Wouldn’t it be great if we could take control of the mind-boggling amount of hours that we sink into our daily commute every day? To make it more enjoyable, productive and stress-free. You’ll be amazed at how getting a positive start to your commute can have a powerful effect and keep you fired up all day. I tend to follow most of these 6 strategies every day where I can, but prior to my willing to change, it was far from perfect. Let me walk you through my typical mornings two years ago:
I’d go to bed the night before, setting my alarm for 6am, safe in the knowledge that I’m going to get a ‘good start to the day’. I’ll go to the gym, do some yoga, maybe go for a nice walk and make that tasty cheese omelette I never seem to have time for usually.
Morning comes around, I roll over to turn my alarm off, see the time, somehow it’s 7:30. As my mind claws through the fogginess it begins to all come flooding back to me. An intricate combination of regular snoozing and physically changing my alarm time mid-zombie has led to an hour and a half disappearing in a poof of smoke. So I rush around getting ready, plotting a to-do list in my head, working out the e-mails I need to reply to from Friday and seeing what new ones have arrived in my inbox. I grab a slice of toast (or warmed bread depending on how late I’m running) and jump in the car. The road is full of like-minded frantics. I lane-hop every time I see another lane speed up slightly and the radio chatter is blaring in the background advertising PPI, new conservatories and the same predictably mind-numbing out music as yesterday. So I push and I shove through the traffic, I keep my left eye on the car clock and I convince myself that I will somehow do the next 5 mile 10 minutes, despite rush hour traffic. Of course, when I do arrive, I’m late, the boss throws me a disapproving look and the department know-it-all gives me a smug grin, all of which put me in a bad mood until lunch. But, I’m here, I’m stressed, up-tight and utterly exhausted but I’m here.
Does this sound familiar? For most of us this is not so far from the norm and unfortunately, we tend to accept it.
No matter where we live in the world, most of us have experienced the daily commute as a rather unpleasant one. Whether we drive, take the bus, catch a train, cycle or any other weird and wonderful ways of getting to work you can think of, the world takes an average of 40 minutes each day to commute to and from work. The UK is 55 minutes; Portugal is estimated 70 minutes; Ivory Coast, 80, and in the city of Bangkok it takes anywhere from 2 hours and beyond.
Other than sprouting wings, buying a jet-pack or moving your mattress into your office, there’s not a whole lot we can do about this. So, let’s make these necessities a much more enjoyable, productive and stress-free experience as we can? We are told that a nutritional breakfast fuels our bodies for the best start to the day, shouldn’t our commute give us the opportunity to produce the best mental and emotional fuel as well?
Here are my 6 favourite techniques that I have tried, tested and use regularly so that I can get the best start to my day:
#6 Plan, Plan, plan and then plan to plan some more
This is king of the list because in planning your morning better, it will help facilitate many of the other tips. First we need to understand and come to terms with the fact that our morning-self is rarely our best self. It may seem perfectly reasonable to assume that we have the dexterity, motivation and efficiency to make our lunch, iron a shirt and send some well constructed e-mails first thing in the morning, but the truth is, we have to accept that we simply cannot rely on this, nor can we trust ourselves.
Think of our mind as a slow burning coal fire – throw all the coal on at once (baggage, to-do lists and additional tasks) and the fire will soon fizzle out, or not burn at all. So make a commitment to plan everything that is in your control (within reason) the night before. Even some of the more simply tasks will help you get a better start to the day and keep that fire roaring right through lunch.
Prepare your clothes the night before: I find this is incredibly simple, yet very effective. I didn’t do it before because it is so simple. I convinced myself that tasks like that can be best left until the morning. However, I find now that if I am planning a morning run I will lay my clothes out then imagine myself putting them on in the morning. 99% of the time I will take up, see my clothes and it triggers some kind of positive affirmation in my mind to get motivated and get running.
Make a decent lunch: Too many times have I gone to work only to open my packet lunch and find a ‘sandwich’ (two slabs of bread and a slice of ham). And that is if I have even bothered to make myself some lunch. I went through a phase of buying food from the sixth form canteen where I work at. Now whilst I cannot deny it’s tasty, greasy goodness, it left me lethargic, slow and my wallet much lighter at the end of the week. Instead, use this time as an opportunity to experiment with some different foods, dressings and tastes. I spend a maximum of 10-15 minutes preparing my lunch the evening before and I find that I slow down more when I eat it, savouring the flavour, spending quality time with my colleagues and ultimately regaining control of my lunch break.
