I don’t know about you, but I have a regular route I drive to work each day.
I’ve never ‘studied’ this route but I know it like the back of my hand. I know the timing of the lights – if I get a green on Inglewood then I need to speed up to catch a green at the next light – I know each store I pass, and I know which lane moves faster than the other. This daily repetition has burned the route into my brain and now I can travel it on autopilot.
Autopilot is both good and bad, as we teach people in the 30 Day Mindfulness Challenge.
Going on autopilot can be beneficial when making breakfast, for example. You can easily move through the morning tasks while thinking of other things like the day ahead.
The same goes for showering - most of us automatically go through this routine without giving it much thought and instead problem-solve, plan or anticipate what’s next.
When it comes to driving though, autopilot is a risky proposition:
- Distracted drivers are three times more likely to be in a crash than attentive drivers (Alberta Transportation, 2010).
- 80% of all vehicle collisions have some form of driver inattention as a contributing factor (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2009).
Because we’re hardwired to shift into autopilot when executing a familiar task (driving to work/school/home, making coffee, having a shower), we need to actively work to stay engaged.
Take 5, the core mindfulness practice taught in the Challenge, is a proven way to get off autopilot and into the moment and can be done in the middle of whatever you’re doing, including driving.
The steps are easy:
- Feel your seat in the chair
- Notice something new (texture, sound, vibration, whatever)
- Take one deep breath
- Take four more deep breaths
- Notice now
Try this the next time you’re making a familiar trip to work, school or the grocery store. It will make the drive safer AND more enjoyable, as we regularly hear from Challenge participants like below.
"I realized I zoned out while I was driving A LOT. Being able to notice this and pull myself back to the present by focusing on one small thing has made me a safer driver."
To learn more about the effects of mindless driving, download the 2016 McGill University study “Mindless driving linking trait absentmindedness to risky driving behaviour”