You’ve probably been wearing padded shoes most of your life. Don’t expect to toss them and be able to do the same mileage—whether walking or running—in barefoot shoes. To a certain degree, you must relearn how to run and walk. It’s going to take a conscious effort on your part, and it can be very difficult. You’re not just learning, you’re also unlearning some ingrained habits. The key is to go slow. Very, very, absurdly slow.
How you approach barefoot shoes depends on what you’re looking to do. I happened to be getting into running, which worked out nicely because I had to take it slow (I sucked). If you’re currently an ultra-marathoner and want to try barefoot shoes, you’ll have a hard time holding yourself back. If you’re somewhere between those poles, it’ll still be hard not to overdo it. Focus the discipline you usually use for distance into not doing distance.
If you don’t know where to start, check out Graham Tuttle’s YouTube channel, especially his foot strengthening exercises. These will help you develop the foot and ankle strength you lack if you’re coming from years of padded shoes, and help reduce muscle soreness when you’re getting started in barefoot running. Tuttle also offers some paid programs aimed at giving you a more personalized guide (I have not tried any of these). Another YouTube channel I’ve found helpful is the MovNat channel, which isn’t barefoot-specific but has plenty of good barefoot advice sprinkled throughout its content. And if you haven’t read Christopher McDougall, both Born to Run and Natural Born Heroes are fun barefoot-related reads. Indeed, Born to Run arguably did more to popularize barefoot running than anything else since the padded shoe was born in the early 1970s.
It’s also worth saying that barefoot shoes are not a zero-sum game. For over a year I wore barefoot shoes running, regular shoes for other tasks, and sandals the rest of the time. It’s not all or nothing. If you go on a barefoot run and then slap on your favorite Converse right after, that’s OK. It’s equally important to know that everyone is different. It took me six months to fully transition to barefoot shoes. But that’s just me. It might take you two months or two years. Go at your own pace, and don’t worry about the experiences of others.