You honking at ME?! Confessions of a road warrior

Road warriors. I see them everywhere. And all too often, I must confess, I’m one as well.

An epidemic of rage

The headlines scream that road rage is an epidemic. A recent study by AAA concurs, stating that 80 percent of drivers admitted to expressing aggression, anger or road rage behind the wheel.

This increased hostility isn’t surprising. The roads are crowded and, in many places, in poor condition. We’re often stressed, over-extended and over-caffeinated, and so are the other drivers.

a stream of brake lights ahead
Row17, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Even worse, we’re all distracted. We talk on our phones, eat meals, and even groom ourselves behind the wheel. And then there’s texting.

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Texting while driving, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the safety campaigns, the huge fines if we’re caught, and the grisly news images of mangled cars and grieving families, many of us still text and drive.

No wonder we’re so angry. Like I said, I feel that anger and aggression, too. I get impatient with the lousy roads, the traffic jams, and all the drivers who aren’t actually driving. And yet…

Publication1

Looking in the (rearview) mirror

Road rage isn’t a “me-versus-them” dynamic. I’m not blameless here. I also participate in this culture of rage:

  • I honk.
  • I make crude gestures.
  • I tailgate slow drivers.

I, too, am a road warrior. I’m in that eighty percent.

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Teen checking rearview mirror, CC BY 2.0 via flickr

And truth be told, I sometimes let myself get distracted, whether by a phone call, the weather report, or that new store that just opened up. I’m causing other drivers to slow down, or maneuver around me, or honk, or swear, or gesticulate. I’m part of the problem.

Kindergarten for drivers

Sharing the road isn’t a new concept. But this week it took on a new meaning for me.

While driving through a construction zone, I suddenly remembered a lesson from kindergarten. We all had to share the toys at play time. This rule was gently but strictly enforced. Not sharing meant having to sit by yourself, watching everyone else have fun.

What if I applied that rule to driving, I wondered. After all, the road does not belong to me. It belongs to everyone, including other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. To earn the privilege of driving on that road, I must share it with them, just like I shared those toys at play time.

I’m working on being mindful of sharing, and putting the road warrior in a time out.

car and bike next to each other on sign saying share the road
NYC Share the road sign, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

You can read about the study here: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

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The Zen of meetings: Remembering to listen

Sometimes being in the moment means being bored. That is the uncomfortable reality of attending meetings.

I’m not a big fan of meetings. If they go on too long, and what meeting doesn’t, they release the squirmy preteen who lives in my head.

bored looking preteen girl
My inner squirmy preteen

She flicks her gaze back and forth between the clock and whoever is speaking. She scribbles nonsense in the margins of her legal pad. When she has exhausted all socially acceptable diversions, she resorts to that middle-school favorite, criticism.

“Let’s think outside the box,” she fumes silently. “Really?!”

Of course she’s not the only person who finds that cliché, or any cliché, distasteful. After all, clichés indicate a certain laziness in the speaker, right, so it’s okay to heap scorn and mockery on their heads, right?

Simmer down, I tell my inner brat. It isn’t that simple.

Sometimes using clichés is a mistake. But sometimes using them indicates a code, a common language indicating common goals, a way to get to the point faster. In those instances, a cliché can be an effective communication tool. So what’s really going on here, I ask my inner tweenster. Why the eye roll?

The ugly truth

The truth, it turns out, is very unflattering. To me. The truth is that when I’m bored and fidgety, it’s often because I’m not truly listening. I’m using boredom as an excuse to disengage and think snarky thoughts. Rather than tuning out, I need to tune in.

Listening is a skill. It’s an active process requiring not just my attention but thoughtful consideration of the message. It requires setting aside my own impatience and extending the courtesy of my full attention to the speaker. In short, it requires mindfulness.

Coming home to mindfulness

It all starts with the breath. I begin silently counting my breaths, from one to four. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and count one. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and count two. When I get to four, I start again.

Four Leaf Clover
I count to four and start again

This return to mindfulness helps me engage my listening skills. And once I do,  the meeting transforms. Or rather, my experience of it transforms.

I feel more connected to the others in the room. I start to understand what it is they’re saying, or trying to say. I’m more actively involved. This sense of connection is a good clue that I’ve tuned in again.

Do I still get fidgety? Of course. And I still think no meeting should last more than 20 minutes. But I’m getting better at reminding myself to listen. One meeting at a time.

zen garden
Zen garden

Will you still be my friend?

We haven’t talked in ages, and it’s all my fault.

My excuse – I was thesising!

Don’t be mad. I was working on my thesis. But I received my Master’s degree in December 2015 so I’m done. Do you wanna hang out now?

my diploma
It’s official!

My thesis is titled The Use of Facebook by Older Adults. I conducted interviews and observations of a wonderful, generous group of folks over age 65 and analyzed the results. The project was a challenge, one I wasn’t sure I was up to. As it turns out, I made things harder for myself than they needed to be. (Shocker!)

I discuss this in a guest blog post I was invited to write for the Thesis & Dissertation Office at Northern Illinois University. I thought I’d share it here so you’d have an idea what I’ve been up to.

Guest Blog — Connections Matter

Thanks for giving me another chance. Now let’s talk about you!

