When traffic is running smoothly, and other drivers are sharing the road, your trip to the mall for holiday shopping is enjoyable. At other times, it can seem as if all the crazy, irritated Grinch drivers are racing to the same mall as you. Their bad mood and lack of caution might trigger your inner Grinch and you grow impatient and respond in the same way . . . and then Crash! You are in a fender-bender. Instead of enjoying the holidays, you spend the next week, or two, or more, coping with the consequences of the accident.
So, how do you avoid that nearly instinctive reaction to respond to their ‘irritated-crazy’ with your own brand of ‘irritated-crazy’?
It’s simple — change what you’re thinking about the other driver. A side-note: I’m only saying it’s a simple solution. It’s not always an easy one!
Our response to any ‘irritated-crazy’ driving is coming from what we are telling ourselves about how the other person drives.
It works like this:
You’re at the mall. There is only one lane into the parking lot. A driver cuts you off. If you’re thinking, ‘You idiot! How dare you! I have the right of way!’, you can slip into driving ‘irritated-crazy’ right back at them.
What if you change what you are thinking about the other driver to something like, ‘Wow, they’re sure in a hurry. Maybe they’re coping with the loss of their home from the fires and are in a hurry to get some kind of Christmas together for their children’.
Can you feel your brain shift? Can you feel your irritation drain away as compassion takes its place?
It’s much easier to react kindly to the ‘irritated-crazy’ driver when you get out of Grinch-thinking and put a compassionate story behind why they might be driving that way.
Or has this happened to you? You realize that the ‘irritated-crazy’ driver is a dear friend. You’re no longer angry because you know what your friend is going through in their life and why they might be stressed and in a hurry.
My rule of thumb is, ‘Listen to the story I’m telling myself about the other driver’. This isn’t always easy to do, but it can make a difference.
Whatever kind of day we are having also impacts what stories we tell ourselves about the ‘irritated-crazy’ drivers we encounter. We may translate that into our reactions —
What if your work-day was one for the record books in terms of tough, confusing, awful things? You received a ‘let’s see other people’ text from the person you’ve been dating, your boss announced half the staff was being laid off, you included, and your electric bill has doubled.
After your long commute, you reach the final off-ramp before your neighborhood. Another car darts into your lane out of turn. You might stomp on the accelerator thinking, ‘Not after the day I’ve had! This is my lane, my turn!’ And there it is: ‘irritated-crazy’ driving.
But what if your day was like this – one for the record books in terms of wonderful, sweet, and uplifting things? You received a text from your partner inviting you to a long romantic weekend, your boss told you he’s promoting you to manager, and you receive a digital coupon for $40 from your aunt ‘just because you’re special’.
After your long commute, you reach the final off-ramp before your neighborhood. Another car darts into your lane out of turn. This time, because you are filled with contentment and joy, your reaction may be, ‘After the day I’ve had, go ahead! There is room for everybody.’
See the difference? The only thing that changed in the two traffic scenarios was the type of day you had. You reacted to the other drivers according to what you were thinking, based on what kind of day you had.
Remember how I said it was a simple solution, but not an easy one? Here are some tips for changing the Grinch-story you are telling yourself about the ‘irritated-crazy’ drivers:
- Take a deep breath and remember that the holiday season is about peace, love, and understanding.
- Singing holiday songs while you drive can lift your spirits and put you in a happy mood.
- Cultivate compassion for what others might be going through. We are all in this together.
- Remember you, too, have had tough times and you got through them with a little help.
That’s it. Leave the Holiday Traffic Grinch at home by changing the story you tell yourself about the other drivers . . . oh, and to quote the tagline from an old cop show – ‘Be safe out there!’