Evolve Your Brain Away From Road Rage
I have a confession to make: I haven’t been behind the wheel of a car in 9 years. I was never a natural driver, I am a nervous driver on fast roads and have no sense of direction. Oh and I don’t like big cars. So I’m not exactly made for the roads of Dubai. I do, however, use cars and drivers. From professional drivers with their own cars through apps like Careem to the cabbie driving a public taxi. So I’ve experience road rage.
Two days ago the driver taking me home after a short but exhausting trip decided to go to the wrong address. On realising he’d done this the guy then stopped. In the middle of a highway. This happened two more times as he became more and more lost. At no time did he apologise or attempt to take responsibility. Not once did he acknowledge the dangerous nature of his actions.
This has happened before of course. I’ve been in cars and buses in China in the 90s and Cairo any time. But this time was different. This time I didn’t freak out, lose my cool and behave in a way that is not only counterproductive to my real purpose (getting home safely). I didn’t shout or scream or belittle through snide comments showing my current purpose being to punish or blame or humiliate. I managed to show some self-possession. This meant that my stress levels didn’t get blown through the roof and I was able to communicate with the driver to find the right location in a much more effective way than shouting (and don’t we all just want to get home a little quicker?)
This is thanks to work done by a neurobiologist called R. Douglas Fields. The problem he identifies is one we talk a lot about in HardTalk: our brains are evolutionarily hotwired to react to threats by fighting or flying away. This is great when facing immediate physical danger but less good when you’re powerless to do either, for example, when stuck with a rude colleague or a crazy driver on the road. Our amygdala is “triggered” leaving us behaving badly. We need to find a way to move from System 1 (the monkey brain) to System 2 (the executive brain).
Fields outlines 9 “rage triggers” or things that make us want to “fight” and places them in a handy mnemonic LIFEMORTS: Life-or-death situation, Insult, Family, Environment, Mate, Order in society, Resources, Tribe and Stopped (being restrained or cornered). In the case of my taxi driver I had both Stopped and Life-or-death situation. The very act of noticing which of the LIFEMORTS is at play helps us to step back and examine, to respond rather than to react, to remember our positive Purpose in the HardTalkand to change our behaviour to match that.