Plus, how to take things less personally.
For years, I had a fairly bad temper when sitting in traffic or driving around town. I was never in the present moment, but rather focused on wherever I was going. I had somewhere to be, and everyone else on the road was in my way.
Traffic frustrated me to no end. Drivers who cut me off or drove dangerously made my blood boil. Any annoyance seemed amplified when in the confines of my car. I was constantly angered by bad drivers and my lack of control over the situations on the road. In fact, I was so focused on yelling at the “idiots” around me that I forgot my reactions were still in my control.
However, once I had kids, I was forced to face my bad behavior that had gone unchecked for years, though it wasn’t immediate. When my first child was born, I instantly became a more cautious and calculated driver, but my anger on the road persisted—and perhaps became even worse. My mama bear instinct was to rage against anyone who would put my babies in harm’s way, but as it turns out, my anger was only compounding an already dangerous situation.
While it may have felt momentarily satisfying to yell at the driver in front of me, my expression of anger was actually putting my children’s well-being at even more risk. In a study conducted by science journal Elsevier, participants who regularly used verbal aggression to express their frustration on the road put themselves into significantly more crash-prone conditions, such as loss of concentration, loss of vehicle control and near-misses.
The science behind driving angry wasn’t what changed my ways, though. It was my kids who helped steer me toward mindfulness on the road. One day, after being cut off by another driver, I heard my 2-year-old daughter yell from the backseat, “what a dick!” It was then I realized that all this time, my children had been absorbing my negativity and anger on the road. They were learning from my own unhealthy habits that yelling and swearing were acceptable ways to deal with frustration. They were learning that driving and traffic were inherently negative situations, and I began noticing that every time we so much as encountered a red light, my children were on edge and impatient. I was conditioning them to hate driving, and I knew something needed to change.
Soon after, I began using mindfulness as a method of dealing with my anger on the road. When I was aware of my anger being triggered, I became more capable of calming myself before it escalated into yelling and subsequently becoming distracted from the act at hand. Not only did it gradually make driving a more pleasant experience, it also made me a better driver. Studies have shown that mindfulness improves cognitive function and reduces the occurrence of distracting thoughts, which leads to safer driving practices. Focusing on my own actions was giving me a far better sense of control than I ever had while fuming with fury.
Now, driving and sitting in traffic has become a time where I have a heightened state of awareness, and where I encourage my kids to practice patience. They are still unlearning the negative associations with driving (as am I) but each drive is a little better than the one before. We can’t control the road outside of our own little metal box, but we can control the way we deal with it. Our reactions are always our own responsibility, and blaming other drivers for bad behavior on the road is something I’m trying to make sure my kids don’t inherit from me.