How to: use mindfulness techniques to become a safer, better driver

Being a good driver is being an alert driver and being alert is being aware of the current state of affairs. Mindfulness is a technique which achieves exactly this by noting sensations as they arise: perhaps you spot a car reversing out of a drive way then being mindful of this is to make a mental note of the observation by silently stating ‘car reversing’, or simply ‘car’. Practicing mindfulness can be even more useful when distractions arise. Below are a few examples of how it can be used to recognise and diffuse such situations:

Road rage (anger)

This is something all drivers have to deal with which makes it all the more worthwhile to understand and anticipate. Anger has no purpose in dealing with frustrating traffic encounters and will only hinder our development in becoming a safe and responsible driver. If it arises there is at best danger of it becoming a distraction, or worse clouding our judgement for appropriate action. Mindfulness can help restore objectivity in a situation where it is easy to get drawn in by personal bias. So if you find yourself getting angry at the actions of another road user, focus on the sensation arising and make of it a mental note by repeating the notion ‘anger’ continuously until it subsides rather than intellectually reasoning why it is justified which will only serve to escalate the feeling.

Vibrant adverts (vision) 

Road sides are littered with temptations to avert the gaze for inordinate amounts of time when it is most essential to keep your eyes on the road. Instead of dawning on them, try making cautious observation of the appeal, by observing your reaction which can be as straightforward as noting ‘seeing’, or perhaps an advert makes you crave the product i.e. a new car, in which case you can note ‘desiring’ or whatever word best represents the feeling. This should help the sensation disappear as quickly as possible so that you can prioritise the more pertinent matter of navigating your vehicle safely through the traffic.

Enticing smells (smell)  

Only if something seems to be occupying more of your attention than you can spare should you apply mindfulness. However perhaps you are very hungry and happen to be passing an entire street of takeaways or restaurants in which case a smell could easily distract you to the point that you find yourself neglecting to notice a cyclist shrouded in shadow just ahead. Initially take note of the sense itself by repeating ‘smelling’ or perhaps ‘desiring’ until the sensation naturally subsides so you can swiftly return your focus back to the noting of potential hazards.

Daydreaming (thought) 

We are all prone to wandering off into fantastical trains of thought which can be the biggest threat of all to our sustained focus. Realising you are doing so can be tricky when you are lost in your imagination so try to recognise any such preoccupation soon after it occurs. Self awareness in the form of mindfulness can prevent you from getting too immersed in a single thought. Just observe them when they occur and note by repeating ‘thinking’ until it eventually and inevitably subsides.

Fatigue (tiredness) 

With its primarily utilitarian function, we can find sometimes ourselves having to drive in less than ideal circumstances. Whilst driving fatigued should be avoided at all costs, it is quite feasible that you could begin a journey unfazed with plenty of energy but half way through you notice the sudden onset of fatigue. If this occurs, try being mindful of it by repeating ‘tired’ which gives it recognition and makes it less likely to sneak up and consume you.

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