Mindful Driving

Daniel Kahneman is a well-known Nobel-prize winner psychologist, who is interested in behavioral economics and decision-making processes. In his famous book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman argues that our brain works in two distinct ways: System 2 stands for the deliberate actions in which we are aware of what and how we are doing. System 1 is mainly responsible for the automatic behaviors that we don’t actively think but automatically take action. Muscle learning is a great example to illustrate these two systems. Learning how to ride a bicycle requires both mind and body effort. We learn which muscles to engage to stay balanced while we pedal with our feet constantly. First moments of learning a physical task like bike riding or swimming uses system 2, and automatically riding a bike without thinking how to ride uses system 1. We get automatic as we repeat a task because our muscles also learn those behaviors and our brains don’t need to stay in the action that much.

What is Mindful Driving?

Driving can also be explained by this theory. If you are a driver, try to remember the period when you learned how to drive. There are so many details to consider at the same time: controlling the gear and the steering wheel, other cars and pedestrians in the traffic and so on. Your behaviors get automatic as you practice driving. Eventually you don’t give your whole attention to each task involved in the driving as the time goes by. You were definitely more mindful back then compared to now where you can even listen to the radio and watch the peaceful environment that flows while you drive forward.  

Now, you must get the idea of mindful driving. Driving can be a mindfulness activity just as in almost all activities in life. It is a perfect illustration of life, constantly moving forward: You get faster or slower depending on the road. The road is sometimes straight and you move smoothly whereas sometimes you need to slow down and keep your eyes on the road between the slopes and bends. Your view constantly changes, you need extra lighting during the night, and you need to clear your view when it rains. If driving is so in line with life itself, mindful driving is nothing else but mindful living.

Benefits of Mindful Driving

Distracted driving is one of the major causes of car accidents and should be taken seriously by all drivers. The most dangerous and unfortunately common non-driving activity that takes the attention from driving is texting-while-driving. Although you don’t practice mindfulness regularly, staying mindful and focused on the present moment is very essential for driving. Driving requires our full attention on the road and it is no joking matter. Distraction on the wheel is dangerous and can be fatal. A study found that mindfulness practice prevents texting-while-driving behavior among young adults.

Driving can be stressful. Traffic might get chaotic or your car might malfunction. It is possible to feel anger, panic, and stress while you are driving. You might be irritated about other drivers in the traffic. There are a lot of things to consider at the same time and it is normal that you get overwhelmed by those emotions. During those moments, you can benefit from mindfulness to calm down and stay concentrated, knowing that mindfulness promotes better emotion regulation and attention.

Practicing mindfulness increases the ability to concentrate and situation awareness for driving. Research shows that mindfulness affects driving performance positively since drivers are more aware of their environment, more capable to block out distractions and to be alert in case of danger. A study showed that drivers whose mindfulness levels are higher are less likely to get angry while driving. The results of the study implies that mindfulness based interventions can be helpful for the reduction of anger and aggressive driving.

To sum up, mindfulness helps you to cope better with the chaos and all the rising emotions. More importantly, mindfulness keeps you safe and alive.

How to Practice Mindful Driving?

Driving requires being alert at all times, so you might not prefer listening to a guided meditation while you are driving since it will disturb your full concentration. But turning driving into a mindfulness practice is possible after a few minutes before the engine starts. A safe, relaxed and enjoyable ride will be waiting for you after a couple of mindful minutes.

Mindful Driving Meditation

Sit in the driver’s seat and take a few minutes before you start the car.

Make sure that you find a comfortable sitting position. Does your back feel okay? You might do gentle neck stretches if your neck feels stiff.

Take a few deep breaths and observe your body and your mind. Feel your feet and your hands. What is it like to control the car by pushing the gas or brake pedals with your feet, or turning the wheel with your hands? Realize how your body and your actions make the car move.  

Feel your hands on the wheel, your buttocks on the seat, and your feet on the pedals. Try to name the sensations in your body. Check whether everything is set, such as the mirrors or headlights.

Now, bring your attention to the outside of your car. Look at the road, are there any other cars? Are you in a small street or a parking lot?

Start your car as you breathe in and out and make sure that your attention is on the road.

Notice and keep in mind any feelings or thoughts that arise during your drive. Try not to judge or to be dragged by any uncomfortable feeling.

Return to your breath when you notice that you are stressed or distracted.

Check in with yourself now and then to see how you are doing or whether you feel uncomfortable. Returning your breath and body will have an enormous effect on noticing your needs and taking action accordingly.

Last but not least, enjoy the ride!

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