Stoicism is the pursuit of self-mastery; philosophy put into practice. It is the separation of decision-making from emotion and studious analysis of a situation before an action is taken. Stoicism is making deliberate decisions while being cognizant of natural influences on decisions like emotions or hormones or social influences like peer pressure or social roles. It is the thought process for many leaders and the path to a more happy self for others. However, it doesn’t come overnight and requires practice and repetition.
There are several parts of life where you can practice stoicism. From how you react in everyday interactions with family, friends, and coworkers, to adhering to a fitness routine. However, one place, in particular, is a fantastic spot to start your practice; driving.
When driving, especially when you’re in a hurry, it’s easy to succumb to emotion and create an experience that is frustrating and stressful. When driving there is an illusion of progress that most people chase. We want to feel like we’re making progress and when we see someone pass us we take it as a sign that we aren’t going fast enough or worse, a sign of disrespect. Next time you’re in your car on your way to work or during a road trip pick a speed, either the speed limit or 5 mph over. Then when a car inevitably comes to pass you monitor your speed and try to maintain it. Chances are you will have an urge to speed up, even if it’s just slightly. If you maintain your speed you feel like you’re doing something wrong. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Maintaining speed and keeping a safe distance from the car in front of you while disregarding what behaviors the other cars are displaying makes for a much less stressful drive, frees up attention to allow you to listen to a podcast, audiobook, or even just to turn on some lofi and think by providing a much more predictable and safe driving environment. Please note, there are still people that make seemingly nonsensical driving decisions that you have to pay attention to, but generally being a boring driver frees up a lot of attention.
You may hear this and think I’m crazy or that I don’t understand the sense of hustle and needing to be somewhere on time, but if you think this way please hear me out. If you have a daily commute try timing yourself for two days. The first day drive normal. On the second day, be a boring driver and time yourself. It’s very likely that your commute time doesn’t differ much. It may be a couple of minutes longer, or even a couple of minutes shorter. The truth is, the things that affect your commute times the most are the things you can’t control like traffic conditions, lights, wrecks, etc. and trying to recover from them by driving fast may satisfy a short term craving for progress but it does more to stress you than to address the issue. Therefore shift your focus to less costly controllables like departing times or listening to traffic conditions while you brush your teeth so you’re better prepared for the drive. Or for reactive options that you can’t prepare for like an unavoidable wreck instead of trying to regain 2 minutes by driving crazy, opt to phone your boss or loved one and keep them in the loop. I promise they’re going to care much more that they were notified and had expectations for your late arrival than you showing up 10 minutes late just to hear you try to justify it by informing them that you drove really fast. The end result is the same, you’re late. The only difference being in the former example it was expected, and in the latter the person was blind-sighted.
If your concern with this style of driving is that it will cause traffic to back up, you’re potentially correct. My only rebuttal to this is don’t do that. Be aware of your surroundings and if you’re making people hit their breaks and change lanes. If that’s happening and you have miles of open road ahead of you, speed up a bit. The goal isn’t to be an asshole, it’s to make a predictable driving environment for yourself and other drivers to mutually benefit everyone. When you drive at or slightly above the speed limit and keep a safe distance, you are generally promoting a more efficient road since traffic is more likely due to people switching lanes paired with the slinky effect.
Moral of the story. Driving faster than other drivers doesn’t benefit you. It doesn’t tangibly affect your arrival time (except for road trips, but even on these relax when traffic is heavy and speed up when the road is clear for the best driving experience), it doesn’t make people less upset with you for being late, it doesn’t do anyone else any favors, and it adds a lot of stress. Being a boring driver. Free up and utilize the time you would be stressing about the car driving too slow in the left lane for audiobooks, listening to ted talks, taking in the environment, or pondering the vast intricacies of life while trying to grasp and find the beauty in the insignificance of human existence.
Here is a list of questions to ask yourself when driving before deviating from the slow and steady path:
- Why do you want to do the thing you want to do?
- Do you want to go 20 over the speed limit? Do you want to pass the car going the speed limit? Do you want to get into the left lane? Why? Are you doing it to save time? Are you doing it because you want to have fun and going fast is fun? Or are you doing it because someone was passing you and it just feels like you aren’t making progress?
- An example of this would be in stop-and-go traffic. Have you ever been in heavy traffic and you’re in one lane and the other lane starts to speed up while you’re still sitting still so the first chance you get, you switch to that other lane just to have it come to a stop and the lane you were initially in start moving? Just relax. You will get there and the illusion of other people getting a leg up on you by moving is just that; an illusion.
- Does the action fulfill its why?
- If you’re late to an appointment will going really fast just to stop at a traffic light really help you?
- Is the why valid?
- I personally think getting in the left lane and going fast is fun. So on a road trip or a Sunday drive that may be a valid reason. However, when a car passes and I feel like I’m not making as much progress as others. That is more of an emotional response without merit and probably isn’t a valid reason.
- Does my action affect others negatively?
- This is a big one. If the left lane is packed with people trying to get ahead and you try to squeeze your way into it so that you too can go slightly faster and in the process, you kick off a slinky effect that could turn into stop and go traffic for people that come later and add other people a lot of stress is it worth it? In the left lane the people may get where they’re going 45 seconds faster, but is that 45 seconds you save worth causing several other people 10 minutes on their commute down the line? That’s kind of an extreme example but demonstrates a point. When driving, people have to pay a price for you to have an ego and you pay the price for other’s egos. Spread some positivity and show some humility for the benefit of others. Even if they aren’t willing to do the same.