotte from herself.
[If you're rolling your eyes, read this.]
And if you're thinking you might need extra help, you could work with a digital wellbeing coach. Clo S. just released Tech Bliss - a workbook and cohort course focused on the science behind digital wellbeing and practices to sustainably create healthier tech habits. Check it out. There are guided experiments and journaling prompts, and if you sign up for the course (starting Feb 20), there's a community + coaching component to it.
👁 THE WIDE PERIPHERAL GAZE
After hundreds of hours of listening to and learning from Huberman Lab, this is still my favorite and most impactful tiny habit:
Going into a wide peripheral gaze.
And it's so, so simple. Literally, anyone can do it - anytime, anywhere.
Since your eyes are part of your brain, narrowing or widening your visual field has a profound impact on the rest of your nervous system i.e. how you feel emotionally.
By consciously going from tunnel vision to panoramic vision, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the system in your body designed for calm and relaxation.
I have found it especially powerful when I'm - you guessed it - walking. It's fascinating to observe how difficult it is to keep looking up instead of looking at the floor.
This visual trick from @hubermanlab has changed my life in the simplest and subtlest way:
— charlottegrysolle (@chargrysolle)
May 18, 2022
Have I convinced you to get out for a walk first thing tomorrow morning?