She had a sixth sense for traffic momentum. If she saw an opening, she’d whip her Toyota into the fast lane. Also, her understanding of the Miami road system was encyclopedic. When she saw red brake lights ahead, she’d quickly change lanes to exit the expressway for a less-traveled route.
As a newcomer to the big city, I was a little unsettled by this kind of driving. It seemed to me that the risks weren't worth it, that her maneuvers didn’t save much time, if any. Once or twice I asked her not to hurry, just go with the flow. But she explained that her tactics were necessary. Also, she pointed out that I was a stranger to Miami traffic, and I didn’t understand how to drive in it.
One day she drove me to the airport, and she used her best skills to get me there a few minutes early. I knew her driving habits were deeply ingrained, but I was upset that she had put both of us at risk unnecessarily. Determined to be heard, I said: “Kathleen, you just put both of us in danger for no good reason. I can’t handle it! More than that, I’m about to get on an airplane knowing that you drive like this, and I can’t get this horrible image out of my mind, of having to identify your body, mangled by a car accident.”
When I saw the tears in her eyes, I hugged her and said. “I’m sorry I talked to you that way, but this really bothers me.” It wasn’t the kind of loving goodbye I imagined.
While I was gone, Kathleen made a list of changes in her driving practices, such as leaving early for appointments and playing Mozart on the car stereo to create a calming mood. When I returned from my business trip, Kathleen had made dramatic changes in her style of driving. During the weeks following, there were only a few lapses. She had become a safe, conservative driver. What’s more, she has continued this pattern to the present day.
I give Kathleen all the credit. Her motivation was intense - she didn't want to scare me and she didn't want to risk our lives. She committed to a completely different way of driving, and she stayed with it until it became a new habit.
Habits are hard to change, because they’re physically wired in our brains. It takes a consistent, long-term effort to change a behavior pattern. To replace a bad habit, you have to construct a new superhighway of interconnected brain cells so that the old pathway falls into disuse.
I admit that to be a safe driver, I still have more work to do. Changing a behavior pattern is never easy, no matter how beneficial it may be. Kathleen's story inspires me that if I want to change badly enough, I have the power within me to do it. She did it, which means that I can, too.
And so can you.
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from us.fotolia.com)