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Tuesday
Mar082011

Driving

As we all have areas of strength and weakness, I'm going to come clean about one arena where I find it very difficult to maintain my poise: driving, especially around Boston. In this, I'm hardly unique. Our area has a reputation both for aggression and mercurial rules of the road. What I noticed, or what my then-girlfriend (now-wife) helped me become aware of, is that I often react to perceived bad driving with an uncommon emotion for me: anger. Let's just say that my temper didn't lead to any calmer, safer driving either.

I've begun to think more and more about this problem, because it can't be leading anywhere safe. To me, it resembles many athletes I've known who have temper problems in their sport. They get upset about something, and then it affects their decision making until they cool down. I've written about emotion before, and I won't rehash too much of it here, but suffice it to say, I don't believe driving angry is a good idea, so I've tried to break down what my triggers are. Here's what I have:

-perception of being in a hurry adds to stress

-being stuck in traffic adds to stress

-desire for "rules of the road" to be followed, when they are "violated," stress follows

-passenger being unhappy with my driving offends me, adds to stress

 An overarching theme, is that when I'm trying to get someplace quickly, I look at navigating traffic almost as if it's a competition, like an obstacle course or video game (This is not reassuring to my wife.). As such, I have notions of what I think acceptable conduct is (I like to think it's more subtle than "Everyone is a maniac or an idiot except me."), and I feel offended when people don't follow them. I believe on some level this resembles my experience of sports through tennis and pick-up basketball, where the participants play without officials and they have to cooperate in order to have a fair competition. Someone who is perceived to be cheating in these sports is usually in for an argument. Given that it's hard to communicate with other moving drivers, I have resorted to "teaching someone a lesson by horn" as if, given the monotonal wrath of an anonymous stranger, the driver will come to an understanding about how to behave better in the future. Amazingly, this has never actually worked.

I've thought about worst-case-scenarios. I think that I'm more likely to do something dumb when I'm angry, and that the negative emotion is really not helpful. On a grand scale, I want to avoid a confrontation with a dangerous person, where, even if I'm in the right, my passengers, myself, or my car could come to harm. Therefore, I've needed to examine my approach to driving, prioritizing emotional control.

So I have to prepare myself as I get in my car: what's my state of mind? Are there any triggers present that will make me more stressed? If I do start to get heated, I pull myself over and give myself the time, out of traffic, to take a few deep breaths. That helps clear my mind the same way it does in sports. Finally, I got a new idea the other day, which is to be more proactive about being courteous and less aggressive. My friend told me that he feels like he gets a courtesy wave 80% of the time when he does something nice. He must drive in the suburbs! Nonetheless, I decided to try to deserve more waves of gratitude. I'll have to accept that the actual waves may not come. But maybe if good driving comes from being good to other drivers, I need to start with the one driver I can control. 

 

 

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