The shrill horn startles you. “Hey, jerk, pay attention,” a flat-chested trucker shrieks at you. Waving in his direction, you respond with your own blue streak. Sadly, your vulgar mouth moves faster than the gnarled traffic. The 7 a.m. commute is a fitting metaphor. Stuck in an unfulfilling job and crumbling relationship, a catnap is a futile reprieve from your sinking life.
In the U.S., we face snarling traffic, time-sucking commutes, and soul-sucking jobs. In 2015, Los Angeles commuters wasted 81 hours rotting in traffic. Even in cities regarded for their quality of life (I am looking at you Denver, Seattle, and Minneapolis), choking traffic is the norm.
You look the part as you slam your office door. So far, your morning has consisted of a two-hour commute, shrieking through glass at a complete stranger, and a red-faced stomp into the office. This is not exactly conducive to your mental health, or your colleagues’. Squeezing into your cubicle, you perform the bare minimum — a grin and bear it with the boss and a half-hearted email exchange with your hyper-caffeinated colleague in Toledo. Like the majority of Americans, you are disengaged. But, hey, you almost surpassed your Angry Birds record — before lunch!
Sound familiar? Like you, I have been there as supervisor and subordinate. After a demoralizing workday, I spurn co-workers’ happy hour overtures. Weary and defeated, I stumble into my barren apartment. My happy hour: crawling into bed from 6 to 7 p.m. Depression, meet your cousin, avoidance. We rationalize one day; when slinking into bed becomes as predictable as highway traffic jams, it is time to revisit our unhealthy, habitual behavior.
Didn’t you know that L.A. stands for Living Alone? Compounding our mental health frailties, we isolate ourselves in impersonal, sprawling cities. Our best friends are bought (or on layaway). We plop down in front of our computers, televisions, or phones. Starved for a personal connection, we Tinder the night away. Social connectivity passes for an anonymous exchange of personal information. If a person bores us, we keep swiping left. As more social applications sprout up, the names are deliciously ironic: Togetherville, MeetYourFriends, and Heello.
Your weekday routine, however counterproductive, is tattooed in your synapses. As you continue to isolate yourself, self-destructive tendencies morph into self-destructive behavior. How do we change these established patterns? Opposite action. Dr. Marsha Linehan has pioneered this groundbreaking theory. Her reasoning: emotion drives action. In my case, I retreat when I am fearful or lonesome — comforting myself with Tim’s Chips, Netflix marathons, and Tinder shopping. These actions exacerbate feelings of hopelessness.
Just do it is more than an overplayed sneaker slogan. When your synapses scream “hide under the sheets,” the opposite action would be forcing/bribing/persuading yourself to go out. Coffee shop, Meet-Up, or a Meet-Up at a coffee shop; it doesn’t matter.
We worship at the altar of productivity. But in our chase for productivity, we end up stuck — in traffic and, metaphorically, life. Living in indifferent, anonymous cities perpetuates feelings of isolation. My hope: the daily grind is the name of a coffee shop, not your life. As you retreat, embrace the idea of moving forward. #OppositeAction
Gorzelany, Jim (2008, March 16). The 10 Most Traffic Congested Cities in the World. Forbes–Auto. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/pictures/ehmk45kigm/3-los-angeles-usa-2/.
Photo by Tom Hilton, available under a Creative Commons attribution license