It’s The “Tiny Stress Triggers” That Drive You Mad
How Simple Behavioral Changes Make A Big Impact
Everyone who drives a car hates this experience.
Imagine you’re driving on a busy road. Traffic crawls. Your frustration grows. You see a car pull up alongside of you on a merging lane or shoulder. You know what he’s trying to do. He wants to cut as much of the line as possible. You don’t want him to cut in front of you so you inch up to the car in front of you. It’s a statement to the cheating driver.
“You’re not getting in front of me.”
Now it becomes a game of chicken. Who will blink first? Sometimes you win. The cheating driver gives up and looks for easier prey. Other times he’s too aggressive and you let him in. Either situation is stressful. Even if you win you feel a sense of angst.
“Who does this asshole think he is?”
I’m on a mission to reduce stress. It’s not the big things that stress me out like money and relationships. It’s the little things. The car that cuts in front of me. A long line at the coffee shop. A last-minute meeting that appears on my calendar. Emails flagged as “high importance” when they’re not.
Yes, I meditate. I exercise. I take magnesium and drink some weird herbal teas. Those things help manage stress. What about avoiding stressors in the first place?
I created a series of experiments in an attempt to eliminate these stressors.
The first experiment is to avoid the car position competition. If a car looks to cut in front of me I take a novel approach. I wave them through. I make it a point to physically wave them in. The act of making a kind gesture makes the experience more satisfying.
So, what’s the result?
Most of the time the other driver waves back in acknowledgment. I kind of like that. Instead of the battle of wits resulting in a barrage of swear words and rising blood pressure, it becomes a friendly exchange.
I will admit the occasional oblivious driver who fails to acknowledge my kindness causes a tiny bit of stress but only for a second.
This experiment proved itself a winner — enough to adopt it as a standard operating procedure.
Now it’s time to tackle other low grade stress triggers. Here are my next set of experiments.
- The indiscriminate use of the “high importance” flag on emails — Delete these emails without responding to them. If it really is urgent, call me. I’ve been practicing this for about two weeks. So far, no negative consequences.
- Last minute meetings — Automatically decline unless they really are urgent. I may make an exception if the requester is super polite about it.
- Never wait in line for coffee — Only use the Starbucks mobile ordering option.
- Enjoy Traffic — Always have a podcast or audiobook queued up on my phone when I get in the car. Traffic stresses me out but with a good audiobook I don’t mind it. It’s more time I have to enjoy a good story.