How to Clear Your Mind

This is entry #1 into the new ‘How to Find Happiness‘ post series. Do you have anything to contribute to this series? If so, please contact me.

Those of you who follow the blog will know that in a few short months, me and the (soon to be) Mrs SavingNinja will be attempting the 12 hour Half Dome hike in Yosemite Valley. There was a moment of realisation last week when we thought, ‘Shit, we’ve never been on a hike that long before, not even close! We’d better do some training.’

So, we researched online and found a long, circular hike in our area, packed up our water pouches, beef jerky, and snacks, and we set off with a spring in our step (it didn’t last long).

The hike we went on took us 6 hours, it traversed the beautiful Surrey Hills, and it covered 22 kilometers from start to finish. Even though it was difficult, we both thoroughly enjoyed the walk. It taught us that we definitely have to do more training before we’re ready for the hike up the monster which is Half Dome, but it also taught us something else, something perhaps profound: Long hikes completely clear your mind.

We both felt elated, happy, and content directly after the hike, but I started to really notice a change whilst on the train the next day. I sat on my morning commute and noticed that my mind was almost completely clear. I still had the recursive worries and ‘planning’ thoughts flying through my head, but they were much quieter, like a whisper, and easier to push away too. I felt like the normally buzzing part of my brain was occupying 10% of my head instead of 90%, this gave my mind space to be present and feel happy.

I sat there in bliss after realising that I was content and calm, I didn’t even want to turn on my Kindle and read as I was enjoying the serenity too much. Instead, I continued to listen to the Peaceful Piano playlist on Spotify and relax, for over half of my journey.

It’s now 3 days later and I’m still experiencing this bliss.

What the hell is happening? Is the secret to being content and living in the moment really just to go on a long walk?

What’s Going On?

Whilst being in this blissful state, I’ve tried to analyse how and why this is happening, this is what I came up with:

1) All of my thoughts had a chance to get out into the open. I was walking for 6 whole hours, with my closest friend. There were periods where we didn’t talk, and long stretches where we did. Everything that we wanted to talk about, got talked about.

The walk was like a repository for me to pour all of my mounting thoughts into, worries and dreams both. It left us feeling as if we’d discussed everything that we had to discuss, which was much needed with the wedding just around the corner.

2) Reconnecting with nature. There’s something about being in the beauty of nature that makes you feel grounded and thankful. Something along the lines of, “How lucky am I to live in a place where all of this beauty is right on my doorstep? And no matter how much I save, or work, I’ll always have access to this.”

It brings you back down to earth and makes you realise that to be happy, all you really need are your loved ones and nice walks.

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3) Switching off from technology. Although we still had our phones out to take pictures, we were, for the most part, completely phone free. For 6 hours! I don’t remember the last time in the waking day that we haven’t gone on our phones for that long.

In this day and age, people are glued to their phones, it’s like an addiction. With all of the good that they bring, it’s nice to reconnect to real life and switch off from time to time.

4) Fatigue. Walking for 6 hours is pretty damn tiring. Maybe an empty head is just the result of being extremely tired? This would be a pretty crappy explanation to a nice feeling, so I hope not!

It is strange that this feeling of contentedness only seemed to occur when going on an extended walk. I wonder where the boundary is? Would we feel this way after hiking for only 3 hours? Or less?

There’s also the possibility that we were just having a plain old nice day, which left us feeling happy. We’ll soon find out when we go on our next extended walk.

Have you ever felt a feeling like this after completing a strenuous activity? Let me know in the comments below.


17 thoughts on “How to Clear Your Mind

  1. I entirely relate to this. I love going for walks for exactly the reasons your articulate. To your list I would also add the feeling of filling your lungs with fresh air. I find that rejuvenating.

    The next level part of that is to go camping or for multi-day hikes. We go camping once or twice a year and we love it. I also have things like the Wainwright Coast to Coast walk on my bucket list as well as doing some more hill walking and bagging a few Munros!

    1. Ah yeah, the smell and taste of the country (or mountain) air. I’d really love to go on a multi-day hike, we don’t have the gear currently, and due to planning to move abroad we’ve been holding off on purchasing any. I wonder if you can rent?

      I had to Google what Munros were 🙂 I now know! I’ve only been to Scotland once to climb Ben Nevis for the three peaks challenge with work colleagues. I’ve been meaning to go back there with the OH for an extended visit, Scotland is was breathtakingly beautiful.

  2. All the best with your Half-Dome hike! I hope you love it as much as I did.

    What you have written pretty much sums up why we like hiking so much. Although we don’t do it as often as we used to, it is definitely something we intend to keep doing as the kids grow older.

    There is just this feeling of insignificance when hiking around and up the mountains (my favourite type). Whatever stress or worry I had is just put into perspective. It’s the similar feeling I get when we go star gazing. The mind just wanders or just as good, you think of nothing. Like some sort of unintentional meditation. I think that is why it can lead to happiness.

    By the way, you might get so addicted that you get into kind-distance hikes (100+ miles like we are). If you do, I thoroughly recommend the TMB (Tour Du Monte Blanc).

    1. Ahh, I’ve just spent ages researching TMB hike, thanks for the suggestions – one for the bucket list 🙂 I might have to badger you for gear suggestions!

