Traffic Magic for Road Rage
Traffic is a terrible feature of modern life that we all have to deal with sooner or later. Those of us in Los Angeles enjoy many hours in cars, bumper to bumper, but traffic is really a global curse. Traffic causes a special kind of frustration called Road Rage. I’m not just talking about people getting out of their cars to fight or shoot each other. I’m also talking about the subtle Road Rage we all experience and indulge in: shouting, flipping the finger, slamming the horn in anger, etc.
What if I told you that you don’t hate traffic because traffic itself is so bad, but that traffic itself is caused by people indulging in feeling bad?
Before you go telling me about your awful commute, I’ve had to endure two hour commutes in both Los Angeles and Washington, DC, two of the notoriously worst cities in the country for traffic jams, and I did so for many years. And after the first two months of enduring this hellish commute, I learned to love it. Here’s how:
First, studies have proven that traffic is actually caused by people driving faster than the speed limit, causing those fast drivers to catch up with the slower traffic ahead, resulting in a traffic jam. This study illustrates that the mental state of rushing, hurrying, and racing to beat traffic is actually what leads to traffic. These mental states are all just subtle versions of anxiety, which is to say that the anxiety of individual drivers’ literally piles up into traffic.
Second, studies have also proven that traffic moves faster when drivers keep a steady pace, and don’t try to increase speed whenever there’s a small gap. By keeping a steady pace right in the middle of the cars ahead and behind you, then you will actually experience less traffic because you’ll be spending more time going at a constant pace rather than starting and stopping.
Third, when you’re driving, check your anxiety which is subtly causing you to drive faster than you need to. Due to lights and the traffic phenomenon, speeding doesn’t actually get you to your destination meaningfully faster. So give up on trying to beat the journey and accept that you’re going to get there when you get there.
Fourth, once you can accept that you’ll arrive whenever you can safely arrive, you can genuinely relax into that state and actually enjoy that podcast, audiobook, or radio station. But most importantly, you can also recognize that the other drivers speeding around you are only accomplishing one thing: making themselves more anxious! They’re certainly not getting anywhere faster. They’re just spending that time in the car needlessly producing anxiety, like you used to do. But not anymore. If you are driving at a relaxed pace and not trying to steal every inch, you can pity the other drivers who are not only making themselves anxious, but actually creating the very traffic they seek to escape! From this vantage point, you can not only laugh at the absurdity of their behavior, but also feel compassion for them as suffering people who can’t relax on a deeper level.
Physically, this practice involves actually relaxing into your car seat and taking deep breaths to slow your heart rate. The real trick to outsmart traffic is to understand that it’s caused by your own anxiety, and that the slower, calmer, and more relaxed you feel and drive, the less traffic you’ll actually experience. From there, you’ll driver safer, and those who drive recklessly will garner your pity rather than induce anger. Chill out and enjoy the ride; you’ll get there when you get there.