Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Driving Lessons - Essay from Newsletter 93

Heading safely into the future

Avoiding resolutions

You’re pretty good the way you are.

Sure there are things here and there you might want to tweak, but overall… you don’t need to start the new year by changing something major.

“But Daniel,” you say, “I would be a better person if I keep to my resolution to ."

Sure, but I’m happy with who you are now.

Think of how badly you’ll feel if you don’t achieve it.

Now, I’m biased. I quit making resolutions years ago and instead follow Chris Brogan in choosing three words each year.

Unlike Chris, I don’t start the new year with my new words - that feels like I’m making resolutions. Instead I start the new year thinking about the words for this year. In the next three essays I’ll share my words for this year.

Anyway, I woke up this morning thinking about resolutions and driving a car. (I know - probably the cheese I ate before bed last night.)

Gentle steering

When we first learn to drive we often oversteer.

We’re too close to the curb so we wrench the wheel the other direction to avoid the curb.

Now we’re headed right towards the lane with oncoming traffic so we wrench the wheel back.

Quickly, we learn to react more consistently and gently.

We notice things sooner. As we see ourselves getting close to the curve we gently nudge the wheel in the other direction and when we’ve moved back away enough we nudge it back straight.

We never end up too close to the curb and we never end up alarming drivers coming towards us.

Instead of making a resolution that we’ll work out every day this year, wake up each day and decide whether or not you’re going to work out today.

A year where you wake up even once a week and say, “It’s a beautiful day” and then you go for a walk, is better than resolving to work out every day and quitting before it’s halfway through the first month.

That first day that you don’t work out - what then?

If you’re like me with resolutions you say, “f’ it, guess I’ll try again next year.”

When you make little commitments and corrections, a day that you don’t feel like taking a walk is just a day you didn’t take a walk. Maybe you will tomorrow.

Looking ahead

When Maggie was learning to drive there was some acronym she learned for being aware of your surroundings and looking ahead (I think it was BAGEL but I couldn’t come up with what all the letters meant.)

Some drivers, new or not, don’t seem to notice the drivers stopped ahead of them and they slam on their brakes at the last minute.

If you’re driving behind someone like this and your BAGELing or whatever the word is for being aware, then you were already slowing down because you knew they were going to have to brake in a moment.

You’re anticipating and reacting gently. You don’t want to be that person who has to brake suddenly because the person ahead of them did only to find that the person behind you wasn’t paying attention and rams into you.

It’s like that feeling the day after Christmas when I got on the scale and saw how much weight I’d gained since Thanksgiving.

I wanted to slam on the brakes.

That’s it. Nothing tasty until this weight comes off.

That never works.

Instead I should have noticed that by mid December my weight was creeping up and made little adjustments.

Even though I didn’t, I know that slamming on the brakes isn’t going to end well. I’m gently making adjustments and making exceptions when I want to.

Not slamming on the brakes might mean that I continue to gain weight while I adjust to the adjustments. Making exceptions means that I certainly do. I know that starting a radical restrictive diet means I will feel some initial relief and the pounds will start to drop off. It’s the relief of braking quickly and avoiding the accident. But then that person behind me will run into me. That person behind me is the frustration with how restrictive the diet is and I’ll go off it and gain everything back and more.

Little changes.

Slow progress.

No resolutions.

Blind spots

When I learned to drive I remember the emphasis on blind spots.

We were taught to use our mirrors but also to look in our blind spots before changing lanes.

I remember one time I didn’t.

I’d been driving for thirty years and was coming to a light and realized I was in the wrong lane. I signaled to change lanes, checked the mirror, and started to move over when the car next to me blew its horn.

Thank goodness.

I hadn’t seen the car at all. The driver pulled up to yell at me and I apologized. He yelled some more.

He was right.

I think he was more frightened than angry.

We now have cars that alert us when someone is in our blind spots, I’ve learned to better position the side mirrors, but even so I always look before changing lanes. I’m better at noticing when a car that was behind me on the highway isn’t there anymore and look over my shoulder to see them riding in my blind spot.

This might be the hardest part of the life lessons - we need to check our blind spots.

In a car, we know where they are.

In real life, we don’t always know.

An easy one for me is eating without being conscious of it. Because I know that I do it, I now am more likely to check this blind spot to make sure that when I pick something up that I actually want to eat it and I’m not just unconsciously filling time.

A friend pointed out that I tend to stay in jobs longer than I should. Since then I’ve tried to ask whether I’m staying out of habit or loyalty or whether it’s time for me to move on.

Anyway, in lieu of resolutions, I offer these three lessons from driving. Don’t oversteer - make gentle and frequent corrections. Be aware of your surroundings. Things may still pop up that you’re not prepared for but they arise in a world where you’ve accounted for all that you can. And finally, learn where your blind spots are and check them before acting.

Just little things.

You really are pretty good the way you are.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 93. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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