A narrow escape
(From The Pegasus NLP Newsletter Issue 19: 16 January 2001)
It was morning rush-hour on a dismal, dark grey, drizzly and cold winter’s morning in Bournemouth. Traffic in both directions was heavy as I drove along. But there was a bit of a gap between mine and the car in front. I noticed the blue car edging out to cut across the oncoming traffic and join my lane.
But I assumed (always a dangerous process – assuming – but that’s a different newsletter!) that the driver would wait for a safe gap. They didn’t. The blue car kept coming across the road slowly and steadily. And so did I, assuming (yet again) they were using the common in-town trick of blocking traffic on their side while waiting for a gap in the other lane,
At the very last minute I realised they had no intention of stopping and waiting for a gap. The road surface was quite greasy and I realised that if I slammed on the brakes I’d almost certainly have at least connected with the blue car and be shunted from behind by the large van following a little too closely behind me.
I got my car past them only by accelerating through the narrowing gap. At a pinch, you could probably have squeezed a sheet of paper into the gap between mine and the blue care as I passed! In that moment I had a glimpse of the other driver – who was actually looking in the opposite direction!
The reaction set in immediately. Adrenaline coursing through the system. Heart pounding in the chest. Shaking. Wishing I’d never given up cigarettes (as if a cigarette ever really helps). And the rush of anger… “The fool! Not even looking where they were going!” This is not a literal transcription of my actual thoughts…
Who’s running my day?
And then I realised what was happening. I was allowing the action of another human being, an anonymous stranger – albeit a careless and inconsiderate one, to influence my thoughts and emotions! And I realised that unless I did something right away my day would be run, and ruined, by their memory along with the usual endless series of thought of what might have happened!
Unless I acted – went onto ‘manual control’ for a while – they, or rather the memory of them, would actually be controlling my mood. I would not be in charge of me.
(1) Taking action – the decision
So my first step was to decide that it was more important to be in charge of my day than to fume at them – actually or mentally – or to ruminate about what might have occurred.
Their car was right behind me at this stage in the bumper to bumper traffic so I quickly decided to have no relationship with them. Neither anger nor interest. I chose to ignore them – for me they no longer existed anymore than they had a couple of minutes earlier. So no anger, no arm waving, no strange finger gestures, no glares in the rear view mirror, no relationship at all.
No point! They’d likely be more convinced than ever that I, and not them, was at fault. (It’s rare that one’s temper tantrum has the effect of causing the other person to throw up their hands and say “You know, you’re right. I am completely in the wrong. Thank you for being so kind as to point it out to me! I shall amend my ways forthwith.”)
I also reminded myself of the many silly things that, as a car driver and former motorcyclist, I’d done and just about got away with. So, yes, that driver had been careless, dangerous, in the wrong etc. But hadn’t I been known to make misjudgements, too?
(2) Taking action – breathing
I knew that as long as the body was swimming in adrenaline attempting to change my thinking or attitude would be difficult. That’s why in handling anxiety states ‘the first step is physical’. I needed to, in a manner of speaking, shut off those adrenaline taps.
So I used breathing techniques; a few minutes of modified Buteyko breathing (see http://pe2000.com/buteyko.htm) allowing about thirty seconds of normal breathing between one Buteyko round and the next. As ever, this worked a treat and the adrenaline sensations began subsiding.
(Especially when assisted by breathing methods the adrenaline sensations will usually disappear within 10-15 minutes after a shock or panic – as long as we do not feed the system with more adrenaline through scary or angry thinking).
Just to lock the benefits in I used some Easy Breathing (http://pe2000.com/breathe_easy.htm) for about ten further minutes – while using the following methods.
(3) Taking action – the motivation
To deal with the urge to give the other driver a piece of my mind I had opted for peace of mind. Now I needed to seal with decision by motivating myself to put the event of three or four minutes earlier behind me. So I mentally visualised how the rest of my day would be if I did NOT leave this matter behind me. That worked. Now I was motivated to stick to my decision to leave things be and get on with my day – rather than allow it become ‘one of those days’.
(4) Taking action –imagination & emotions
This far my ‘positive thinking’ had been in the form of self talk – or sub-vocalising. As you’ll no doubt have noticed, from your own experience, positive self talk does not have much effect on mental images, except when used over a long period. So I used an NLP technique called the Swish.
It’s an excellent method for instantly switching off unwanted thoughts. It is on the NLP site here so print it out and practise it – a great technique. And it did the job – in the two minute queue at the next set of traffic lights.
In less than ten minutes the emotions attached to the episode had been dissolved – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Should we react like this?
As I continued my journey I wondered if there would ever come a time when I would be able to calmly take such events in my stride, perhaps with a just momentary physical reaction, but without the surge of fear and anger.
And I wondered if I’d like to be like that. I see nothing wrong with experiencing fear or anger or panic. To me they are perfectly normal emotions to experience. The important question is how, and if, we choose to manage them. Or dwell on them. Or feed them with our imagination and thinking. Or allow them to overwhelm us?
The chaste monk
There is a story of two young monks travelling home to their temple though a great forest. They came to a wide and fast flowing stream.
There was a beautiful woman standing there unable to get across. One monk offered to help and carried her across on his shoulders. He set her down on the far bank and she thanked him and the two monks continued on their way.
His fellow monk was silent all the way until just before they entered the temple when he finally exploded ‘I cannot believe that you did that. Touched a woman. What about your vow to remain chaste and pure!’ The first monk paused, looked at his outraged companion and said ‘My brother, I left her on the river bank half an hour ago – but you are still carrying her…’
From the Pegasus NLP Newsletter Issue 19: 16 January 2001.