The morning commute. That dreaded, wholly necessary part of each day for thousands of us. Will my train arrive on time? Will I get a seat? Will there be trains running into Waterloo? Since when did South West Trains become South Western?
Unfortunately, there usually isn’t any other option aside from the commute. And it can easily be the worst possible start to the day… if you let it. Yes, there are ways that you can make you can make your early morning train ride not only more bearable, but even…wait for it… fun. *gasp*
“You’re mad!” I hear you cry.
But it’s true. Whilst I no longer commute every day, here are a handful of the ways in which I have made my commute, whether morning or afternoon, that much better for myself and my health:
1. I resist the urge to consume the news
The Metro is an amazing free newspaper. Seriously. I couldn’t believe that it was free. I was so delighted with my good fortune (a free paper! ) that I used to devour it cover to cover. And then I’d almost do the same with the Evening Standard on the evening commute (by that time I was less fresh, less interested in the often same news, and less taken in by the ES’s more serious tone).
It took me a while before I realised that filling my heads with the ills/dangers/negativity of the world first thing in the morning (and then again in the evening), probably wasn’t the best thing for me.
It sounds obvious now when it’s in black and white, doesn’t it?
I’m not saying you have to be completely ignorant about what’s going on out there, if you’re one of those people for which the thought of not knowing terrifies you (aside: I used to think I’d be ‘missing out’ — I’ve now realised that missing Trump’s latest faux pas is hardly missing out, and I’ll always hear about it through the radio, or an overheard conversation, anyhow). From personal experience, since my self-imposed news diet (I have a quick flick through the weekend papers), watching/reading zero news during the week (I catch a headline or two now and then when I’m visiting the BBC website), I feel much better.
If you’re a sports nut like me, just read those pages. If you want to go even further, give Positive News a try. Great journalism.
2. I cut out social media scrolling
Seriously, how many hours do we waste mindlessly scrolling away on social media? On my train into Waterloo, 98% of commuters (myself included) were doing one of three things: 1. reading The Metro 2. reading the Mail Online gossip section 3. scrolling away on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
These apps are literally designed to keep us hooked, to keep us clicking, and to make us feel ever-so-slightly-temporarily-good with each ‘like’ or ‘comment’ that we get. That screen-time isn’t ideal in the first place, especially as most of us spend hours on screens at work, and there are studies already linking increased use of social media to greater misery and unhappiness. Studies like this Harvard Business Review one.
If you have to check social media, put a limit on the time you send. For my own social media use, I put a couple of measures in place to keep my usage sensible and sane; I ‘unfollow’ my Facebook friends, so I have a clean newsfeed (if you use the Chrome browser, News Feed Eradicator will do the trick). I also turn off social media notifications (the endless alerts would drive me to distraction), and ‘mute’ folks on Twitter, again giving a cleaner feed.
If you need more drastic action / prompting to keep you from social media, ‘stop scrolling’ initiatives like this free one are cool.
3. I was still half-asleep when I got onto the train…
…a sign that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. It’s as simple as that. I used to feel tiiiiired first thing in the morning as I dragged myself onto the train and plonked myself onto my favourite seat. There are two ways one can address this — to go to sleep earlier, or wake up later. For most, I am guessing you stay in bed for as long as possible, already. So it might mean watching one less Netflix episode before bed, or one less evening having a couple of pints (aside: both screen-watching and alcohol have been proven to lessen the quality of your sleep, anyhow).
4. I read a book
Whether you’re an avid reader or not at all, there are fewer better feelings than diving into a good book where time seems to fly by. Whether it’s non-fiction, an autobiography or fiction, there is something for everyone. And these days, it’s even easier — you can use an e-reader such as the Kindle to download a book for as little as 99p, anytime.
5. I listen to a podcast
Podcasts are quickly becoming the new radio, with more and more people (myself included) opting to fill their idle journey time with a podcast episode, rather than flick between FM stations. If you have an iPhone, you can just use iTunes to ‘subscribe’ and download your favourite podcasts and episodes; if you have an Android phone, guaranteed that your selected podcast will enable you to listen on another platform — you’ll just have to download another App such as Soundcloud, or Stitcher (the podcast’s website will inform you which platforms it is compatible with). There are several podcast platforms out there, it’s really straightforward these days to download onto your mobile and start listening when you’re on the go.
There are thousands of podcasts out there, and bound to be something that is up your street. If you’re not sure where to start, I have recently started listening to the Time Ferriss Podcast; Tim interviews well-known people from all sorts of walks of life, and has a knack for extracting great information and stories from these folks, which makes for great listening. Check his podcast out here. Alternatively, have a browse of the shows on iTunes or Stitcher.
6. I meditate
Some of my earliest experiences using the Headspace App were on my commute into work, as I have previously documented here. Whilst the train environment wasn’t the most ideal environment for being mindful, I simply wouldn’t have gotten around to doing it otherwise (I wasn’t going to get out of bed any earlier, that’s for sure).
I can’t emphasise the difference I felt from starting my day with a guided meditation, versus listening to iPod tunes on the train and as I walked into the office… and I love my iPod tunes.
To this day, I endeavour to incorporate just a few minutes of daily stillness, it really makes a difference.
The typical commuter drags themself out of bed, gradually gets ready, and hauls their neck, closely followed by their body, onto the train. They then plonk themselves onto their favourite seat in their favourite carriage, and absorb the freshly-delivered depressing headlines.
Focus on just ONE of the above points, and give it a try. By picking just one, it will make it as easy as possible for you to start doing and build momentum, rather than thinking/procrastinating/half-meaning to try and then never getting round to it. When I’m trying to implement anything new, I try to make it super-small, so it’s super-easy and I’m more inclined to plough on and do it.
Give it a go. See what happens.
PS. My biggest crutch was social media scrolling + devouring The Metro. What is yours currently? Which one of the above do you want to try? Go on… do it :)
A final note: I am far from perfect… whilst I don’t do the above all of the time (and even succumb to some social media scrolling here and there), my habits have changed a lot. Start small, and go from there. That’s what works for me.
(on the day that Harry Potter would be returning to school…)
The original version of this article was published on LinkedIn, here.