I have to admit, I used to be a jerk behind the wheel. If someone cut me off, I’d blast my horn and yell at them from inside my car, as if they could hear me. I had similar hostile responses if they were driving too slow, too fast, didn’t use their turn signals, tailgated me, didn’t come to a full stop, or made any number of other driving errors. I should have been a traffic cop, because I was a pro at seeing others’ driving mistakes. Did venting make me feel better? No. I arrived at my destination stressed and angry.
Did venting make me feel better? No. I arrived at my destination stressed and angry.
Today, most of this road rage has gone away. If someone is merging from an on-ramp, I slow down to let him or her in. I give the erratic driver extra room and a quick prayer for their safety. Others’ driving mistakes receive grace and whatever adjustment I need to make to accommodate them. When I arrive, I don’t feel stressed. Sometimes I even feel good about myself for keeping things safe and showing others a small act of kindness.
What changed? Well, me. Other drivers weren’t going to change. In fact, the traffic in my city continues to get worse and the driving is certainly not getting better. Improvements in my driving and driving experience were an unexpected bonus to the changes I made to stop being violent with my wife. Looking back, I see now how the two were closely related.
A simple thing I did was to start leaving earlier: allowing 15 minutes for a 10-minute drive, a full hour for a 50-minute commute, etc. When I got behind a slow driver, into road construction, or hit any other irritating delay, they were less of a problem because I had a time cushion. Using a technique like this to reduce stress helped, but it’s not possible to eliminate it all. I needed more.
As I journaled about angry driving incidents, I determined I was much more likely to get angry when I was in a hurry. Digging deeper into the thoughts behind my emotions, I saw I’m especially in a hurry when I’m worried about being late. And, I worry about being late because somewhere I have a tape in my head that tells me I must be on time or I will look irresponsible, and therefore will not be liked by others.
There were other thoughts, too. One was a fear that I’d be injured by their bad driving. Another was that, if they were ahead of me (or holding me up), it was an indication that I was not succeeding and others were getting ahead of me. But were those thoughts really true?
There are times when delays are unavoidable. Everyone is late once in a while, and that does not make them irresponsible or unlikable. I’m usually on time, so overall I’m not irresponsible, although punctuality is something I could improve. Being hurt by others’ bad driving is a remote possibility, but switching to more grace-filled and defensive driving keeps me far safer than if I react and drive aggressively in those moments. Writing down the subconscious feeling of falling behind in life when others were ahead of me in traffic helped me see how ridiculous that notion was.
Challenging distorted thoughts and uncovering the lies behind them helped to take away their power. Each time I became frustrated by other drivers was an opportunity to change how I thought about what was happening, and thereby shrink my reaction. This was the same process I was using to stop violent reactions in my marriage: look for the triggers, identify the emotions that caused big reactions, and correct the distorted thinking behind the emotions.
Challenging distorted thoughts and uncovering the lies behind them helped to take away their power.
Finding a personal relationship with Christ also helped me to become a better driver. Driving became less about how fast and easily I got from point A to point B (note the focus was on me), and more about fulfilling my purpose, which is to watch out and care for others as I went about my day. I was surprised when I saw that focusing on others brought the most inner peace and joy.
I was surprised when I saw that focusing on others brought the most inner peace and joy.
Today, am I a driver that never gets bothered by anyone else on the road? Nope. But I’m much less of a jerk than I was before: fewer things bother me, and the reactions I do have rise to a level of irritation rather than rage. When I’m calm and considerate, it feels great. When I’m not, then I have an opportunity to practice the process we talk about in the Ananias Guidebook of looking deeper for the beliefs that are causing angry emotions, then challenging those distorted thoughts.
This process will not only help you stop committing acts of violence with your partner, it will bless other areas of your life. When you see one of those side benefits, consider it a milestone that helps you know you are making progress. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
When you see one of those side benefits, consider it a milestone that helps you know you are making progress.
If you’ve been on this journey for a while, what facets of your life have improved in surprising ways? We’d love to hear from you.