Reframing a Tough Problem

A dear family friend mentioned to me the other day that her commute was really difficult. Three days a week she travels from Brooklyn to Princeton NJ and back.

“The trip out in the morning is fine,” she says. “I get express transport and I’m psyched up to work. It’s the trip back that’s hard.”

“The trains are not express, and I’m tired. It’s a low point in the day, it’s dark, and while I can always get a seat, I end up just sitting there, unhappy. It’s just a depressing time.”

Blecchh. I get it. But I also remember some wisdom that people have tried to teach me over the years (with some success). It boils down to this:

Reframe that sucker. Don’t think “how can I make a bad situation slightly more bearable?” Instead, think “How can I make my evening commute the absolute center of my day, a source of relaxation, rejuvenation and delight?” (Thanks David Teiger).

Dare to be great. Don’t think “there are all these impediments, I can’t surmount them, people don’t care about me, this takes too much time.” Instead, think “this isn’t a problem, this is an opportunity, and I have every resource at my command until and unless someone says definitively that I don’t.” (Thanks to Bill Gregor, who never thought he’d be in the same blogpost with David Teiger).

Please help my friend Reframe that Sucker and Dare to be Great. Here’s what I’ve got so far. Can you make it five times better, and greater, and more exciting for her?

·         Introduce yourself to the conductor(s). Say “I’ll be a regular here, my name’s Susy, how are you doing?” Find out if they like a candy, or a flower, and bring them one once a week. Always sit in the same seat.

·         Buy a $150 set of great headphones. If you can’t afford them, hit up a relative for the holidays. Use that Netflix account to order all the documentaries by Werner Herzog and watch them in your computer or DVD player. If not Herzog, then all Woody Allen movies. Or—who’d you just love to watch?

·         Take those same headphones and download atmospheric music. Read. Or sleep.

·         Learn Mandarin.

·         Forget the headphones: do seat-based isometrics.

·         Make a friend a day. Single out someone in the car who looks as bored as you were, and go make them happy. How? Ask them!

·         Write a blog about commuting, and how to turn it positive.

Over to y’all.


2 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Maybe move out of your mind/head, away from other forms of do-ing. Read up on, and learn how to practice, presence…being in the Now…in your body…focusing inside first with the breathe and then sensing inside; in the midst of the din and distractions is silence, stillness…if we choose to listen to it…also a great way to wash off the day and come home renewed and refreshed…practice and play with it and see if you find value in it…it’s a way of being very constructive and self-nurturing without having to do anything

  2. barbara garaedian
    barbara garaedian says:

    I’ve never quite understood the issue people have w/ commuter trains, once one was actually on them.  To me, the issue was always "making" the train. It was the daily mad rush – running 15 blocks w/ laptop, folders/pocketbook and poorly designed (but beautiful) shoes, while maneuvering to avoid the tourists walking 3 abreast or worse yet – stopped on the avenue, the acrobatic inducing bone-braking pot holes, the sidewalk construction detours designed by Disney World engineers, and the cab drivers that apparently never had enough time on the Bumper Cars as a kid. God forbid there should be a rain storm.  I now had an additional juggling challenge, aside from carrying all the above stuff because as a short person, I now had to figure out a way to maintain the umbrella over my head without poking out everyone else’s eyes! As I reflect, there were some gliding moves that only Bobby Orr could appreciate and envy!!!.

    Subway was not really a much better option. First, one needs to get on a subway, then balance oneself (w/ above stated stuff) while standing and lurching between competing IPhones, baby strollers and protruding back packs! Then one needs to extricate oneself from the sardine pack. At rush hour – it’s akin to the starting line at "The Marathon"!!!

    Once I actually got on & had a seat (late working hours have an advantage here), it was a "piece of cake". The AM was for reading papers but the evening… I could relax. Many times I would just stare out the window. Not at anything in particular, more like being lulled into a trance of sorts from the  rails. Truth be told, I had lots of company. Usually, I would pull the crossword puzzle out from the AM Papers & see what I could accomplish before my stop (The impeding factors here were whether I got on to an express VS local).

    During the summer months, if I was lucky, I"d catch a train that had a "bar car" and have a beverage while doing the puzzles. OK, before all of you start chastising my behavior, spend some time on a Metro North New Haven line without air conditioning (in the Summer), after running 15 blocks. A beer doesn’t begin to ease the pain from the upcoming dry cleaning bill, resulting from perspiration stains down to one’s ankles.

    I wouldn’t suggest napping unless your stop is the end of the line (ie, Grand Central in the AM). I tried a nap once, unfortunately, I woke up in Stamford.

    I’ve seen many regulars knitting or doing embroidery… they look relatively relaxed. I tried knitting a sweater once, stopped after someone commented about the unusual color yarn for the afghan I was making.

    Occasionally, I would try "lip reading" or "eavesdrop" on conversations … OK, its rude, I know, but challenging and sometimes better than TV. In a delay (lest we forget – its the New Haven line), it helps pass the time. The concern here, of course, is keeping your mouth shut and not butting in (and for me, that’s akin to water torture).

    I think Peter’s advice on doing nothing, isn’t so bad.



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