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.


Random Canadian Acts of Kindness?

Yesterday started badly for Ian Welsh in Toronto. His computer crashed—no response from the power button. After the taxi dropped him at the computer repair store—he discovered he’d left his backback in the cab.

Then—it all ended well. The question is—why?

Says Ian:

Turns out it was just the power supply. I thought it wasn’t, because enough power was getting through to keep the power light on the motherboard on, but it turns out it was damaged enough that there wasn’t enough power to boot.

Since the techie did more than he had to and wouldn’t let me pay him "under warranty" he said, and seemed offended when I offered, I gave his business (family owned) a plug at the Agonist.

And the cabbie whose cab I left my backpack in, returned it to the store he dropped me off at.

A banner day for "people can be really decent sometimes" and a nice anti-cynicism dose.

A banner day indeed. Possible explanations:

1. People in Toronto are just nicer than the rest of us

2. Ian’s a decent fellow, and you get back what you put out

3. The weather was great yesterday, which makes people act well

4. Ian was lucky; sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t

5. What’s the big deal? People are generally nice—this is the norm.

I think those are pretty much the big generic explanations, unless you’ve got some I missed.

So—what’s your take on it? Did Ian have a good day? And if so, why?