• 10 ways to use your commute to feel happier & less stressed

    June 22, 2016 | curtrosengren
  • cars

    Yesterday I wrote about why your time behind the wheel has so much potential to help you feel happier and less stressed in your life. Today I want to share some specific ideas you can experiment with (just a small sampling of the ideas I explore in The Drive to Inner Peace.)

    You can use these ideas on an ad hoc basis, pulling them out on an as-needed basis, or you can take a more structured approach, like making one specific practice the focus for a day’s commute.

    Remember that the power of using your drive-time as a practice isn’t a magic flip of the switch. It’s the cumulative potential it has over time to reshape the limiting habitual patterns that inflict unhappiness and stress and develop more life-enhancing habitual responses.

    (And while it probably doesn’t need to be said, I will anyway – your first priority is in driving safely. None of these practices should distract you from that.)

    Practice noticing

    I decided to put this practice first because, bottom line, you can’t work with what you don’t notice. As a culture, we’re pretty disconnected from our feelings and emotions. Try making it a regular practice to pause and ask, “What am I feeling right now?” Check in with both your emotions and the physical feelings in your body.

    This is relevant when you feel strong emotions coming up (like when that utter jerk cut you off), but it’s also worth exploring at random points. You might discover, for example, that you’re holding a low-grade tension and stress in your body without realizing it.

    Noticing is the starting point for positive change.

    Return to your breath

    We spend a lot of time with our thoughts running higgledy piggledy hither and yon, anywhere and everywhere but the present moment. One simple way to bringy our focus back to the present is to focus on the breath, repeatedly bringing your attention back to the breath each time you notice your mind wandering.

    You can also come back to your breath any time you find stressful emotions coming up like irritation or anger. Don’t worry about trying to get rid of the emotions. Just focus on your breath and let it settle on its own.

    Ask, “What if it’s OK?”

    This is one I have been using a lot in my life lately. When I notice myself getting worked up about something, I pause and ask, “What it it’s OK?” What if I don’t actually have to have this negative response? You can do the same thing when you notice yourself gutting bent out of shape in traffic.

    You might not actually be able to buy that it’s OK immediately. And that’s OK too. Just try approaching it as a thought experiment. “How would it feel if it were OK?” As you do, you might find that constriction start to loosen.

    Mindful driving

    Your time in the car is a perfect opportunity for you to cultivate mindfulness, “a non-judgmental present moment awareness.”

    One way of practicing mindfulness is to focus on the physical sensations you feel. Your body only experiences what’s happening right now – not in the past, not in the future – so it’s a handy way to anchor your attention in the present moment.

    You can practice noticing the sensations of driving. For example:

    • The feel in the palms of your hands and in your muscles as you turn the steering wheel.
    • The sound of the road.
    • The sensation of acceleration and deceleration as you hit the gas and brake.
    • The pull on your body as you turn.
    • The sound of your blinker.

    Practice letting go of challenging emotions

    This is possibly one of the most valuable practices you can do. When our brains get hijacked by negative emotions, our perspective narrows down and we go into fight or flight mode.

    Each time you notice yourself in the grip of an emotion like anger or irritation, use it as an opportunity to practice letting go. Take a deep breath. Or ask, “What if it’s OK?” Or maybe just recognize that you’re gripped and it’s not going away. Sometimes letting go looks like just giving that emotion the space to be, without feeding it, and letting it subside on its own.

    Drop the story and return to the facts

    This is actually where using my time driving as a practice started for me. I was running late and caught in traffic. My mind was spiraling and I was getting more and more clenched and constricted with stress. At one point I stopped and said, “Hang on, what’s actually happening here?”

    I imagined taking a high view, looking down on all the cars. There were a bunch of cars, and traffic was moving more slowly than usual. There was a guy who looked like me sitting in one of the cars, and he was going to arrive where he was going later than anticipated.

    Those were the facts. Everything else was a misery-making story I was layering over the situation. As I focused on the facts, not the story, I could feel the stress subside.

    See everyone as your teacher

    When you use the challenging things that come up when you drive as opportunities to work on letting go of the patterns that leave you unhappy and stressed, you can start seeing everyone else as a teacher. The guy who won’t let you merge? He’s a teacher. The woman who’s tailgating you? She’s a teacher too.

    You don’t have to like how they’re behaving. But seeing them as teachers, and acknowledging the role they’re playing on your path to cultivating greater inner peace, re-frames the story to one that adds less self-inflicted stress to the picture.

    Use negative emotions as a positive habit catalyst

    When negative emotions come up, you can use them a signal to shift your focus to a positive habit.

    For example, if anger comes up a lot, you might decide to use that as a reminder to bring your focus back to your breath. One thing I have been experimenting with is using those kinds of situations as a reminder to practice self-compassion.

    Drive from the heart

    Our heads and our little separate egos are responsible for so much of the unpleasantness we experience when we’re driving. We make other people wrong. We get worked up when things don’t go our way. We judge. We criticize. We get self-centered and selfish.

    What if your heart were the one in charge? What if your heart were responsible for how you drove, and the decisions you made, and how you responded to people? What if love and compassion and service were at the core of how you showed up and how you felt while you’re on the road. How would that change things?

    As you start to pay more attention to the idea of driving from the heart, you’ll probably notice numerous ways you most decidedly don’t drive from the heart. Each of these offers an opportunity to cultivate a greater heart-alignment.

    Look for the good

    What you focus on in large part defines your experience of life. If you focus on what’s wrong, you’ll find plenty to wallow in. If you focus on what’s right, that will fill up more of your field of view.

    Experiment with looking for the good as you drive. Maybe it’s a beautiful day. Or traffic is moving more freely than you expected. Or there’s a magnificent hawk soaring over the freeway. Or someone was considerate and let you merge. Or someone waved at you to acknowledge you for letting them merge.

    When you start looking for it, there are countless opportunities throughout your day – some substantial, most small and easy to miss. When you make a habit of looking for what’s good, more of that fills your day.

    If you want to explore this idea in more depth, check out The Drive to Inner Peace ebook.


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