How would your life change if being calm in traffic was already your habitual response?
Why should you bother trying to keep calm in traffic. It’s just one of life’s pet peeves right? Well that might be true but it is also an opportunity to practise a technique which has the potential to be life enhancing.
This picture looks like a classic New York to me. Believe it or not, the beautiful tranquil island of Bali is very similar in many ways. Traffic in Bali is more scooter based but it is often gridlocked and invariably there is some form of congestion every time you make a journey. This makes it incredibly difficult to predict travel times and having a strategy in place to keep chilled is essential.
It’s fair to say that the Balinese tend to handle traffic issues by adopting a rubber time approach.
It is harder to be completely chilled about things if you have been brought up in culture where being on time brings with it so many other associations; being respectful, reliable etc.
So what do you do?
Clearly there are choices. You can sit with one hand on the horn, shouting at everyone around you, protesting about their choices. Another option is to desperately search for an escape route; darting down every little back street and alley in the hope you beat the traffic. I have tried both.
It’s controversial but wait !
There is another option.
A new habit! What about trying something new. A pre-determined decision to keep calm in traffic by treating congestion as an opportunity.
And here is a bit of habit change science thrown in for good measure. What if you were to decide ahead of time; whenever I hit congestion (that is your trigger) I am going to behave in a different way.
Ok I know it’s a bit out there but how about trying some meditation or at least mindful behaviour. Yes meditation is traditionally practised in a quiet space, sitting upright with minimal distractions but it doesn’t have to be done that way. Obviously I am not suggesting that you shut your eyes and switch off the engine but one option is just to accept that in situations of traffic gridlock you have no control therefore, you will relax until the situation passes. I chose to be calm in traffic.
As I have said, making the decision to behave in this way well ahead of time is imperative. You are making a conscious choice in advance, about your reaction in a situation you cannot control. You bring your attention to your breath, develop a single pointed focus ( once again, no closed eyes or lowered eyelids here) focus on the breath and count. When the congestion passes you drop your focus on the breath and continue with your journey.
To complete the habit change loop (i.e. make it really stick) you need to follow up your new habit with a reward. Ideally it’s going to be something you can do straight away in the car; it could be something like playing your favourite music. You have to decide ahead of time the reward that is going to be really meaningful to you
What the heck. Give it a try. What do you have to lose.
For more guidance on a meditation in a slightly more traditional setting, here is a link to one of my favourite sites http://plumvillage.org