By Alex Davis
I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me go from content to ragey in .5 like morning traffic. When my husband and I bought our first home, we quadrupled our commute to work and now traffic is an inevitable part of each day. I was bracing for this to make me a miserable human being and throw my carefully planned routine out of whack. But, surprisingly, my daily commute has actually fostered more balance in my life and blank space in my schedule, not less.
First and foremost, I learned to change my attitude about commuting by spending time with friends and family who do it routinely. Many of my family members who live in the northeast commute at least an hour and a half every day, and so my commute pales in comparison. They had a great perspective on commuting (suck it up and quit whining, for starters), but they also showed me that a long commute can be a great excuse to relax, recharge, listen to some great audiobooks or music, and create healthy separation between work and home.
Once I started practicing gratitude rather than leaning into complaining, I began to discover that my new commute had a healthy impact on my life in some wonderfully unexpected ways.
1. I went from habitually late to habitually 30 minutes early. Before we moved, we lived five minutes from everything: work, church, most of our friends’ homes, the gym. But somehow, we were always five minutes late to everything. I am embarrassed to admit the number of times we tried to squeeze unobtrusively into the church pews long after the service had started, hissing apologies as we climbed over crossed legs and squashed toes.
But now that we live 30 minutes outside of downtown, we are early to everything. Because we know we have a drive ahead of us, we account for that time, adding in a few minutes for traffic. Now, we walk into church calmly instead of snapping at each other out of stress. It feels great to say a few extra prayers instead of sweating whether we are going to be able to squeeze into a seat. But more importantly, it has forced me into a heightened level of conscientiousness in how I manage my time, teaching me that it always feels better to prepare intentionally for an outing rather than barreling out of the house in a haze of stress.
This positive mentality transfers to my workdays as well. When I know I can’t simply “run home” to grab forgotten items (my lunch, my laptop, my gym clothes), I plan more thoughtfully for my days. I pack my lunch and work bag at night, and I get up extra early so I have time to relax and clear my head before work. As a result, I arrive at work much calmer and more collected.
Disclaimer: Lest you be fooled into thinking I’ve got this all figured out, there are plenty of days I rush out of the house in a frenzy. This is a lifelong learning process, but I am so pleased to simply inch my way toward a more calm, collected, intentional way of living.
2. It forces good habits, which beget more good habits. I’ll be honest. I am still working on this one. However, our move has forced me to face it rather than deliberately avoid it, which was my modus operandum for years. It works like this: since it takes me longer to get to work, I leave earlier in the morning. Because I leave earlier, I get up earlier. Because I get up earlier, I go to bed earlier (i.e., no more Netflix binges until midnight). Because I go to bed earlier, I try to get our work done more efficiently so I have more time in the evening to work out, cook a healthy dinner at home, wind down, and relax.
Where this doesn’t always pan out: I still waste time. I still stay up too late. I still get lazy and pick up pizza on the way home instead of cooking. But this is now the rare exception, when it used to be the rule.
3. It makes me more productive at work. Due to this radical reorganization of my daily schedule, I cannot afford to waste time. Of course, there are inevitable late evenings at any job – but cutting back on random chatter or leisurely lunches allows me to accomplish more in a compressed amount of time. Not to mention, my commute gives me time to gear up for my day: to think through what I need to do and hope to accomplish. As a result, I am ready to hit the ground running by the time I get to work.
4. It creates built-in quality time. My husband and I ride to work together two to three days a week, and sitting in traffic is much more fun when you are not alone. We use this time as an excuse to listen to great music or podcasts that get us excited about our lives and careers. A few inspirational podcasts that I’ve enjoyed recently are Creative Empire, Business with Purpose, For the Love, and Revisionist History.
5. It fosters healthy separation. Some integration of work life and personal life is positive. But during particularly stressful seasons at work, it is glorious to feel that coming home offers a true mental and physical break. It makes our neighborhood feel like an oasis or a retreat. In fact, since we started commuting, I’ve been less inclined to randomly check my email and stress about work in the evenings.
How about you? Have you found ways to enjoy your commute? We would love to hear about how you pass the time and gear up for your day. Share in the comments!
Featured image courtesy of Ivorymix.