Mindful . . . or Mindless Driving?

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Driving on Autopilot

You probably have heard the stories . . .  Drivers not remembering a thing on how they arrived in another city or state.  Or driving several times in the loop around Indianapolis in a mental haze, after missing their exit . . .

Psychologist Dr Ellen Langer calls this state “mindlessness,” a kind of autopilot. Langer believes mindlessness can be a learned behavior. Mindlessness is also stress inducing.

How so?

First, there is a confusion in being mindful—the opposite of mindlessness—with being stressed, according to Langer. Stress is when you feel “stuck in a rut,” says Langer, while mindfulness is how you feel when at play.

Secondly, stress can come from certainty. You expect something to happen, you are certain it will happen . . . and it doesn’t happen. It could be a vehicle signalling to the right—then swerving to the left in front of you. It could be traffic coming to an unexpected stop, etc.

If we feel really stressed about a situation, this ‘stressor’ can trigger the “fight-or-flight” response, resulting in adrenaline and cortisol to surge throughout the body.

The key is not to try to avoid stressful situations. The key is to be more mindful, to redirect our thoughts, to quiet our minds and the stress response.

What is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness, as I study it, is a simple process of noticing new things.” Dr Ellen Langer

Mindfulness results in not only less stress, but higher levels of productivity and even creativity.  As an added bonus—you not only feel better, but younger.

Mindfulness, in essence, is just mind training.  Maria Gonzalez, MBA, Mindful Leadership

Mindfulness means to be aware and to live in the present.

Where are we, if we are not “here and now,” in the present moment?

If we’re not being mindful of the present, we are either remembering something (the past) or engaging in fantasy (the future). In driving, this can be dangerous.

Some of my worse driving experiences have occurred when I did not practice mindful driving, including almost running the same red light two nights in a row, and pulling out into oncoming traffic. Not good. The funny thing is . . . I can’t recall now what was so important that I risked my own life and the lives of others.

Another time, in a rush to catch a plane to a safety conference, I nicked my front bumper backing out of the parking stall. Looking back, it was pure mindlessness . . .

Practicing Mindfulness In Driving

• Acknowledge the intention that you will practice mindful driving at the start of the trip.

• As you drive, be alert of three things:

  • What you see: Are you watching the road, the mirrors, the instruments?
  • What you hear: Are you listening to the sounds of the road? The vehicle? (Mindful Driving)
  • Yourself: Are you staying alert? Are you tired or bored?

For most of us, our mind will tend to wander after driving for a while, unless we make an effort to rein it in. We want to ponder on past difficulties or future challenges, and focus less and less on driving.

Mindfulness and mindful driving are not a set of skills that can be learned in a session or two, but take time to incorporate into our daily driving routine. Make the self-investment in being more mindful in everything you do.

Thank you for reading this.