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NPR’s Peter Sagal on prioritizing time ‘without input’

The latest episode of our series In My Humble Opinion features Peter Sagal, the storied host of NPR’s "Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me!" Sagal laments how little time we spend with our own thoughts and recommends escaping our “digital dystopia” of electronic screens and constant notifications by running outside.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is winter. It is dark before 5:00, and there are so many rabbit holes beckoning you to your computer screen and to your smartphone. And yet there is an alternative.

    Many of you will recognize Peter Sagal as the voice and the host of NPR's "Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me!"

    Tonight, he shares his Humble Opinion on the joys of running.

  • Peter Sagal:

    This is a strange thing to say from the other side of the screen that you happen to be staring at, but go outside right now.

    OK. Wait until I'm done. So use these three minutes to find your shoes and get a coat if you need one.

    We spend our time now starring at screens for our work, our entertainment, our news. When, for whatever reason we can't look at a screen, we put in headphones and listen to something, music, a podcast, to while away the otherwise unbearable time our eyes have to be focused on something else, like the road we're driving down.

    There are people who fall asleep with their earphones in listening to a podcast in order to drift off. Sometimes, it's my podcast, or so they tell me, and I don't exactly know how to feel about that.

    What that means is, we hardly spend a minute of our waking life without input, somebody else's thoughts inundating our own. Why? What is it about our own thoughts that are so unbearable that we can't stand to spend a minute alone with them?

    There is only one way to find out. Turn it all off and go outside, run, if you feel up to it, or maybe even if you don't.

    This is the primary reason I advocate running for everyone who is physically capable. Yes, you might lose weight and gain fitness and feel more alert and awake and even enjoy nature's best antidepressant, endorphins.

    But that is really not the most important reason to run. What running really is, is a way to leave this digital dystopia behind, if only for a little while and a few miles.

    Humans evolved over millions of years, shaped by our environment, which historically didn't include Bluetooth earbuds.

    Why did some ancient ancestor of ours in Central Africa first stand on her back legs? It was to look around. It was to pay attention. It was to stop crawling, and to walk, and to run.

    And when you emulate her today, when you turn off the fire hose of input we use to drown our own thoughts, when you simply move with nothing in your ears but air, you are returning step by step to what we were meant to do and meant to be.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Advice to live by.

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