• Something to Think About: You Have a Choice on the Morning Drive

a street filled with traffic during rush hour

The choice to be fully present.

Dear friend,

As I am driving to work in the morning, I see a school bus, with its red lights flashing, standing close to my cul-de-sac. I take a deep sigh; I am losing a precious minute here. My mind ruminates over the upcoming deadlines, things not done, the little imperfections.

The bus clears, and I cross the intersection. A quarter-mile ahead, I see a traffic light that is presently green. I hate waiting at red lights. I accelerate; my heart beats a little faster. I did it! I crossed just as the light turned yellow. I saved another minute, but I did not quite like the transient palpitation.

A few seconds after entering the highway, I spy that my lane has three cars ahead of me, while the other lane has only two. I shift my lane. Soon, however, I realize that the three cars in my original lane took the exit; the lane is now completely empty. A determined minivan is accelerating from behind to claim the front runner position. But, I am a seasoned player, and within a blink, I surge ahead of the minivan. Somebody is unhappy, but that isn’t me for now.

This pattern of jumping the yellow lights, constantly perfecting the lanes, and beating the competition continues until I arrive at work. Bravo, I saved 180 seconds. What a great start to my day!

What did I lose? During the time I was in the car, I was literally fighting—with myself, traffic lights, other drivers, and time. I was increasing the risk of road rage and even an accident. (Each day in the U.S., we lose about 100 people, mostly young, from traffic accidents.)

In the one-minute halt at the cul-de-sac near my home, while watching the school bus, I could have admired innocent little kids getting into the bus, waved a warm hello to the bus driver, or even paused to think about why the school buses are yellow (Buses began using this color in 1939 because it provides the best contrast to the black lettering before the sunrise in early morning.) If the red light had stopped me, I could have enjoyed watching, from above the bridge, the traffic going both ways, like a colony of worker ants. I took the adrenaline shot and didn’t enjoy it. It was much worse than drinking a tall latte; that at least soothes my taste buds.

The seasons have changed, and I have missed the fall colors. I have missed the wonderful hues that the sun daily paints on the clouds. I have even missed that many stores along my drive have redesigned their storefronts, and several new ones have come up.

Clearly, there is an alternative way to pay attention. If I am more present and focus more on enjoying the drive rather than saving every possible minute, I might add extra refreshing, nourishing time during the day for years to come, prevent possible mishaps, and become a more courteous driver. I do have a choice. We all do.

May you remember that you always have a choice, the choice to be fully present.

Take care.

Dr. Sood 2

Read previous blog posts, and follow @AmitSoodMD on Twitter.

Dr. Sood is director of research in the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program on Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus in Minnesota. He also chairs the Mind-Body Medicine Initiative at Mayo Clinic.

Related articles