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DVSA LETTER TO TEST CANDIDATES TRIGGERS ANXIETY (and what the heck is Mindfulness??)


Photo of letters on a door mat

Some Driving Instructors are not happy about a letter that the DVSA has been sending to Test Candidates.


I'm told the areas of concern in the letter are around the amount of focus placed on 'nerves and anxiety' and suggesting that candidates speak to their instructor about Mindfulness.


There is a school of thought that highlighting 'nervousness' could induce more of it and that many instructors have never heard of Mindfulness and won't be able to offer any information to learners if they are asked about it. There has been quite some pushback about the letter and its wording.


Regarding the point about the letter itself inducing anxiety. If anxiety is triggered at this point, this would be a good place to start practising managing it. It is not helpful to wait until the day of the test to try and learn how to manage anxiety and I think this is the message the DVSA is trying to get across. Noticing what triggers the anxiety (thoughts about the test most probably) and learning ways to manage it early on is the key message. Practicing doing this is going to help.


However, some ADIs don't have any experience with anxiety management - they only see the letter as being the trigger for the anxiety. They may not feel resourced to support or signpost pupils to solutions.


Many ADIs are very unsure about what Mindfulness is. I think many would prefer to know what it isn't! It's not religious and you don't need to wear beads and sandals to practice it!


For ADIs to be able to support their pupils with such things as anxiety, intrusive thoughts, unhelpful mind states, anger, shutting down (you can't learn anything if this happens), rushing, tunnel vision, muscle tension, reactivity, breath holding, rapid breathing or panic – you have to be aware that it’s building and have at least some idea of why.


Mindfulness can be a great starting point, that is, to be aware of what's happening. That doesn't mean that there aren't then many solutions on offer which carry on from there.


Mindfulness isn't the answer in itself.

Mindfulness acts as a doorway to solutions.

Meditating helps you get better at remembering to do it by training your brain to pay attention.


It's a bit like having a tool bag full of kit. If you can't see inside the bag you aren't going to find what tool you need. You sense there's a problem but that's as far as it goes.


Mindfulness helps us identify the problem and then shines a light into the tool bag. You can see what's there and then choose what to do next. That might even include doing nothing. No action is better than unwise action.


Once it's established what's really happening through mindful awareness (paying close attention) - there are interventions available and each ADI might have their preferred methods. For example, some are using Aromatherapy, Breathing Exercises, and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and I'm sure there are others. Compassion is also a key element. It’s all well and good thinking, okay, I know what the problem is… now what?


It starts with the self.


Self Compassion might look like:


Not guilting yourself into saying ‘Yes’ when you mean ‘No’ and then projecting the resentment you feel onto other people.


Recognising what you need to function better and be a happier human being. (ie Food, hydration, sleep, RnR, connecting with friends, a pint down the pub after work).


Ultimately this helps us tolerate other people and their weird and wonderful ways.


The reference in the letter about anxiety isn't problematic in itself although the amount of referencing may need considering. It's only a problem if people don't know what to do about it.


Test nerves might be the elephant in the room for some. It's much better to say look there's the elephant – let's talk about it.


In the rest of the letter, I do agree that referencing Mindfulness per se may not be helpful in an industry where many people still do not understand what it is.


Although this is my field of expertise and I am very much in favour of society at large understanding what it is (and even better practising it), I am also mindful that it is not a one-size-fits-all solution and the driver training industry as a whole is not up to speed about the benefits of practising Mindfulness (and for me a key component, Compassion).


It was interesting to learn that in some corporate settings, mindfulness has been repackaged as 'Mindset Training' and in sports coaching it might be referred to as 'Mental Focus Training'.


Mindfulness is at the root of many of these interventions yet the word itself is not always used - simply because of the context and how well 'Mindfulness Training' will be received by the recipient. It seems that some elements are cherry-picked to fit the backdrop - which might not be an authentic version of what Mindfulness is either.


I'm delighted that the DVSA recognise that practising Mindfulness can help people find solutions to manage nerves (amongst other unhelpful mental states). Still, I also see the bigger picture as an ADI (without my Mindfulness hat on) and can understand why some ADIs are unhappy about it.


I think some ADIs would benefit from understanding more about the characteristics represented by a fear response and feel more resourced to deal with it. I also think learning to take care of our own needs first and foremost is important. We can’t do a good job if we’re knackered, irritable and stressed out. Mindfulness can help us navigate all of this - but I expect other things can too. It's the recognition of the need which is the Mindfulness part – stepping outside of ourselves as an impartial observer to see what's needed to be done... or not. From here we learn to speak wise words and take wise action for ourselves and others.

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