I have just been gifted nine extra free-time hours and it is a whole new world
The toddler has started pre-school and I plan to use my free time for a solitary walk on the beach
'Even a few minutes walking outdoors alone can slow down the rush of a busy life and reframe our approach to our day.' Photograph: iStock
Imagine if I were to offer you an extra nine hours in your week. How would you spend this time?
You certainly could fit in an extra run or walk, get more sleep, chop more fruit, meet old friends or read more books. But would you actually make any long-lasting change, or would those extra hours gradually disappear back into your busy weekly schedule?
I have just been gifted nine extra hours to my week and it is a whole new world. Yes, the time has come for pre-school to start. From being at home all day with a toddler, I now have a few mornings each week to myself. I’m determined to use this change in routine as an opportunity to create some new habits and do the things I always said I would do if I had more time.
But what I’m planning to do is the opposite of what you might think. My goal is not to teach morning classes or Marie Kondo our home. I don’t plan on improving running technique or taking up a new hobby. In fact, I’m committing to no extra chores, no checking emails, no housework, no phone calls and no working. I’m going to attempt to do less rather than more. My intention is to create a habit of driving straight to the beach from pre-school and walking/running alone to clear my head and set myself up for the day.
You may think this is an easy thing to do and it may already be part of your routine. But as lovely as it sounds, I actually find it quite a challenge. At the back of my head are all the jobs I feel I should be doing. Consciously making the decision to spend an hour on my own almost makes me feel guilty for wasting time. But this is the very reason I need to do it. This newfound solitude is not my natural comfort zone.
This solo time has made me recognise how little time I have spent alone over the past few years.
A busy few years
In my defence, it has been a busy few years. I have just finished writing a book and myself and my husband have just about managed to keep a daredevil two-year-old alive. I’ve either had a laptop or a toddler within reach most of the time. I’m not sure which has been more challenging. But both of these babies are now moving on to their next stage and it’s time for a change. That all starts with some time alone.
I realise that whatever habits I create now are pretty much going to carry through from pre-school to primary school and beyond. I’m looking down the road at more than a decade of morning school drop-offs. That is a lot of mornings that could be spent wisely. Choosing not to be busy and avoiding tackling the to-do list is a tough ask. But it’s what I need and possibly what many more of us could benefit from to help us get our head in order for a calm and contented day.
We all have some opportunity in our day to carve out a few minutes alone
I have chosen to walk rather than run on these morning excursions for now. I will admit that the first few mornings were a little unsettling. After 20 minutes, I was ready to finish. Time seemed to go slower than usual and I was a little bored of myself. I can honestly say that teaching two hours of running classes went a lot faster. Without the distraction of others and with my phone zipped tightly in my pocket, I had no choice but to be present. I hadn’t spent time much alone with no distractions for so long. No wonder my body found it strange. But after a few days I settled into my own company and now it’s the best start to the day. As the minutes pass, I become more comfortable and almost feel my head reorganising itself for the day ahead.
I’m pleasantly surprised at how good walking can make me feel. I only ever thought running could be that rewarding. There surely is something in the fresh air. My favourite mornings now are those where I am wrapped up and head out along the cliff path in glorious, crisp, early spring sunshine. I resist the temptation to check my phone and I return to the car energised yet relaxed, motivated yet content. It reminds me of the reason I caught the running bug so many years ago. The escape from reality and the opportunity to reset our mindset is so valuable yet so easily forgotten when it’s not practised regularly.
You may not be as lucky as I have been to gain a little extra free time this spring, but we all have some opportunity in our day to carve out a few minutes alone. It may be on our lunch break, it could be on our commute to work or might just be a late-evening wander around the block. Taking out the headphones, spending more time outdoors by walking or running and choosing to listen to our own monologue instead of the radio or music is uncomfortable to start, but gradually we learn to appreciate the silence.
Our days, weeks and years all merge together so easily. Time seems to fly by quicker than ever. Even a few minutes walking outdoors alone can slow down the rush of a busy life and reframe our approach to our day. Having a change of routine has given me an opportunity to reset, refocus and make this a priority. Maybe you will never have as much free time as you have right now. Realising this makes me appreciate the minutes all the more. It’s surely time for us all to use our free minutes well.
Go on. Start today.
– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Get Running, published by Gill Books, will be available from February 22nd