I woke up irritable. Just toe-stubbing, spoon-flinging, muttering-under-my-breath grouchy. My mind was churning with difficulties on current projects, worrisome gaps in my work schedule, how to start personal writing plans The Right Way, and a general sense of post-holiday disorganization and let-down. I was unsettled. I was crabby.

I’d spent the previous day overcoming this inner turmoil (or so I thought) by working up a big new schedule, both daily and weekly, relating to developing clients and moving myself forward—in a determined and positive way. Those were going to be my 2016 watchwords: determined and positive. I wrote them on a Post-it and stuck it to the edge of my monitor. All was well, right?

DogsWalkingCome the morning, not so much. I felt the big new schedule looming over me, and I felt neither determined nor positive. Fortunately, life stepped in. Saving me from my new plan was the deadline that trumps all others: the daily clock of the dogs. Every single morning, come sweltering humidity or driving sleet, the dogs must walk. They wait impatiently while I drink a little coffee, then off we go.

That day, in the chilly dampness of January, on familiar paths in the suburban semi-quiet, the ordinary magic happened. My brain churn slowly settled itself and a glimpse of clarity emerged.

This is one of the main reasons I have dogs. Certainly, I adore dogs. They make me feel more secure at home, they provide affection and furriness and humor—they are the best. But the fact is that I am lazy and sorely lacking in motivation when it comes to taking care of myself. I have to build into my life an ironclad requirement for exercise that I cannot ignore. That would be dogs.

But it’s more than the exercise. I gain tremendous benefits from stopping my work and going outside, with no conversation, no music, no podcast. Just me and the dogs and the weather and my own mind.

We know that getting outdoors is beneficial, of course.

Walking also does a body good (big news flash).

And regular, long walks without purpose are really, really good for us.

When a funk hits, I turn to walking (thanks, dogs) and making big schedules, but here are some other ways to improve your state of mind.

What works best for you to clear your mind and improve your outlook?