Anyone with a daily commute has seen other drivers do all manner of foolhardy things to make productive use of the time, from applying makeup to working a crossword puzzle. More safety-conscious commuters may listen to books on CD or audio courses (conversational Spanish, music appreciation, dream interpretation) so as not to waste time just sitting and stewing. Some develop a kinship with morning DJs, while others catch up on current events.
But unlike train or bus commuters, drivers cannot completely “check out” and lose all awareness of their surroundings. On public transportation, a book or a pair of ear buds can provide an immersive experience for riders, but a driver must stay present, aware and focused. Perhaps the key to getting past road rage or boredom to acceptance lies in not trying to accomplish anything besides mindfulness, or a state of moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, sensations and the surrounding environment.
“I think the breakthrough comes when you can be super-conscious, when you pay attention and become part of your surroundings” instead of separating from them, says New York management consultant Misha Lyuve.
After switching jobs, marketing professional Carol Morency has a longer commute but writes on her blog that she generally enjoys it. While not the type of person to use the term “mindfulness,” she has the fundamentals down, finding things to connect with on her 45-minute drive.
“I find that I am developing special relationships with the hundreds of billboards that line my main route,” Morency writes. She makes note of clever ad copy — “Basement leaking got you freaking?” — and notices when billboards come and go.
The drive also takes her past Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport; she writes: “Sometimes the planes come in so low that you believe their bottoms are scraping your car roof. Once in a while, the airline is unfamiliar so you have to guess where it’s from. And some of the cargo planes are freaking huge.”
Commuters who take in the sights, from billboards to bumper stickers, while still paying attention to the road and traffic may discover more and more opportunities as time goes on to laugh or experience a sense of awe, says Minnesota-based workplace communications consultant Diane Amundson. “That which you focus on expands,” she says, “so intentionally look for people, cars and things that make you laugh.”
The more you look for humor or any other quality, like beauty or grace, the more you will see it, she adds.
Morency concludes her blog post, titled “Drive to Succeed,” by professing her love for her job, which undoubtedly makes a rush-hour commute more tolerable than for someone who dislikes her job. With job dissatisfaction comes stress, and stress often results in an inability or disinclination to “settle into” a state of mindfulness. When a commute is so bad it becomes a quality-of-life or even a health issue, maybe it’s not such a bad idea after all to use the time absorbing the “abundance of material available in audio format, whether it’s learning a new language, brushing up on public speaking skills or learning new management techniques,” says Beth Ruffing, manager of HR services at Insperity, a Houston-based provider of human resources and business performance solutions.
“Not only can these be entertaining,” Ruffing adds, “but they may also serve a greater educational purpose by helping to support career advancement” or a job change.
Commuting alone by car is also a great time to rehearse answers to commonly asked job interview questions.
Ruffing recommends that drivers approach their morning and evening commutes with different mindsets and intentions. “Generally, the morning commute should be used as an opportunity to prepare or gear up for the day,” she says, while the evening commute “provides an opportunity to wind down or unplug from the day, and let work challenges or frustrations fade away before getting home.”
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