Mental Routines for the Mindful Road Warrior

Posted 09.22.2014

brainworksLast week, I introduced a new short series for Mindful Mondays with a post titled Travel Tips for the Mindful Road Warrior. To be honest, when I started writing that post I realized I had more to share than one blog post could accommodate – hence, this series. Last week’s post focused on the physical routines that I follow when I’m on the road and several readers shared what they do to keep themselves in shape on the road. Thanks for that!

Today, I’m focusing on the mental routines that (I hope) keep me clear and focused when I’m travelling for business. I do a lot of listening when I’m out there in both coaching conversations and in presentations I’m making in leadership development programs. It’s super important that I keep the mental chatter and distractions to a minimum so I can really focus on the people I’m with.

No matter what your job is, it’s probably important for you to give others your full presence and attention. That can be a huge challenge in the age of 24/7 distraction and it can be even more challenging when your typical operating rhythm is disrupted by being on the road.

Here are some of the routines that work for me to keep me mentally focused when I’m on the road. The first is what I call the “Killer App” of Mental Routines in my new book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. The rest are what I call little habit hacks that I’ve found really useful. Please do share your favorite routines to keep yourself mentally focused by leaving a comment on this post.

Breathing: Because it does such an effective job in making me aware of and clearing out my mental chatter is my Killer App of mental routines. Over the past few years, I’ve become a dedicated breather. Yeah, I know that’s a great strategy for just staying alive, but it’s a lot more than that. Most mornings, I use an app on my iPad called Insight Timer to lead me through a session of focused breathing for anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Sometimes I count the inhales and exhales; sometimes I visualize the breath moving up an down my spine vertebrae by vertebrae. If my mind wanders, as it inevitably does, I eventually notice that and come back to my breath. Sometimes my mind wanders to a picture of how I want to show up later in the day. Sometimes it wanders to a different way of looking at something I’m working on. When I was binge watching Breaking Bad, it would often wander to the last episode I’d seen. It doesn’t really matter what my mind wanders to, the big benefit in terms of having more focus is to notice it when it does and come back to the breath. That focus usually carries over to my interactions throughout the day. I’ll often boost a bit with a minute or two of deep breathing a few times a day.

No Wi-Fi on Planes: More and more planes these days have on-board wi-fi. I never use it (and have noticed that, for the seatmates who do, it’s pretty glitchy). One of the great things about a 3 to 6 hour flight for me has always been the chance to go off the grid. When there’s no Wi-Fi, there are no interruptions (other than beverage carts and the guy who needs to go to the bathroom) or distractions from whatever it is I choose to think about or work on. What an awesome opportunity to focus, get stuff done, learn something new or just relax!

More Music: On those blissful mornings on the road where I don’t have to go right to a meeting, I often set up shop in my hotel room to do a little writing or get a little work done. The Pandora and Sirius XM apps on my iPad are usually a critical component of putting my brain in a good place to work. The music I choose depends on the work I have to get done. If it’s writing, it’s usually the Mozart channel on Pandora (that’s what I’ve been listening to while writing this post). I’m pretty convinced that his music does something to my brain waves that makes me more relaxed and focused when I write. If I’m answering a lot of emails and need to stay energized and in a groove while I do, the playlist usually comes from the adult album rock on The Spectrum channel on Sirius XM. I hate to admit that it’s probably the easy listening channel of 2014 but it usually puts me into a productive groove. It also sets a nice mental groove for meeting with people later in the day.

So, those are three of my road warrior routines for staying mentally focused when travelling. What are some of your personal favorites?