You’ve probably worn padded shoes most of your life. Don’t expect to throw them away and be able to do the same mileage whether walking or running in barefoot shoes. To some extent, you have to relearn how to run and walk. This is going to take conscious effort on your part, and it can be very difficult. You don’t just learn, you also learn unlearn some ingrained habits. The key is to go slowly. Very, very, absurdly slow.
How you approach barefoot shoes depends on what you’re looking to do. I happen to have taken up running, which worked out well because I had to take it slow (I sucked). If you’re currently an ultra-marathoner and want to try barefoot shoes, you’ll find it hard to hold back. If you are somewhere between these poles, it will always be difficult not to overdo it. Focus on the discipline you usually use for distance not do it remotely.
If you don’t know where to start, check out Graham Tuttle’s YouTube channel, including his foot strengthening exercises. These will help you build foot and ankle strength that you lack if you’ve used padded shoes for years and reduce muscle soreness when you start running barefoot. Tuttle also offers paid programs aiming to give you a more personalized guide (I haven’t tried any). Another YouTube channel that I have found useful is the MovNat channel, which is not barefoot specific, but has plenty of great barefoot advice sprinkled throughout its content. And if you haven’t read Christopher McDougall, both born to run And Natural Born Heroes are fun reads related to barefoot. In effect, born to run has arguably done more to popularize barefoot running than anything else since the padded shoe was born in the early 1970s.
It should also be said that barefoot shoes are not a zero-sum game. For over a year, I wore barefoot shoes for running, regular shoes for other tasks, and sandals the rest of the time. It’s not all or nothing. If you go for a barefoot run and slap on your favorite Converse right after, that’s okay. It is equally important to know that everyone is different. It took me six months to switch completely to barefoot shoes. But that’s just me. It may take you two months or two years. Go at your own pace and don’t worry about other people’s experiences.