Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution that quickly faded away? So much of life is made up of things we do habitually without thinking about what’s most important.
We all want to be happier and healthier but all too often find it hard to follow through on the goals we’ve set. You may know someone who used a rude awakening – an illness, injury, or divorce as motivation to implement changes that were long overdue.
In my case, a motorcycle racing accident led to a shattered hip and a crushed nerve in my leg. After almost two years of taking opioids, seeing dozens of doctors and specialists, I found myself stuck in overwhelming pain, and was told “You’re just going to have to live with it.”
Considering I could barely get up and out to walk my dog, I had a crazy idea. If I could find a way to hike the 2,000 mile long Appalachian Trail then my leg would have to be better. I cobbled together a beginner’s pack and three weeks later was on a train down to Georgia.
After making it only 2.5 miles the first day, step by step, I began to explore ways to reach this impossible goal I had set. Pure determination and effort got me to Erwin, Tennessee where I collapsed in a Motel 8, completely exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally.
I went home, rested up for the summer, then tested out hiking much shorter sections of the trail at a time. I’d hike for a few days then take a week or two off. I learned that if you want to reach a big goal, I had to break it down into much smaller chunks.
I wrote down this question: “How could I make this adventure easy and fun?” and came up with a list of 30 ideas to choose from. The following spring, I went back to Erwin, Tennessee to restart my hike right where I had left off.
The lesson I learned was that instead of trying to keep up with everyone else hiking 15 plus miles a day, 8 to 10 miles worked for me. And that became my habit. I found that walking daily through the wilderness helped my leg to heal as well as gave me the time and space to appreciate living in the moment.
After 11 months of walking, I finally reached the northern end of the Appalachian Trail in Maine on the top of Mt. Katahdin. Now that I’m back home, my five mile walk each morning around the neighborhood keeps me in shape. On top of that I’m making friends with neighbors and I’ve learned to enjoy this pleasant time outside.
Consider starting off 2024 by walking a short, easily doable distance. Put this in your calendar for three days a week during January, and make sure you do it no matter what. First thing in the morning works best for most of us but whatever you do, don’t wait until the end of the day!
Once February rolls around, step up to five days a week, then over time consider adding another day each week or increasing your mileage slightly. You may find as I have that walking daily is a sure-fire habit which leads to better health and happiness.
About Peter Conti: Peter Conti is the Wall St Journal and Amazon Bestselling author of “Only When I Step On It – One Man’s Inspiring Journey to Hike The Appalachian Trail Alone,” a memoir detailing his journey of healing and self-discovery on the Appalachian Trail. His story is a testament to the enduring power of determination and the incredible impact of walking on both physical and mental health, especially as we age. Peter is on a mission to inspire others to embark on their own journeys to wellness and vitality through the simple act of walking. He lives in Annapolis, MD, and Port Saint Lucie, FL.