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Mindfulness - How it trains your brain to work with you, instead of against you

Image of L plate on a car

Mindfulness techniques are used in sports psychology and leadership programmes. Many of these 21st-century techniques have evolved through the ancient practice of Mindfulness.

Indeed just this week I read an article by England Footballer Raheem Sterling, where he talks about his Mindfulness and Meditation practices.

Brake' the Road Safety Charity asked 2,019 drivers questions about their driving behaviour.

Half (50%) of drivers aged 18–24 said they feel stressed or angry on most or all of their journeys

and younger drivers were more likely to state that stress or anger changes their driving behaviour, with three-quarters (77%) of those aged 18–24 admitting some impact on their control of the vehicle.

Professor David Crundall, the Research Excellence Framework Coordinator for Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, said:

“Thousands of academic studies have demonstrated the links between mindfulness and improvements in a variety of measures, including reduced anxiety, protection from distraction and enhanced attention to tasks. Many of these outcomes should theoretically benefit drivers, and our recent studies at Nottingham Trent University have indeed demonstrated that mindfulness training can improve the way we drive, both in simulators and on real roads. Having spoken with San Harper, it is clear that her passion lies in integrating mindfulness into road safety and our evidence suggests that this should bring about positive change."

In early 2022 I hosted a webinar with Dr. Victoria Kroll who led the team at Nottingham and Trent University where she shared how she steered the research programme, from finding people to take part, and encouraging them to commit to the research programme and then studying and publishing the findings. Fascinating stuff. You can watch the recording here

Having been an Approved Driving Instructor for 20 years and achieving a Grade A, my work enabled me to cover a wide range of training and development opportunities in road safety. From teaching learner drivers to assessing taxi drivers, and fleet drivers and delivering speed awareness courses. It struck me that across the entire population, there was one common factor affecting people's ability to not only learn to drive but to drive safely and with care and awareness for other road users. This common factor was how each individual FELT on any given day.

More specifically, how each person felt due to their thoughts, emotions, body sensations and impulses.

From stress and anxiety being a barrier to learning; to emotional intelligence and perceptions affecting peoples' reactivity and ultimately how this affects their behaviour and attitude to risk.

For driving instructors too – the more stressed and under pressure they felt, the more exasperated and judgemental they were towards their students. I know this because this used to be me.

Since discovering Mindfulness and Compassion for myself after experiencing anxiety and being on the brink of burnout, I've integrated it into my life and work. The transformative effect it had in my own life spurred me on to obtain several qualifications which allowed me to develop my courses to teach Mindfulness and Compassion to others gaining BAMBA accreditation in 2022. Many of the practical techniques gained through Mindfulness are transferrable to teaching people to drive. People who embody Mindfulness automatically cultivate the following positive responses not only in themselves but others:

1. Stability of Mind

Mindfulness benefits include a much more balanced outlook on life and a state of mind that is less likely to bounce around from one thought to the next.

2. Flexible Awareness

Mindfulness helps train us to take command of our awareness so that we can shift our attention from depressing or angry thoughts to more positive ones with greater ease.

3. Self Awareness

Mindfulness trains us to become aware of what is going on inside of us and how our inner world of thoughts and feelings is reacting to the events that are taking place in the world around us. When we develop this kind of awareness, we become more aware of inner disturbances if they arise, and therefore more able to take steps to maintain a positive outlook if they do. Often, stress and anxiety build up over a period of time because we are not paying attention to what is going on the inside; in our bodies and our minds.

4. Non Reactivity

Through mindfulness, and especially through the practice of mindfulness meditation, we learn to observe our thoughts and feelings and any environmental circumstances with a more detached outlook. We learn to control the things we can control, accept the things we can't control and gain the wisdom to know the difference.

5. Mindfulness leads to a strengthening of your ability to concentrate, and a dramatic stress reduction.

Through the practice of mindfulness, we can experience a greater sense of wholeness and aliveness, even during seemingly mundane moments in life, and we can find that our mind begins to disentangle itself from negative thoughts, negative reactions and negative judgements.

As for learner drivers, they might not be 'into' mindfulness. Indeed they may not even know what it is (although the tides are turning on that front). They will however gain all the benefits through having an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) who has integrated Mindfulness into their lives and their work.

Some of the driving instructors who have taken the course Mindfulness and Compassion for Driver and Rider Trainers have reported that it made them better instructors. They not only enjoy the benefits for themselves but they enjoy how they can introduce Mindfulness practices into their lessons with a bit of creativity and 'thinking out of the box' – sometimes without ever using the word 'Mindfulness'.

Through Mindfulness and Compassion, we can offer support to pupils with anxiety by understanding exactly what's going on 'under the bonnet', inside the brain. We can learn techniques which trigger the body's natural soothing system – the opposite of the fight, flight or freeze fear response. How many times have we witnessed drivers holding their breath?

We can guide drivers through recognising and meeting their triggers. This might be things such as road rage, self-judgement or self-criticism, inability to accept the actions of others or a sense of entitlement and the difficulties that can arise for instructors who have pupils who do not perceive themselves as ever doing any wrong!

All of this is gained with a deeper sense of kindness and compassion for ourselves and the people we meet in our lives.

Why not stop what you doing right now and notice where you are holding your tongue in your mouth, whether there is tension in your jaw or shoulders – breathe into the abdomen through the nose and then breathe out slowly through the mouth, with a sense of letting go. Notice how it feels.

Last night we saw the concluding Session of our third course in Mindfulness and Compassion for Driver and Rider Trainers. Again I heard someone pipe up, “I'm gonna miss you all”. But actually, it's just the beginning and the invitation for developing practice alongside me is always there.

Such a privilege to share this valuable work.

Feel free to message me if you'd like to learn more about how a Mindfulness practice could help you in your work and your private life.


Begin Your Mindfulness Journey Today

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