Commuting is on my mind this week, not only because I traveled to no less than six American cities in the past couple of weeks, but because my hometown of Tampa (Hillsborough County) finally passed adding a penny on the dollar to our sales tax for transportation improvements. That’s about $180 per year on average for a typical household. I guess it shows that commuters who work a fairly standard 8 to 5 work day will gladly pay. Nonetheless, it was a fight – and expensive fight, but it was successful.
The average American commutes at least 25 minutes to work, which doesn’t seem too bad in the grand scheme of things. However, other people commute more than an hour – even two hours. Some people don’t mind the long commute and think it may help them unwind. Others tend to get more and more stressed, causing them to perform poorly at work or begin to resent their job. Survey Sampling polled people on what causes them the most stress at work. While low pay was the number one answer, a long commute came right behind it. Commuting clearly is reported as a major cause of stress at work. No one appreciates an irritable employee or co-worker and I think we’d all agree that commuting also can take a toll on one’s personal or social life. If the stress gets to you by the time you get home, you usually don’t have the same excitement you did when you got up in the morning and left for work.
Let’s face it, there’s the controllable part of commuting and an uncontrollable part of commuting. And the controllable part of commuting is the only thing worth talking about. Frankly, whether it’s commuting or something else that is causing stress in our life, the first thing to do is to separate the “I can control” from the “I can’t control”. I believe the secret is in making the best of the situation you’re in. Clearly when you are commuting you can’t do those other fun or productive things during that timeframe such as running errands, going to the gym, spending time with your children, cooking, going out to dinner, or other things that require your physical presence. My point is, we can do other things, less physical things while driving such as, listening to educational entertainment or informative podcasts, catching up with friends, business colleagues or clients, practicing a new language…you get it. When we consider these options, it might seem that we want more than our average 25 minutes of commute time to and from work!
Consideration of whether the stress is an “I can control” or “I can’t control” is vital, but not necessarily easy, particularly for Type A personalities which I know many of you have. That Type A personality serves you well in a lot of areas, but in determining what you can and cannot control it might give you a little trouble. Why? Because you probably try to control a lot more than you really can. The suggestion is to err more often on the “I can’t control” side of the equation. Reframe your perspective, actually ask yourself “Can I control this?” and be honest. If you can’t, then start the reframe process. Be mindful of the story that you’re telling yourself. Give yourself alternative to the feeling of frustration due to lack of control. Actively think about things you can control when you’re starting to experience something that you can’t control. If Plan A isn’t happening – like having all the traffic go away, commit yourself to run hard with Plan B – make the best use of the time possible.
It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s stress about what they can control and can’t control is different, but you can always find someone who shares your frustration and stress level. My advice? Don’t engage! Don’t get caught up in the act of complaining like a quick high from an addictive drug, it can never be good for you. In the long run, you won’t be any happier. Remember our parents always taught us, misery loves company, but “company” doesn’t love misery. So do you think that when a roadblock – something you can’t control, comes your way you can process and redirect? I hope so, because I doubt if there’s people around you who will take up the cause to solve things like the activists in Hillsborough County did!