Do you remember road rage 20 years ago? Did it even exist? I don’t ever remember seeing my parents or other adults raging at the wheel that seems so pervasive these days.
Then again, that generation wasn’t overwired.
For most people, road rage is a relatively recent phenomenon. In part, it’s the result of more traffic, longer commutes, and more stress in the workplace. But I would argue that there is an additional factor: our overwired lifestyles. I believe that it is contributing to not just road rage but a host of work and social ills, from screaming at your spouse to poor performance at work.
It’s very simple: Overwired, we drain our brain’s precious energy. The prefrontal cortex—the thinking part of the brain—has a finite amount of energy on any given day. When we spend 10 hours in the office multi-tasking, being interrupted by e-mails, text messages, IMs, trying to “think deeply” without breaks, we are tapping resources. In fact, we are overtapping these finite resources.
The result? We lose the ability to regulate. We can’t differentiate between big and small things. We fly off the handle. Our work suffers. And yes, sometimes some of us act irrationally. This happens behind the wheel, on the sidewalk, in line at the grocery store, with our family, at gatherings, etc.
What’s the solution? We must learn to mitigate the effects of overwiring by preventing it in the first place. Here’s how:
- Protect precious resources. Don’t let your brain get fried. Try working in 90-minute intervals, then get up, away from your desk, away from screens. Go outside or for a 10-minute walk. Give yourself a break. If you can avoid over fatigue you can avoid unnecessary explosions.
- Rejuvenate resources. Take time to breathe, to hydrate, to nourish, and to move yourself physically.
- Establish boundaries. Learn to say no. Learn to stop checking e-mail in the evenings. Set boundaries around when you will and will not work. Know yourself, know your limits, and know what are realistic expectations for you.
- Savor solitude. A few minutes of peace, quiet, and rest do wonders for re-energizing your brain. Before you start your commute home, take a quick catnap (bonus if you can put your feet up!), or just close your eyes and rest.
- Turn it off. The radio, your cell phone, the constant chatter in your brain. Drive in quiet.
Let’s face it. We live in an overwired world. That’s just the way it is. But we don’t have to live overwired. Try these five steps to lessen road rage, and all the other symptoms of an overwired world.