Making New Year’s resolutions that don’t make me miserable

New Year’s resolutions don’t work for me. And it turns out I’m not alone. According to a study described on the website Statistics Brain, after one week 25% of people have dropped their resolutions, and by the end of the year, fully 92% have dropped.

graph depicting percentage of resolutions which fail
Percentage of resolutions which fail

Actually, the study reported on the success rate of people in regard to their resolutions, which puts the success rate at the end of the year at a measly 8%. I prefer to turn the statistics around and look at the percentage of resolutions that failed, not people.

Every year I made myself miserable by setting overly ambitious goals and then failing. Over the years, through trial and error, I’ve learned a new approach to making resolutions.

My healthier, saner approach to resolutions

  1. Reflect on what I did right last year.
  2. Reflect on what I would like my life to look like in the coming year.
  3. Make just a few resolutions.
  4. Make suggestions not commandments.
  5. Let go of the guilt.
  6. Give myself permission to change course.

Reflecting on what I did right

I find it helpful to take some time to jot a few notes about what I felt good about in the preceding year. What could I be proud of at work? At home? About my mind? My body? My spirit? Last year I finished up the required coursework for my thesis and started working out at a gym. Nothing earth-shattering, but good, steady progress. Being generous here makes the next step easier.

Reflecting on what I would like to be different

At this point I don’t set specific goals. Instead, I just think about what I would like my overall life to look like in the coming year. Would I like to have more toned muscles? Yes. Would I like to broaden my musical tastes? Maybe. Would I like to set aside more time for R & R on the weekends? Definitely. The idea here is to get a general impression of how I want things to be, and to keep it simple.

Making just a few resolutions

More is not always better, especially when it comes to setting goals. Setting too many goals divides my focus and my energy. I’m much better off making just a few resolutions. Again, simplify.

list of ten New Year's resolutions
Making too many resolutions divided my focus and energy

Making suggestions, not commandments

The very best kind of friend to have is one who offers suggestions which are prompted by concern and respect. Such a friend does not boss you around and give you commandments. Instead, a really good friend wants you to live well, take good care of yourself, and be happy. To create helpful resolutions for my life, I asked myself what a good friend would suggest for me.

a list of 3 simple resolutions
The kind of resolutions a good friend might suggest

Letting go of guilt

In my world, which is filled with competing demands on my time and energy, rigid rules don’t work. I need wiggle room. And I don’t need guilt. So I work on letting that go. After all, if I’m not keeping a resolution, maybe the fault is not in me, but in the resolution. Which leads me to my final step.

 

Giving myself permission to change course

If I’m not sticking to a resolution, I ask myself why. Is it unrealistic? Is it not likely to improve my life? Does it bore me? Depending on the answers to these questions, I might need to tweak a resolution, or replace it with a new one, or drop it altogether. And that’s okay. The point is to improve my life, not follow rules blindly.

If you’d like to read more about making attainable New Year’s resolutions, read Logan Chierotti’s 5 Hacks to Help You Stick to Your New Year’s Resolutions.

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? How are they working?

 

Thanksgiving, gratitude, and wiser holiday shopping

Black Friday rolls toward us in a tsunami of spending.

tsunami wave with a dollar sign
Tsunami of spending

But there is a way we can resist the onslaught of commercialism with our sanity and our wallets intact: gratitude.

Remembering all we are grateful for

If we are mindful of all the blessings in our lives, we are better able to resist the temptation to spend too much.

table set for Thanksgiving dinner
Counting our blessings

In his column “How to Defeat the Impulse Buy” in the New York Times, David DeSteno discusses his study on impulse buying. His findings reveal a lot about our spending habits.

Willpower alone isn’t enough

Willpower alone doesn’t help curb impulse spending, according to DeSteno, and in fact relying on willpower alone will lead to failure. Marketers have perfected the time-pressured sales pitch of Black Friday and the holiday season in general.

ad for Black Friday saying entire store is 30 percent off
Time-pressured marketing on Black Friday

Instead of relying on willpower, we need to cultivate gratitude.

Gratitude leads to what DeSteno calls “financial patience,” the ability to give up the immediate gratification of a purchase today in exchange for a purchase in the future. Study participants who felt grateful had twice as much financial patience. The takeaway for us is that financial patience can help us resist the temptation of those moonlight madness deals.

Cultivating gratitude can help us stick to a budget

Being mindful of all we have to be grateful for can help us stick to our budgets. And it can restore our ability to think clearly in the face of amazing deals, never-this-low prices, and limited quantities available.

This year when I go out shopping I plan to take a gratitude list. What about you? Will you give this a try?

 

I forgot my cell phone yesterday – or did I?

Yesterday I discovered that being without a cell phone all day can be a relief.

I didn’t intend to find this out. I fully intended to take my purse and cell phone when I left the house. And then I forgot.  Continue reading “I forgot my cell phone yesterday – or did I?”

Weekends: How do you spend your time?

Weekends can be hectic or laid back, productive or contemplative, structured or free-flowing. For me, most weekends are some combination of these. By Sunday night I’m often left feeling as if the time just flew by. I wish I had done something more, but more of what I’m not sure.

road sign pointing right to relaxation and left to stress
Which direction does your weekend take you?

Continue reading “Weekends: How do you spend your time?”