Zen and the Art of Commuting


Seven Tips to Overcome Your Gridlock Grudge

As we enter the hot and hazy dog days of summer, the only thing more sweltering than the temperatures will be the tempers of drivers stuck in traffic.

Indeed, while most of us in the GTA are steeled to accept the two seasons that annually cycle through our fair city – winter and construction – what’s taking place right now is unprecedented.

Even those who anticipated a major dose of gridlock were caught off guard by the magnitude of how many drivers will be affected, and even more so by how long lasting the proposed new construction projects will be.

I mean, we’re a hardy, tolerant group (see: Toronto Maple Leafs), but at least two years of lane closures, in addition to jammed alternative routes, borders on cruel and unusual punishment.

Just how bad will things get? Well, according to a study commissioned by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, on average GTA drivers already deal with about an hour of commuting each day – the longest in the province.

What’s more, several studies including those by the University of Utah, the Cooper Institute in Dallas, and the University School of Medicine in St. Louis, link longer commutes to a host of negative health effects, including:
• Increased blood pressure
• Increased anxiety
• Increased cholesterol levels
• Increased blood sugar levels
• Increased risk of depression
• Decline in overall life satisfaction
• Decline in quality and quantity of sleep


In light of these daunting consequences – which are only going to intensify as commute times rise – it’s no surprise that the gridlock is doing more than affecting moods; it’s altering life-styles, with some people changing when or where they work. And while we envy those who have the opportunity to do this, it’s frankly not an option for the other 99% of us.

So what can we do? “Grinning and bearing” it might work for a few weeks; maybe a month or two at the most. But two years? Forget it! There will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” long before that.

While we can’t speed up the construction, we’re far from helpless. We still have a surprising amount of control over whether we positively respond or negatively react to this situation. And to help you choose the former, here are seven tips that are based on my work as a certified hypnosis and Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner and trainer:

1. Use the commute time to your advantage. For example, you can listen to audio books, or even catch up on the news (though perhaps avoid the traffic reports!). If you take public transportation, you can use this time to read, put together a shopping list, meditate, or prepare yourself for the day or evening ahead.

2. Use affirmations to develop new thought patterns. For example, you can say (in your head or out loud if you wish) statements like: “The challenges I face are tests of strength that I am passing with flying colours!” You’ll be surprised by how this thought pattern, once it takes hold, changes your commute and your life for the better. Heck, you may even start looking forward to the commute, as it becomes your mobile laboratory to create new thought patterns (and you thought it was just a car, huh?).

3. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Yes, you’re right: 2-year lane closures aren’t on anyone’s list of favourite things. Still, you can easily find things for which to be grateful. Does your car work? Are you heading off to a job? Do you have enough to eat, and a safe place to live? There are billions of people in the world who can’t lay claim to any of these things. When you see things – yes, even gridlock that is supposed to make things better eventually – through grateful eyes, you’ll transform how you feel, think and even act.

4. Alter your perceptions so that your reflexes lean towards compassion, rather than conflict. For example, someone may cut you off – instead of honking, swearing, or worse, trying to cut them off to show them how it feels, consider that this person may be coming from, or on their way to, an awful situation. Maybe they just lost their job, or are heading to the hospital. Or perhaps they just truly didn’t see you. And at the very least, if you can’t summon up the compassion you need, use tip #2 and congratulate yourself on being a great driver, and use tip #3 and be grateful that you weren’t in an accident!

5. Use reinforcement to reconnect with the positive aspects of your commute. For example, while paying attention to the road, you might reflect on the euphoria of finally getting your driver’s license (or any other positive event). Let the feeling flow through your entire body; imagine it’s a colour or sensation of some kind. By doing this a few times and with different memories, you can literally re-wire how your mind and body perceives the commute.

6. Change the tempo of your breathing, which affects your psychological response to stress. Start with long, slow and deep breaths by closing your throat and inhaling up the back of your nose for at least four counts, and then strongly exhaling through your nose. This type of breathing – which is called Yogic Ocean Breathing – can settle the nervous system almost instantaneously. Naturally, you may want to do this before you put your car in drive, but it’s also possible to do it while driving (or, alas, s-l-o-w-l-y inching forward). Of course you ensure that you pay attention to the road and don’t put yourself or other drivers at risk. They don’t take too kindly to the “Yogic Ocean Breathing Defense” in traffic court.

7. Exercise! Although you can’t exercise while commuting, you can make it a point – with your doctor’s approval – to sweat out some stress on a regular basis. Remember: stress doesn’t vanish when its cause disappears. Rather, stress gets stored in the body. Through appropriate exercise, you can get it out of your system. Plus, as a bonus, you’ll increase your ability to handle stress in the future. It’s a virtuous cycle.


And the hits just keep on coming: when you put the above tips into practice, you’ll experience something even more wonderful than overcoming your Gardiner gridlock grudge: you’ll improve virtually every other aspect of your life at work, at home, with friends, with strangers — there’s no limit!

Of course, as mentioned, this only happens if you put the above into practice. Thinking about them isn’t enough; just like reading a cookbook won’t make you a gourmet chef. You need to make some – or preferably all – of the above a regular part of your life.

One of the best ways to do this is by taking courses and workshops, which will give you even more practical advice on how to turn many of life’s unavoidable negatives into inspiring positives. Before you know it, you’ll be living proof of the wisdom that, sometimes, when there’s no way out of a situation, there can be a way through.

See you on the road!

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