#5 Have a mindful breakfast
Mindful eating is a technique that you can implement at anytime during your day, but if this is fairly new to you I recommend that you start with breakfast. Why? Because the pressures of work are hard-wiring us to believe that we should be woolfing down a half-arsed attempt at a sandwich, eat at our desks or continue to answer calls and emails. As time goes on and you start to feel the powerful benefits of mindful eating, then you could try to implement it into your lunch break. Being mindful, especially in such a frantic world can be a challenging concept on its own. At least with breakfast you will have hopefully followed step 6, planned well and have some time and space that you may not have usually had.
Mindful eating may feel a little strange at first but try to start with just one mouthful of food and be consistent (think of this as your baseline). That way, even if you have slept in a little bit, or are feeling a little unprepared, the time taken to do this will be so little ‘burden’ that it will be impossible to not stick to it.
Put your mobile phone on silent and make sure it is out of the way and avoid all other distractions. In fact, for at least your next mouthful you are not going to think or do anything else but take this mouthful. Not thinking about emails, how your day is going to pan out, the argument you had with your partner last night or that you are running a bit late for work. This can be difficult at first and definitely try the 8 mindfulness tools that can help train the brain. Thoughts will pop into your head as you do this. Observe them with minimal judgement and then gently bring your mind back into focus. Before you take your first bite, look at the food on your spoon, think about how it looks, how it smells. Don’t try to compare it to anything, simply observe it for what it is. Think about the process it has taken to get onto your plate (the farmers, the manufacturers, the shop, the factory, everything). Take a bite of the food and really try and focus on the initial taste. As you start to chew the food think about how the texture feels and you may even notice that the taste starts to change. Try and chew your food for at least 30 seconds or to a point where it starts to feel ‘unnatural’ then chew for a little bit more – this will feel like a long time for most of us but not only is it mentally beneficial, it is physically beneficial as well.
Your stomach may be full but your brain is around 15-20 minutes behind, in slowing down your eating it will prevent you from overeating. Many of us practically swallow our foods whole, by taking the time to chew our foods it means that we are being much kinder to our digestion system.
#4 Listen to podcasts on the way to work
writerecord something worth readinglistening to or do something worth writingtalking about” – Benjamin Franklin (and me)
Take the time one morning to observe what we are listening to on our morning commute. Many of the mainstream radio stations rely heavily on advertising and those advertising rely heavily on sticking their message in your head whether you want to claim for PPI, buy double glazing, enter that competition or not. The stations base their credibility on the popular, mainstream music that they churn out and as such are paid a royalty for this. They want to cater for the masses and as such, you end up with a diluted, mis-mash of chatter thrown your way on the way to work.
Podcasts are an excellent way to diversify what you are listening to, they allow you to find something of interest and then only focus on that thing of interest Many podcasts online are completely free of charge and can be streamed through most smart phones. Most of us will have USB, AUX or Bluetooth connectivity so that you can stream it through your car. You can even burn these onto a CD (or a cassette?!) if you’re feeling really vintage. Or, if you take the bus or train, pick up some headphones for cheap and plug them into your smart phone (or Walkman?).
TED talks are great because they are so diverse in content and each episode will really hone in on their particular area of interest. Some of my other favourites are The Minimalists, Steve Pavlina Podcasts, The Daily Boost, Robin Sharma Mastery Sessions, The 5am Miracle and Philosophy Bites. Imagine if you listened to 1-2 episodes a day? You may want to specify in a certain subject, maybe you want to learn Mandarin on the way to work, become an all-rounded fountain of knowledge, or maybe you just want a bit of a motivational pick-me-up – all of these things are possible and if your stuck the commute anyway, it makes sense to make the most of it?
#3 Mindful Driving (or commuting)
Maybe you forgot to incorporate some mindfulness with your breakfast, or maybe you are just feeling like a super mindful ninja-monk today. You can incorporate some mindful techniques whilst you are on the way to work – and for you drivers out there, it does not mean the following: closing of eyes; crossing your legs; doing a downward dog or practicing your head stand.
First and foremost, turn off the radio, CD player, phone and any awesome podcasts that I suggested in the previous tip. Without the background chatter it is much easier for those who are new to this to try to clear and focus the mind (as time goes on you will learn to use annoying background noise to your advantage). Now, shift across into the slower lane, find a comfortable speed and stick at it. Or, if you are on the bus or train, find an as comfortable a place as you can where you won’t get knocked or distracted.
