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What Barefoot Running Has Taught Me About Life

Posted by on Nov 21, 2010 | 5 Comments

I’ve been running barefoot in earnest since the winter of 2005.  During this time, I’ve been through a long, hard personal journey.  Over the course of this journey, many important life lessons have been learned.  Interestingly, almost every lesson was learned based on some element of barefoot running.  Here’s the wisdom I’ve managed to glean from taking off my shoes:

1. Simplicity = contentment. In a literal sense, running without shoes is the epitome of simplicity.  Your naked feet gliding over the ground as you explore your world… it doesn’t get any simpler than that.  The inner-peace that derived from barefoot running is ultimately what got me hooked in the first place.

I have learned that generalizing that “simple is better” concept to every element of your life results in a similar sense of contentment.  Thoreau and countless others have noted the elimination of “noise” in your life leads to positive results.  There’s an unspoken clarity and beauty in simplicity.  Maybe this is why Apple manages to sell so many units… simplicity works.

I’ve used this idea as frequently as I can.  Shelly and I have been ruthlessly eliminating the clutter in our lives.  I have thrown out, recycled, or sold about half of my possessions I no longer use.  My theory- keep only what I need to augment my adventures.  Everything else is noise.

The same concept has been used in my classroom, lesson planning, parenting, and pretty much every other part of my life.

2. Listen to your body. When running barefoot, your body will give you a wealth of information.  You can use that information to hone your form; make it more efficient. The idea- self-knowledge and self-awareness leads to better results.

The same principle holds true in life.  Know yourself.  Know your motivators.  Know what you enjoy.  Know what you dislike.  Know why you react the way you react.  The more you know about yourself, the more you realize you can control your world.  You are in the driver’s seat.  You get to make a conscious choice on how you react to any given situation.

3. Do what excites you. I love barefoot running.  Even the most mundane routes can be brought to life with the addition of the sensory information from your feet. By extension, even the shod running I do is enjoyable… most of the time.

Barefoot running has taught me to recognize what excites me.  Excitement leads to passion, passion leads to motivation.  Motivation leads to productivity.  Productivity leads to making a dent in the universe in a meaningful way.

I try to apply this concept as much as possible.  When my daily routine becomes boring, I find ways to spice it up by making it exciting.  When I look for new adventures, I look for new opportunities to learn.  Why?  It excites me.

4. If something works, keep doing it.  If something doesn’t work, stop doing it. Tim Ferriss frames this idea as Pareto’s Principle: 80% of the outcomes flow from 20% of the causes.  When running barefoot, experiment.  When you find something that works, keep doing it.  If something causes problems (usually in the form of pain), stop doing it.

This concept has been invaluable.  Since Ferriss re-framed the idea, I have been applying to every element of my life.  I try to spend more time with the people that bring me happiness.  I try to spend less time with people that cause problems.  I eliminate my habits that are no longer useful.  I continue those that are.

This idea can be applied to every aspect of life with great results.  Once you begin looking at your life objectively, you may be surprised.  Humans have a knack for failing to eliminate toxicity.  Sometimes it may be difficult to eliminate the bad things in your life, but the payoff can be huge.

5. Problem-solve via subtraction. This idea is actually an extension of #1.  Humans have another curious habit.  We tend to solve problems by addition.  We like to add things to a problem in an attempt to solve them.

In almost every case, adding “more” to the problem simply complicates issues.  I have been writing about this issue in my new teaching blog.  Many of the problems I’ve solved recently have been deceptively simple once I recognized the removal of barriers is usually a better answer than adding new barriers.  New time you’re confronted with a proble, try considering what you can remove from the situation to develop a solution.

6. Hard work isn’t an envious trait, it just leads to overtraining and injury. Americans seem to love workaholics.  We glorify the people that spend long hours at work.  I know many runners that run every day with religious devotion.  They will run regardless of weather, mental state, or health.  Even when they suffer VERY obvious signs of over-training, they continue to push on.  The ultimate result- a catastrophic crash.  This may come in the form of serious injury or complete burn-out.  In either case, the results are not pretty.

I see many people taking this same approach to life.  They have a job.  They may not even really like the job.  Yet they slave away at it every chance they get.  They hammer away at it regardless of how much their personal or family life suffers.  They may even invent work to do just to keep doing more.

Somehow, we’ve developed a twisted idea that the person that works the hardest is the best.  This is flat-out stupid.  Is the goal of life to put in hours at the office at the expense of everyone and everything else?

How about a better idea?  Let’s take some time to rest and recover.  Let’s practice moderation.  Let’s have some fun.

I am perfectly capable of hard work… but only for short, inspiration-fueled bursts.  Otherwise, I’m spending my time enjoying life (see “Do what excites you”)

7. What is popular is usually wrong. Barefoot running taught me that shoes were not the answer to my running goals.  Running shoes (and the accompanying bad form that comes with them) is certainly popular.  Is it right?  Certainly not for me.

I find it is a lot more fun, and usually more effective, to do the unorthodox.  Once I learned the art of finding what works for me, I set out to execute.  Many times, the popular way of doing things is not the best solution for me.

These were seven lessons from barefoot running that can be applied to life.  How about you? 

What lessons have you learned that can be applied to life?

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  1. Boris Terzic
    November 22, 2010

    Great post with some great insight.

  2. Jason
    November 22, 2010


    The Old Faithfuls that are burbling below the surface shouldn’t have to be burbling beneath the surface. Dare I say everyone in education (teachers, administrators, and support staff) could be more effective if the system worked with them instead of against them. Do you disagree with this? If not, what’s the problem with calling for change?

    The point of the blog is to start dialogue. In an era of increased government interference and decreasing budgets, something needs to change. Defensiveness is the response of the guilty. Instead of questioning my observations, let’s find our mutual problems and start working on solutions. THAT will ultimately help the kids.

    If you are doing something that works, please share. That’s the point of starting dialogue.


  3. Alex
    November 22, 2010

    Thanks Jason, blog post of the day for me! I wouldnt worry too much about the post from the actual educator there – sounds like someone who isn’t enjoying their life!

  4. Ellen
    November 21, 2010

    Regards to you from your ‘educational’ blog:

    Dear Jason,

    Do you have tenure? If so, well, kudos. If not, then you are making wild, even dare I say it, fantastical generalizations!
    Congratulations, for pinpointing the fact that none of us knows anything. Those who can, do, afterall. I’m not saying that your supposition is catagorically wrong, only that you are a simpleton living in a world of make-believe. Sorry to burst any hyper-spastic bubbles that you may have created from your running regime, but next time, for the love of your fellow teacher and fellow man, please give a millisecond of thought to the Old Faithfuls that seem to be burbling beneath the surface of wishful thinking and hyperbole which you seem completely incapable of not spouting.

    Best wishes,

    P.S. you are a coward. bigtime. again, congrats.

  5. Bob (Downtown Runner)
    November 21, 2010

    Good post Jason! I’m learning much of the same in my barefoot journey.

    Also just noticed from the post that you teach HS and checked out your other blog. My daughter teaches HS so I’ve passed the link on to her. I think she’ll like it.