I’m squaring up to this now, after 18 years. I’m sick of how it makes me feel about myself. Plus it’s stopping me doing things with the girls – going to the seaside, swimming pool, visiting friends. And a joy of home edding is soaking up all that fun whenever you feel like it.
Disclosure up front: this is a work in progress. There’s a way to go, but I do think I’ve swung to the ‘can drive reluctantly’ bit of the pendulum and away from ‘shit-scared’. (For a brief history of how to nurture a fear so it dictates your life, here’s a fun read). Anyway, I need a bit of accountability in my life. So here are my top road-tested tips for the licenced-terrified:
- Get in the car and find your Goldilocks
I’ve recently read about the Goldilocks Effect re education. It holds that children (people) best learn in circumstances that are ‘just right’ for them, and that these tend to be circumstances that dance on the edge of their comfort zone and matter to them. In my experience, this is spot on. I wasn’t going to deal with my driving thing until I really cared about it. Then there were steps to take that were just right for me – I needed to tune into how hard to push myself: not letting myself off the hook, not inducing instant panic. Seriously, just sitting in the driver’s seat was a big step for me at first. If this is you, I’d say spend some time behind the wheel, turn the engine on, drive up the road if that feels ok. Do what you can to get just beyond what’s comfortable and see that it’s ALL OK.
- Do something every week, or more. Don’t stop
A bit like the bear hunt, there’s no getting round this, there’s only going through it. Your hands may get so slimy you can’t hold onto the wheel, but get on it. Even if it’s driving to the end of your street and back. Keep going. Squelch, squelch, squelch. It gets easier and you will do a happy dance every time the scary things become not-so-scary things.
- Find some practice routes (with incentives)
Over to a friend’s for cake, to the local shopping centre, to an evening class you couldn’t go to otherwise. Pick some and get familiar with driving on routes that you come to know well. You’ll have different mini-challenges each time anyway: the traffic, rain, giving way to an ambulance, watching out for cyclists/drunks/badgers/zombies.
- Be gentle with yourself
You will make mistakes. This is OK. Other people are making mistakes all the time and not beating themselves up about it. You don’t need to either – focus on the 100 things you did right instead. And, I keep trying to remind myself, making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. Having said that, if you’re feeling dangerous, see below…
- Book refresher lessons (and don’t be scared to ditch your instructor if they’re rubbish).
I’d had such a gap in my driving that I didn’t know where the brake was. Time to call in the professionals. The first one was neat, prim, held all the answers and told me she could fix me given a goodly amount of time. We didn’t get on. I fired her. The second one made me feel like I could do anything. She was funny, calm, treated me like any other normal person. She told me she didn’t want to take any more of my money after our second lesson – how’s that for integrity?
- Filter out whatever it is you worry everyone’s thinking
One of my biggest problems was embarrassment at holding other people up or looking stupid in front of them. I’m hardly a Margaret Thatcher fan, but there’s a fab (probably fictional) quote from ‘The Iron Lady’ when she’s teaching Carol to drive: “The only thing you should remember is that everyone else is reckless or inept. Usually both.” Point is they don’t have to have power over you, they are no better than you (as people at least, and probably not as drivers either). And if they notice any mistakes you make, it’ll be off their radar by the time the song’s finished.
- Learn to relax
I struggled with this when it comes to driving – I’ve got so much from meditative breathing and mindfulness recently. But one of my biggest difficulties when driving was coping with the masses of stimulation. I wanted to feel pepped up, aware of everything that’s going on, not focussed internally. My familiar techniques didn’t seem right. What’s helped is deeper breathing to keep me out of panic mode along with positive self-talk. Cheesy confession: I say out loud ‘I am a calm, confident, competent driver’ every single time I’m driving. It helps. I also had some reflexology. It was as an intentional act of self-care. A very soothing experience. I did my first solo drive the next day.
I don’t think I’m ever going to call it quits with this fear. I’d hoped I could dedicate summer to it, and bang, done. But that doesn’t seem to be how it goes for driving and me. So rather than be ashamed, I’m (trying to be) grateful for the opportunity to push myself, every day, if I want to. Some people have to climb mountains for that.