      I think you’re probably spot on with the unintentional meditation. I’m hoping to explore meditation more with this series of posts and if it provides similar results I’d be very happy. All these thoughts that build up in your head over time are like poison, they need to be let out.

  3. This is a great post Ninja. While long walks are somewhat limited for me right now with three little ones (I end up carrying them!) I totally agree on their benefits. Finding somewhere new to walk, or taking a new route on a familiar walk also opens up the senses. My Father in law is soon to be doing a pilgrimage in Spain and is busy building up the miles and has never been happier, fitter or more engaged. Yosemite will inspire you (if you’ve not been before). We spent a few days there on a 3-week honeymoon in California and Hawaii. Breathtaking. Good luck with it all

    1. No, we haven’t been there before, never to the west coast in general! Very excited, we’ll be spending 3 weeks there for our honeymoon too 🙂

      Thanks for the luck, will be sure to post pictures when we’re back.

  4. I think that as a nation we don’t realise how lucky we are regarding the access we have to our beautiful countryside. It is certainly not the case in all countries – a recent holiday in Ireland and countless in France has taught me this. My partner and I met through a walking group, which just shows how much we love it. I think it is a combination of peace, enjoying nature and physical exhaustion which leads to that feeling of calmness. Sometimes when we are walking and we stop in a beautiful place I try to take a few minutes to drink it all in so that I can see it in my mind’s eye the next day when I am sitting at my desk. I think if more of the population enjoyed this free activity the world would be a better place for it.

    1. This is so true Sam, I haven’t really thought about the notion that we probably have the nicest countrysides in the whole world before. You hit the nail on the head with the reason it brings calmness. I recently went on another walk, 7 hours this time (with more hills) and I’m way too exhausted to even think properly 😛 I did your drinking it in trick as well.

  5. Most of those reasons are why I love running so much (assuming I can get out to somewhere “nature-y” to tick off #2, which is pretty easy both where I live and work, yes even in London, if you count parks or the thames haha). Obviously you don’t get the mega long chats with the wife but it pushes a lot of the happiness buttons in a much shorter amount of time. I do love hiking as well of course but finding the time with young kids is as Dan said!

    We’ve been on one short “hike” while we’ve been on holiday so far and it went pretty well all things considered. Looking forward to doing more when TFS Jr’s legs get a little bit longer 🙂

    Good luck on the half dome! We went there 10 years ago but didn’t even consider doing the trek, haha!

    1. We’ve not got there with running yet as we’re too busy thinking that we’re going to die 😛 But I can imagine that running would give the same results after you’re past that wall.

      Thanks for the luck! I just hope the park is open and there isn’t a government shutdown or forest fire happening this year!

  6. I really relate to this! As you maybe know I’ve been on several road trips with my brother to the far north of Scandinavia, to Lapland and way beyond the Arctic circle. While it doesn’t compare to the physical activity of long hikes, the long drives, the emptiness and pristine, natural beauty cleared my mind every single time. We made fires, drank beers, talked and stared at beautiful still lakes and snow capped mountains in the distance. These moments were very special and we often just said to each other ‘this is it man…’. It didn’t require an explanation, we knew what it meant. Losing track of time, feeling happier than ever. I believe that the more disconnected we become with nature, the more we surround us with technology, the unhappier we become…

    1. Definitely Marc! We need to all retire to a commune where we live off the land 🙂 A perfect life…

  7. Having 3 dogs (1 of which is completely bananas) means I’m out and about walking before work most mornings! It’s great exercise, wakes you up and gets you going for the day ahead – this clears my mind most of the time.

    I fully believe in the right type of exercise having such a positive effect on health – I used to be quite big into my rowing 12 years ago – raced at national champs, european champs, henley regatta a good few times – had to give it up as my knee’s at the age of 18 were starting to give way. The amount of fitness and ergo work we did was pretty crazy, to the point of where most of the team could survive on 4-5 hours worth of sleep and didn’t feel the side effects. Now-a-days with work involved and other commitments has meant going to the gym has cut right back to practically nothing!

    1. That’s crazy! Being so fit you can function on 4-5 hours sleep! You’d be adding 4 hours to your work day 😛 (although I guess they’d be spent at the gym haha!)

      I can imagine walking in the morning would be a good start to the day 🙂

  8. I enjoy time away from my phone – a big old walk/hike like the one you did is great for that. I’ve been on 3 walks now (longest at around 7 miles) and I’ve enjoyed them so intend to do more – the fresh air is good for me.

    I also don’t take my phone with me when I’m at the gym so that’s another few hours away from it, unlike some people who seem to be checking their social media in between doing their reps!

    The other day, a friend whatsapped me, asking ‘Are you out?’ I replied ‘No am at home, watching a film’. She said ‘Why didn’t you reply earlier?’. ‘Um…because I was watching the film and didn’t want to be distracted so left my phone upstairs.’ She thought I was being weird! Can’t enjoy a film if I’m having to check my phone at the same time, or is that just me?

    1. You’re the enlightened one that realises more time away from your phone, the better 🙂 I wish Mrs SN knew this! (although I’m just as guilty) Phone addiction should be treatable 😛

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