Taking the Stairs

In my experience as a human, simple is always better. This is a simple post, explaining a simple habit I’ve formed. I hope you enjoy the simplicity. I won’t say simple anymore.

Three months ago I parked my Jeep in my condominium garage. I did not have a face mask with me, as I had just come from the park (completed a lovely, brisk Winter run) so I made the decision to only get on the elevator if it was vacant.

Waiting, I fiddled with my phone for a bit—double tapping one of Sunnie’s pics from way back, just to keep her on her toes—until the elevator arrived.

Seeing it was empty, I got on.

A short moment later, and the ascent of a few feet, the elevator stopped, on the first floor. The doors opened, revealing an older woman from the 4th floor, named Karen (actually her name, I swear). Quickly, and with respect and deference to her, I pulled my shirt up over my face and nose and began to express my sincerest apologies. Before I was able to explain myself, though, Karen interjected.

“You don’t have a mask!”

Oh, I thought, kind of taken by surprise by her tone and abruptness, oh that was aggressive.

But she was right, I knew, and older in age, and had every right to be fearful. So again, with my shirt held over my face, I began in earnest an apology, explaining that my condo in fact is right next to the elevator and I was actually heading back to my room to get a mask.

“I’m so sorry. It’s actually a funny coincidence, you see, as I’m going to my room right now to get a—

“You don’t have a mask!”

If we’re being honest, this interruption, curt, devoid of any mutual respect, phased me.

I held a pause before addressing her. I still covered my face with my shirt.

“No, no you’re right Mrs. Karen, and I’m sorry about that. You see, I was just out for a run an—”

“I’m going to report you to the Homeowners Association. You don’t have a mask!”

The air became a little heavier (nothing Covid related), and I let her sit in the silence for another minute, intentionally. I stared into her, stern, and she made a slight retreat, stumbling, either fearful, or, victim to a late age rheumatoid arthritis.

Real demonstrative, I dropped the collar of my shirt that had been covering my mouth and nose throughout this exchange. I let her see me, and my pearly whites.

“Karen,” I began, “If you do that, if you make any mention of me to our HOA, I will take legal action, and you will have such hassle, such an inconvenience to deal with that honestly, I don’t think you or your liver spotted hands will be able to handle it.

The elevator closed, separating Karen and I optically, and emotionally.

Instantly, during the 20 second ride to my third floor, two things happened: 1)  I made the immediate decision to leave flowers by Karen’s door later that evening (she most likely hadn’t been that frightened since Nam’), and, 2) I vowed never to take the elevator again, only the stairs, as long as I live in this building.

Habits translate into our successes and our growth because for something to become a habit, it must become subconscious first. Meaning, you must intentionally do something for an extended period of time—the 3 month timeframe seems to be the common standard—before the subconscious, instinctive/reactive part of your body benefits from this change. This is so important because our subconscious processes influence our health and performance more than anything else. It is why athletes train so hard, intentionally focusing and developing, so, come game time, when everything is reactive, they don’t have to think and the subconscious reflex takes over.

While I’m not quick to call myself an athlete any longer—unless playing cornhole—the simple act of taking the stairs, all day every day, has impacted my competitive running in ways I never thought it would.

  • Primer of success:
    • You’ve probably heard the recognition given to act of making your bed each and every morning. If you haven’t—spend less time on Instagram and/or Tik Tok—esteemed US Navy Admiral William McRaven wrote a whole NY Times bestselling book about it, subtly titled “Make Your Bed”. In essence, a simple act of completion, done first thing in the morning, primes your mind and body for future success: complete a task and feel accomplished before the sun comes up, your subconscious will propel you to more of the same the rest of the day. That’s the essence. The essence is awesome. Ascending or descending four flights of stairs several times a day, instead of the stale alternative, is an act of completion and success, too. You are fulfilling a physical act that is good for you, when you have the option to do something easier.
  • Mindful Muscle:
    • Typically, in an elevator, we pass idle time by scrolling through a phone or leaning into a nice daydream—or we’re very uncomfortable trying to make small talk about weather and/or (insert appropriate sports franchise/University here). Taking the stairs, I’ve found, is an act that takes me to more mindful, present living; which is always a good thing. I am not on a phone, I am not distracted, thinking about what to do next, unless I’m running up the stairs to move the bowels, and I’m present with each step. This might sound weird, but it’s not, I promise. It’s mindful walking, and it’s a grounding experience that brings me directly into the present moment, double digit times a day.
      • Feeling your body, and tension, and muscle synergies during movement is paramount to growth. In line with the mindful note above, about focus and present attention, walking up and down stairs is another opportunity to note any strengths or imbalances within your movements.
  • Breathwork:
    • Breathing less, more efficiently, has been a foundational catalyst for me and my running. It wasn’t until recent when I began to understand how excessive, quicker breath can burn through so much energy. Nasal breathing and breath holds are the vehicles that took me from an understanding to real application. During the staircase ascent I practice breath holds, learning to persist through the somatic urge to breath; it’s C02 playing tricks on the body. I’ve found that after a few months of this I really don’t grasp for air as I used to during points of fatigue during my long training runs. I’m also a little more confident cooking on the stovetop, as having to make a swift, breathless, staircase exit during a fire is now child’s play.
  • Simple is Better:
    • Simply, any opportunity to move your body is one we should all take. I’m not one of those people (dorks) who is going to use my wearable and count the exact amount of calories per stair climb to come up with an annual total (if I was better at math I would), but I know this is something that is good for me. So, I do it. And I don’t see Karen anymore.

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