I am not proud to admit that I have been fined for speeding. I have done a speed awareness course. I understand that every mph over the speed limit makes the risk of injury or death in an accident much greater. I think that everyone else drives too fast. I hate it when I’m walking and people whizz past me. Why then do I find it so difficult myself?
3 miles at 30 mph takes 6 minutes. 3 miles at 35 mph takes 5 minutes 10 seconds. Why is it so important for me to get from A to B as quickly as possible? What am I going to do with that extra 50 seconds? Logically it doesn’t make sense to speed so why did I always tend to drive slightly over rather than slightly under the speed limit?
For me, it has been practicing mindfulness that has changed my attitude. Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of what is happening in our minds and bodies, moment by moment, as it happens. I have driven for years, so it was a real surprise to me how unaware I was of my own driving practice. Mindfulness asked me to give my whole attention to my driving. I thought I always did this and it was quite a ‘wake-up call’ to realise that I didn’t. For a lot of the time I drove on autopilot.
When I consciously brought my awareness to sensations in my body, I noticed that my fingers gripped the steering wheel much harder than they needed to. My shoulders were hunched up and there was a feeling of tension throughout my body. One side of my neck ached. The whole driving experience was stressful.
Taking all my awareness to my driving meant that I became more conscious of the speed limit. The words of the speed awareness course instructor came back to me: ‘the speed limit is a maximum, it is not a target’. There is a helpful page on the DVLA web-site with reminders of the national speed limits.
I have persevered with mindful driving. Whereas before I was totally focussed on what I was going to do when I got to my destination, now I am much more conscious of the journey itself. I make it as pleasant as possible by listening to music that I enjoy. Periodically I bring my attention to my hands on the steering wheel and my neck and shoulders. I find that when I do this any tension softens. And of course I check the speedometer regularly! When you have to decelerate (eg from a 50 to a 30 mph limit) it can feel sooo slow at first and if I feel bored or anxious going at 30 mph I now take a deep breath or do some shoulder exercises (a friend of mine does her pelvic floor exercises). And after you’ve been driving at 30 mph for a minute you soon get used to the slower speed.
The other important thing to be mindful of when you’re driving is the distance between yourself and the car in front. One way to do this is the timelapse method: pick a landmark ahead of you (eg a tree near the road) and count the number of seconds between the car in front passing the landmark and yourself passing it. The time should be at least 2 seconds (ie counting 1 thousand, 2 thousand). For more guidelines click here.
Change doesn’t happen overnight but I find that these days I usually enjoy my driving journey. What’s more, I stick to the speed limit ….
Sheila is the founder of Living Well Mindfulness. She is passionate about sharing the benefits of mindfulness to help people to reduce stress and suffering. She runs mindfulness courses in Newbury, Reading and surrounding areas. If you would like advice on any aspect of how mindfulness could help you, don’t hesitate to contact Sheila: [email protected] or 07990 584078