Outdoor Diary: What Happens When I Think About My Nature Habit as ‘Recess’

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Humans Outside Outdoor Diary Episode 295

Keeping a daily habit, any habit, comes with a risk that it eventually transforms from something you want to do into something that’s simply a chore. You do it without thinking. It’s so a part of who you are that you may not even remember if you did it or not.

I don’t want my outdoor habit to be a chore. I want it to feel like recess, a concept introduced to me by New York Times best-selling author Gretechn Rubin in her recent guest episode with Humans Outside.

What changes when I think about heading outside as recess instead of a chore? Listen now.


Some of the good stuff:

[:35] What might happen when you realize that every day is a lot of days

[1:11] You don’t want this to feel like a chore

[1:37] What I want it to feel like instead

[2:15] What Gretchen Rubin taught me about this in our recent episode

[2:50] Do you remember recess as a kid?

[3:15] What would happen if I made my outdoor time recess

[4:00] Here’s how that looks

[4:45] Two great examples of this

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

One of the things I’ve learned through my daily outdoor habit is this: every day is a lot of days. It’s literally all the days.

I know that sounds obvious. But think about it for a second. If you did something you loved at least for the most part every day while acknowledging that every day is truly a lot of days, how would you change your approach? Would you realize that it’s OK to do the same thing a bunch of those times because you have more days later? Or on the flip side would let the truth drag you down? Would you let it become a chore?

It can be easy to make heading out there something you do because it’s something that you do, not because it’s something that you WANT to do.

And you do want to have an outdoor habit, I promise. We talk about why all the time. But sometimes — you know, when the weather is bad or when you’re tired or when there’s other things competing for your time — that can be really hard to remember.

The truth is, any regular practice can start to feel like a chore. Going outside gives me joy. I don’t want it to feel like a chore.

Instead, I want it to feel like what Gretchen Rubin so neatly calls “recess.”

New York Times best-selling author Gretceh Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently joined me on Humans Outside to talk about her own nature habit and her new book, Life in Five Senses, which explores what you learn when you start leaning into using your senses. As part of her personal project around her five senses she decided to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art every day. And as she did that she purposefully looked for ways to make it feel like recess, not like purposeful meditation, not like a chore. Recess. Fun. Relief. RECESS.

Her practice of going to the Met daily isn’t that different from what you and I do as we head outside. She picked the Met because it’s vast — limitless in many ways — and because she knew it would offer endless variety. Hello, nature. It takes that concept and amps it up 1 million. But she also knew that she needed to be intentional about going in and just enjoying the experience. Part of that was avoiding it becoming a chore. Part of it was avoiding following what others said she should be doing there, and instead doing exactly whatever she felt like doing that day.

Have you ever watched a kid head outside for recess or remember doing that yourself? My childhood recess agenda looked like getting in line for tetherball first — tetherball being all the rage at my elementary school in the 90s. It looked like eating a handi snack on the bench — do you remember handi snacks and their highly-addictive cheese spread with the plastic-like? So good and also so bad at the same time. But that wasn’t my agenda every day. What I wanted to do was subject to whim.

I think recess is something we tend to forget about as adults. But what if I started thinking about heading outside, about my daily nature practice, as being personal recess? What would happen if on many of the days I went outside I did it to just be recess specifically? What does recess look like for me? And how would it change what I’m doing when I’m outside?

If I’m honest, there are days that I get dressed to go outside only because it’s something that I do every day. Not because I love it. Not because I want to. But because it’s just what I do. And 100%, absolutely, yes, every single time once I get out there I’m so so glad I made the effort. I cannot think of a single time that I was sorry I went — and Ive been watching for them.

But when I head out begrudgingly, I lose sight of my why. Looking at it as recess first? That helps me change my intention. It makes it something Im looking forward to instead of something I’m just getting done. It means I’m benefiting more from what I’m experiencing than I would if I was just out there because I always go out there.

So what does outside as recess look like for a grownup? For me, thinking about it as recess changes when I go outside. If it’s recess, it could be in the middle of the day as a brain break. It changes what I’m going to do there. If it’s recess, I purposefully do something out there I find restorative. And what’s restorative can change by the day. Sometimes that’s 20 minutes of reading on my deck. Sometimes it’s a walk around the neighborhood. If it’s recess, it changes whether Im looking forward to it or not. It’s the thing I want to do — who doesn’t love recess?

At a conference I was attending this week, recess meant ducking out for about 25 minutes at the end of one of the sessions to simply sit in the back of my car quietly breathing and eating my lunch — conferences and networking are a lot of work for this introvert and I desperately needed that recess moment before I could go back inside and be my best self. And it worked. I felt like a different human when I headed back for the next thing.

Juxtapose that to my outdoor time during the previous conference day. It was unbelievably gorgeous day outside — the first 55 and sunny day of the year. And I was trapped inside. I WANTED to be at that conference doing what I was doing. I also knew it was jam-packed, I’d be getting home late and if I did not make the time to go outside it was definitely not going to happen. I put what I was doing on hold and went for a short walk and, since I really need to eat dinner, I ate in the back of my car. I was glad for the break. I was watching the clock the whole time. When I hit the mark, I dashed to the next task. I was grateful for the break and the sun, but I was still very tired.

Do you see the difference? On one of the days, I did my outdoor time as box-checking. On the other day, I did it as recess. Both had benefits but only one felt transformative.

I hope you spend time this week experiencing nature as recess. It’s going to be my goal as I tackle another busy time of balancing all the things. You can see photos of what I do for my recess on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. And I want to see your photos, too. Tag them with #humansoutside365.

Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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