Most of us experience our morning commute to work as a fairly hectic and unpleasant one. The snooze button gets hit almost sub-consciously and then we finally pull ourselves out of bed and drag our zombie-like body to the bathroom. Eventually, when we finally pull ourselves around we are usually running a little late (probably shouldn’t have hit that snooze button), jump in the car and head off for work.
Our minds are usually buzzing with to-do lists, emails we need to reply to and that ‘oops I should have done that on Friday’. The road is usually full of like-minded frantics, pushing through the traffic to shave off those essential few minutes of the journey. The chatter of the radio, the beeping of horns, checking our phones, urging that person in front to speed up or move out of the way and the trying to plan the day before it unfolds. It’s safe to say that it leaves us rather exhausted as we eventually arrive at our destination. But the truth is, the morning commute doesn’t have to be so tiresome. In fact, our morning commute is a prime opportunity to put some positive, mindful habits in place to leave us feeling calm, awake and refreshed when we arrive at work. It’s an opportunity where (in most cases) we are travelling alone. Even if we are getting the tube or the bus to work, we can still take some time for ourselves and find a level of peace that on at first glance would seem impossible. Here are some tips on how we can take advantage of such a valuable time in our day:
1: Plan, plan, plan the evening before
First thing on a morning we are not at our prime. It may seem perfectly reasonable to make our lunch, iron that shirt or send those e-mails first thing but if you don’t feel inclined to do it the night before, the chances are you will feel even less inclined in the morning. We simply need to accept that our mind cannot be trusted on a morning. Our 7pm-self can make a great sandwich and can finish iron that shirt like a boss, but our 7am-self is not so skilled, nor is out 7am self as motivated. Our 7am-self is like a slow burning coal fire – we can’t just throw all the coal on at once, we have to let it slowly warm up and in doing so we will have a roaring fire by breakfast. The pre-planning stages will allow this extra breathing room, less thinking demands to juggle and a chance for us to soak up the morning because if we take a second to look up for a moment, it is a very beautiful part of the day.
2: Mindful eating
This is a perfect opportunity to practice some mindful eating. Research has suggested that time spent actually having a break at lunch time is decreasing year by year. Perhaps you witness this yourself, maybe you are a victim of this. Many of us will continue working through our lunch hour, wolfing down that half-arsed attempt of a sandwich at our desk. I’m not here to challenge that (yet) but what is worth pointing out is that the morning gives us the perfect opportunity to eat at our own pace without the social pressures to practically swallow the food whole. Mindful eating may feel very strange at first and if it does feel uncomfortable then try and stick with it. Make sure you mobile phone is out of sight and on silent and all other distractions are removed. When you take your first bite of your toast or cereal or whatever it is you are having, chew your food at least 20 times. For most of us this is going to feel a lot. Whilst you are doing this really focus on the flavour and the texture of the food. Think about how the flavour of the food changes as you continue to chew it, maybe you notice that the slice of toast starts to taste sweeter as you continue to eat it. Savour this moment, you may surprise yourself at how little attention and appreciation we pay to what is ultimately keeping us functioning.
3: Pre-plan what you are going to do (other than drive) on your journey
With the additional time you have accumulated from pre-planning it will be worth looking at something beneficial to do on your commute. On average our commute is usually 20-25 minutes, with some people travelling a whopping 90 minutes each way. This is time that can be well spent if we are smart about our decisions. I recommend leaving what you plan to do with your commute for the morning because once you find some positive and interesting things to do, it can be quite exciting to get something new every day – like that feeling you used to get from opening a new door on your Christmas advent calendar. Some of these activities will be explored further but you may have some of your own ideas you may wish to implement. The golden rule is that your phone must be silenced (or switched off), the activity needs to be intentional, it needs to be new and it needs to have a positive impact on your day.
Listening to podcasts on a morning is an excellent way to start your day. Most radio stations are full of advertisements, annoying jingles that stick in your head, bias opinions, repetitive music and annoying chatter. Try and find some podcasts that are reasonable and similar length for your journey so that you can soak up the full message of the episode. Perhaps you could listen to some TED talks? They’re fairly short and give you insights into some fascinating things. Imagine if you listened to a TED talk a day, 5 days a week for even a month? You would learn so much. Some of the self help/motivational podcasts can be quite useful and may help you approach your day better. The Minimalists, Steve Pavlina, The Daily Boost, Robin Sharma Mastery Sessions and the 5am Miracle are amongst some of my favourites.
5: Have a silenced commute
Try out having a complete silence commute, if you like it, maybe you could incorporate it more frequently. Give it a chance though, because most of us are so used to a noisy, hectic lifestyle that the quiet can be almost unnerving and uncomfortable. Turn off your phone, silence the radio and just soak up your journey. Look around you as you drive, appreciate the weather, watch others pass you by, try to observe the things around you without judgement. You’ll be surprised at how much more you notice. Be kind, let people in your lane if they are indicating. Be aware of the frantics racing up behind you but relax, stay at your pace and do not judge. The silence gives you an opportunity to just be, and that is what mindfulness is all about. Try and take that calm with you when you walk into work.
6: Take a different route – You go the same route to work every day, it puts your brain on auto-pilot and numbs our awareness. Plan a route out before you set off. In most cases it will be a slightly longer route (but that’s okay because you will have more time today). If you are fortunate enough you may even be able to plan your route through more rural, less built up areas. You may enjoy that route, you may find that route isn’t suitable all the time. Either way, appreciate that journey and find a refreshing sense of newness from the experience.
And that’s all for now folks – I would love to hear from some of your own personal experiences on how you have been more mindful or put some positive habits into your morning commute. So remember, when we continue to go through our daily commute on auto-pilot we are throwing away a valuable 40 minutes (to 2 hours+) of our lives 5 days a week. Take back control of your morning commute and no longer will your journey seem tedious or pointless again.