Hurling Yourself at Life

Gasoline is expensive. People are worried how they will afford it. And yet, this morning during rush hour, I was driving a respectable 5 mph above the speed limit and vehicles were rushing by me like I was a stationary road hazard.

Whether or not they were using too much gas is not the subject of this column. What concerns me is that, in a time when it makes absolute and perfect sense on multiple levels to slow down, we don’t seem able to break the habit of hurling ourselves at life as if it’s an enemy to be defeated.

What worries me is the mood of those drivers when they arrive at work. Are they calm and energized, ready to tackle the day or are they the physiological result of spending 20-30 minutes with a white-knuckle death grip on their steering wheels?

There are many reasons why this is not good. First of all, when you are stressed out as so many of us are behind the wheels of our vehicles, your brain responds by pumping nasty chemicals into your system—chemicals which can ultimately cause heart attacks and strokes if they’re allowed to build up.

Secondly, the Law of Attraction dictates that you get more of what you focus on. Whatever the mantra is that you are playing in your brain when you’re driving as if you’re in a NASCAR event, you are attracting more of the same. Are people driving like idiots? Keep watching; more are sure to show up. Is the road a mess? More potholes and unexplained bumps coming right up! And are you screaming internally, “I CAN”T be late! I CAN’T be late!!!”? Yeah, good luck with that one.

There are two things I try to remember when I’m facing stressful road conditions:

1. Your brain does not know the difference between pretend and reality. If you loosen your grip on the steering wheel, adjust your body into a more relaxed posture, take a few cleansing breaths and start focusing on things that make you feel better, your brain will be fooled into thinking you’re in a good mood. Brace yourself! Here come the “feel good” chemicals in response.

2. You can turn nearly anything into a fun game. I play a game called “don’t hit the brakes.” It’s not as dangerous as it sounds. When I get into stop ‘n go traffic, I decide to see how long I can go without hitting the brakes. This requires me to pace my car and leave plenty of space between me and the car ahead. That way, when other cars come into my lane, I don’t need to hit the brakes (or cuss them out). It completely takes my attention off the problem and turns it into a fun situation. It also forces me to concentrate on driving—have you ever noticed how easy it is to be lulled into a false sense of security when traffic is going slow? Lots of rear-end collisions happen during those times.

There can be all sorts of “unintended consequences” when you make a conscious effort to slow down. After the awful events of September 11, airports started to insist that we arrive two hours early for outgoing flights. I travel a lot and I did not embrace this new requirement in quite the patriotic spirit the FAA had probably hoped for. However, on my first trip I noticed something that was pretty wonderful. Because I was at the airport in plenty of time to catch my plane, I was completely relaxed. I wasn’t grumpy. I wasn’t frazzled. I had time to do whatever I wanted–catch up on phone calls, read a magazine or sit quietly and people-watch. When I did people-watch I noticed the same impact on others. With fewer frantic fliers, everyone was more relaxed and friendly.
Try leaving for work 10 minutes early so you can enjoy the ride. I promise you’ll love the unintended consequences (as will your body).

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