Whilst you are on your commute you may be tempted to start planning your day, replying to some e-mails and trying to figure things out before you walk through the door. Use every bit of energy inside of you to try to not do that. Similar to mindful eating, when thoughts or ideas pop into your head, observe (don’t judge) them and then carefully bring your attention back on what you are doing. If you are struggling with this then try to focus on taking some deep breaths in the car, feel the rising and falling of the breath and listen to all the different noises go by. Don’t hone in on any particular sound, just try to observe them as one. Whether that be the birds passing by, the hum of the engine, the blowers in your car or the honk of the stressed out driver getting his nickers in a twist because you’re not flying down the motorway at 80. But do not judge these sounds and do not judge or attach any emotion to actions around you, simply smile, breath and enjoy the journey as it is, at this present moment.
[On a side note, this is not only beneficial for peace of mind and a stress-free morning, but it also allows the opportunity to conduct a ‘mindful MOT’. It’s very eye-opening how much you have the radio/music blasting in your car. I’ve caught worn wheel bearings, slow punctures and knackered brake pads through this process. So if you’re a bit skeptical about trying this mindful driving out, give it a mindful MOT and go from there].
#2 Digital sabbatical until you walk through the door
/ˈdɪdʒɪt(ə)l/ – Adjective: Relating to, using, or storing data or information in the form of digital signals/computer technology.
/səˈbatɪk(ə)l/ – Noun: Literally meaning a “ceasing”. A rest from work or a break for a set period of time.
It is worth trying to incorporate this into most mornings if you can (minus the awesome podcasts you’ll be listening to). From the minute we go to bed, to the minute we wake up we tether ourselves to phones and other digital devices. It becomes habit to switch off our alarm and then have a cheeky browse through our wall, tweet that we are going to have a mindful commute today or check our emails. In doing this we are flooding our minds with information overload. Information that, even at our best, is still an insane amount to process. First thing on a morning it continues to fog our brains further and creates unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Try by giving yourself a digital sabbatical from the moment you wake up to the moment you walk through the door at work. So no TV, no mobile phones, no radio and in fact, no podcasts or anything (it will give you a chance to exercise tip 3). It is very difficult to avoid digital technology in most work places but during your ‘sabbatical’ try avoiding the need to plug-in straight away. I’ve watched many colleagues walk through the door, bless me with a one word “hello” and then sink themselves into their desktop to check emails etc. Instead, try walking through the door and interacting with your colleagues, have a cup of tea and a conversation with them for 5-10 minutes about non-work related stuff. Be present with them and for a few minutes forget about the never-ending to-do list and e-mails that demand your immediate attention. Eventually it will all start to come together and, whilst your colleagues may not always seem as open and present as you, persevere and give it time. It is a much more positive and natural way to start the day and because of this, people will start to follow suit.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi
#1 Try a different route to work
I absolutely love doing this every now and then, especially when I feel like I am trapped on the hamster wheel and work is starting to feel a bit routine and monotonous. I stumbled across this idea almost by accident in my old job. It was suggested that we tried to alternate our routes on the way to work. Unfortunately, whilst this made me feel like James Bond, I did not work for the secret service, I worked for a local bank.So, every once in a blue moon when I sprung out of bed early, I would use that extra time to go a different route to work and I found that it had some profound ‘bonus’ effects on the rest of my day.
First of all, I realised how much ‘auto-pilot’ my mind was in. I often found myself arriving at work and not really remembering how I got there. Even on the days that I was feeling adventurous to go a different way, I would have to really take control of my brain and tell it to not go the same way. Some of you may have experienced it when going to a friend’s house or the shops and you suddenly realise you’ve taken the route to work! Allow yourself a bit more time on a morning, plan your route out (or don’t) and head off on a new trip. This would work really well with tip 3 by allowing you to really be present in the car, experience the new sights, sounds and smells. If you are able to, get out into the countryside if it’s not too much of a detour. You will arrive at work with a new sense of perspective and it might just be enough to shake off that mundane, stuck in a rut feeling we all get from time to time. Even if you don’t drive, try walking a different way when you get off the train or take a different bus route. Maybe you already drive and you could try getting the train for the day. Experiment a bit, get creative and enjoy the ride!
So that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed this weeks article on ways you can improve your daily commute – it would be awesome if you could share some of your knowledge and experiences of your typical day and add some fresh perspectives.