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Becoming a relaxed driver

I've been driving cars for 17 years now and I love it. I always considered myself a pretty balanced driver. I rarely break speed limits intentionally and I don't block traffic by driving way below the speed limit. I don't get too close to the bumper of the car ahead of me and I don't stay in the left lane when the right lane is empty. I sometimes stop for others politely and I never give other drivers the finger ('never' meaning exactly once in my life).

A while ago it occured to me that despite this seeming balance, I regularly had stressful moments in traffic. When I started to keep track of this, my self image of a laid back and balanced driver was shattered: there was far more aggravation in my driving than I thought! I became frustrated when:

  • cars blocked the road by going much slower than the speed limit
  • cars unnecessarily blocked the left lane
  • anything blocked my way, like people unloading vans, cattle crossing, closed bridges and railway crossings
  • people stole the parking spot I was obviously waiting for
  • people accelerated too slow at a traffic light, forcing me to wait for the green light even longer
  • several other things happened.

Basically, besides driving my own car, I tried to drive other people's cars for them (and their trains, cattle and van contents). That's some exhausting multitasking! If you are anything like this, you might want to try a new approach, like I am doing.

Why this need for control?

So I was trying to control every possible factor around me. I don't remember ever succesfully moving a car aside with sheer mind power and cows refuse to listen to reasoning. I got more and more frustrated, even during a 15 minute drive. That brings up the interesting question: why would anyone put themself through that hell instead of just relaxing while driving?

The urge to be on time

When I drive to work, I want to be there on time. Leaving extra early to take into account possible delays feels like putting extra unpaid time into my job, or into joining a traffic jam (I like driving, not waiting in my car). For other appointments, I want to arrive on time as well. Usually I do leave a margin, but that doesn't stop me from getting frustrated when that evil traffic light delays me for an extra minute (just to mess with me, I'm sure 😉 ).

Claiming my space

When I drive somewhere for an errand, I have no set time of arrival. Still I get aggravated when traffic is against me. Other cars overtaking me somehow makes me feel like I'm falling behind: hey, I was here first, why are you all trying to get ahead of me?

In slow moving traffic I get annoyed by people using the emergency lane to cut back in line far ahead, but also when I seem to be in the lane that moves slowest. AARRGH! That lane is moving faster! I need to get in on that action. Oh no, the other lane is moving again, I have to get back in there! Most of the time, this behavior doesn't effectively get me there any faster and if it does, I probably gain about 30 seconds, but it does get me all wound up.

The need for order in the traffic chaos

Seventeen years ago I learned all the traffic rules. It became clear to me why they exist and how they create order in traffic. Maybe I expected that every single soul would follow those rules. Every time I drive, however, I see several people violating several traffic rules and creating (potentially) dangerous situations for themselves and others. I struggle with that every time. I find it hard to accept that not everyone is able to keep traffic safe and even harder that some people don't care that they endanger others.

Relaxation first

Those reasons cause me a lot of frustration, so I started to make some changes in my driving behavior and intentions.

  1. I'll get there when I get there: I prefer being late and relaxed over being less late and very frustrated and angry.
  2. I've chosen to change lanes less often. Of course, to keep in line with most of the traffic there, I have to maintain a lower speed. Turns out that I drive only 10-15% slower than before. That's only 6 more minutes on a one hour drive. I rarely need to overtake other cars anymore, so the frustrations of the left lane are gone.
  3. I try to accept that external delays just happen. Bridges open, vans need to be unloaded and sometimes cows just need to pee on the other side of the road. I try to enjoy the situation and if it looks like it's going to take really long (some vans are HUGE and cows usually bring company), I try to find a way around it or ask for passage.
  4. I keep in mind that other people are NOT out to make my driving life miserable. They don't go out thinking: "Hmm, let's see how I can delay Margers drive to work". They just try to get to work themselves and some of them simply don't pay enough attention or don't realize the impact of their actions. I can't change that, so fussing about it is a waste of energy. Accept it, let it happen.
  5. I give the maniacs what they want. Yes, a very small minority in traffic consists of utter morons who know they drive way too fast or risky. Since I can't change that either, I just try to get out of their way. Staying in the right lane happens to take care of that mostly. When I do overtake, I check for speeders in the left lane first and wait for them to pass, and get my ass back in the right lane if one does close in on me. It's much more relaxing than doing my thing while a maniac is hugging my rear bumper. Maniacs far ahead of me are less dangerous to me than maniacs closing in on me from behind. Just let them go and do their thing, I'll wait till the storm is over.

My progress

I'm not exactly the Zen master of driving just yet. I've been making these changes during the past few months and some are easier than others. That's OK. Pushing myself to be super relaxed immediately is stressful as well and thus a bad idea. At this point it has become mostly a habit to keep to the right, driving a bit slower. That does take care of a large portion of the aggravation. For the other part, I usually detect my stress starting to build during a drive. In some cases it works to apply the changes mentioned above.

In other cases I still struggle. Although I keep getting better, at times it's still hard to accept all the dangerous situations happening around me or to realize that being 5 or 10 minutes late usually doesn't cause any real problems. Feeling that stress is an excellent motivator though. When I get in stress mode, I do know I'd rather feel relaxed and that my new approach can be very effective, so I keep trying to apply it. My inner cow seems to love it.

About the author

Marger (1976) lives in the Netherlands. He shares free articles about his personal growth and his insights on the world in general.

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