08/09/2012 05:07 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2012

Feeling Traffic Jammed?

If you are like me, you have experienced at some point your own level of feeling "road rage," hopefully not to the degree that you chased someone down or fired a gun, but definitely to the degree that you fired off an audible "what an idiot!" or worse, into the empty space around you in your car.

In a recent 24-hour period I encountered while driving: a wide SUV idling to make a left turn from so far to the right side of its lane that I couldn't pass it to continue straight down the street, a slow-moving woman who waited until her light was red before walking across the road right in front of me and my green light, an 18-wheel Budweiser truck making almost impossible turns while driving through the narrow streets of our very residential area of town, and someone texting at the stoplight in front of me, unaware that our light had given us the go until they sped through, leaving no time for me to get through as well.

It's amazing to me how easy it is to get very competitive and selfish when out driving. Have you ever sped up just a bit to prevent someone from getting in front of you because you felt that they didn't deserve it? That it was YOUR space, your lane, and how dare they try to nudge their way in? Now who's the idiot?

Oh, I forgot to mention that as I neared my home I also got rear-ended. At a stop sign.

Ultimately, we can never control the other drivers with whom we share the road. We can't even control our immediate reactions to their actions. But we can control whether things escalate or intensify from that point on, if we choose to make a few adjustments and practice new habits.

One major way to dial down the tension in your car is to be very conscious of the audio environment with which you surround yourself, what kind of "jam session" you choose to soak up.

There was a time when I felt that, in order to be a good citizen, I had to listen to news and talk radio. There were the two preset channels that I would switch between to hear about the state of the world, and then the third channel I would check out from time to time that featured the hosts I almost always disagreed with, but whom I thought I should listen to so I could understand what "the other side" was putting out. I often found myself debating them to no one but myself, trying to come up with arguments I would use if I was ever their guest! And I began to notice that whenever I arrived at my destination, I usually was pretty wound up.

So by listening to talk radio in the car, do we find ourselves more informed, or simply more inflamed?

Music too can pump you or calm you down, depending upon what you listen to. I'm not suggesting that one form is better than any other, but practice making a very conscious decision as to what state you wish your nerves to be in as you drive and when you arrive, and set the channel or playlist based on that.

Another suggestion is to create a sense of "sacred visual space" within your car. Many people hang spiritual icons from their rearview mirror; I have a little statue on my dashboard, and others have pictures of their kids, or partners, prominently clipped to a sun-visor. It can be very effective to have such a visual touchstone, something to ground you in the bigger picture, into the things that really matter in life, rather than acting out of a narrow focus of needing to get to where you want to go one minute earlier.

Speaking of time, it's another good idea to block off your car clock when you are driving, or if you have one of those radios that lets you switch visually between channel number and time to keep it on the channel number. Think about it; you are driving, you are probably trying to get to where you need to be as quickly as you safely can, taking the fastest, route, etc. If things are jammed up, you might turn and go a different way.

But how could knowing exactly what time it is help you in any way? Isn't it more likely to just make you more anxious and upset? Seeing how late it is getting, is there anything you can do in the car to change your arrival time?

Finally, I invite you to experiment with a practice of how to deal with all the other "idiots" on the road. Whenever someone prompts an agitated reaction from you, do the following:

First, make sure you exhale, maybe even a deep sigh, to release tension.

Then, recognize that every single person driving around you is equal in wanting the same thing, which is to arrive at their destination safely and as quickly as possible. No one intentionally sets out to drive in a manner that pisses off those around them. In fact, much of the time the other driver isn't even aware of the "idiotic" thing they just did. Consider whether you might have ever unknowingly cut someone off. I mean, they call it a "blind spot" because it is a place where we are "blind," right?

Going further, recognize also that we are all probably equal in that we at some point even knowingly drive erratically. Has there ever been a moment where you were lost in unfamiliar territory, thinking a turn was coming on one side of the road when it suddenly shows up on the opposite? Did you vear toward it, or circle around?

Have you ever had to rush to the hospital, or to the airport or anywhere else, where you felt such extreme pressure to arrive that it justified a momentary bit of "risky" driving? Wouldn't you want people to cut you a little slack? What if something like that is happening to the person who just cut you off?

Maybe we can practice this way of reframing an experience you are having on the road so that your own state of mind might become a little more spacious, a little less jammed. It might not get us to our destinations faster than the next guy, but it's got to improve our "car-ma," so that we may drive, thrive, and arrive on this shared road of life.


-- db

For more by Doug Binzak, click here.

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