I have always had a bad temper. It’s how I’m wired. I’ve learned to control it in many situations, but sometimes my anger blinds me, making it difficult to reason.
One thing that gets me is unfairness; especially when someone asserts themselves at the expense of others. I’m often blindsided by this while driving.
When some people get behind the wheel, they change. They merge with the machine. They try to dominate the other vehicles. That used to be me.
Someone would tail me; I’d brake hard. Someone would pass too close; I’d edge them out. When I’d see a car being abusive to someone else, I’d chase them down just to give them the finger.
One day, after a particularly heated incident, I resolved not to be that kind of driver anymore. I decided to reinterpret my relationship with the road.
When you make a “snap judgment,” what you’re really doing is interpreting the situation using mental patterns that you’ve previously stored in memory. When you have an interpretation that fits with experience, you respond accordingly.
Reinterpretation is a mental trick that helps you change your interpretations of the past—essentially rewriting memories. It works because of the way the brain works. In The Personal MBA, author Josh Kaufman explains:
Reinterpretation is possible because your memory is fundamentally impermanent. Our memories aren’t like computer disks-every time we recall a memory, it doesn’t simply re-save to the same location in the same state. Every time we recall something, the memory is saved in a different location with a twist: the new memory will include any alterations we’ve made to it.
It’s possible to change your beliefs and mental simulations consciously by recalling and actively reinterpreting past events. (p. 206)
To reinterpret the kind of driver I am, I needed a new story to tell myself. Before the change, I was a crusader out for citizen-justice, enforcing my view of “how things should be.” Break a rule of the road? Feel my wrath. You will not push me–or anyone else–around.
My new story is this: I used to be a hothead, but now I drive the speed limit.
Driving the speed limit lets me cruise in the slow lane. When someone tails me, I move over. When someone cuts me off, instead of chasing them, I shrug: I can’t catch them anyway–they’re speeding. There are fewer hotheads in the slow lane.
Reinterpreting the kind of driver I am helps me keep calm when I’d otherwise lose my temper.
I used to be a hothead, but now I drive the speed limit.