Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When the Pain is Great Enough

I did a ton of traveling this week back and forth from Ohio to Tennessee.
It’s about a 10.5 hr drive one way, if you don’t stop but to pee a couple of times.
I did this trip twice during the week of Thanksgiving. And that’s a lot of time sharing the road with others.
I love to drive. I always have. I enjoy the scenery, the time in the car to think and I also like the challenge that driving can bring.
Driving can be a risky business. It requires mindfulness, not to mention the mindfulness of others. It’s definitely a ‘thinkers’ sport.
As I drove, I thought a lot about how the fastest travelers, and the majority of travelers, were not always the best at their sport.
It seemed as if they were robots, with their gas pedals flat to the floor. Many had no rules, no plan, and no sense of how to avoid an accident.
Personally, I like to leave a space of 1 to 2 cars in front of me, in case someone stops quickly, I will have the opportunity to apply the brakes without A)losing control of my vehicle, B) hitting someone in front of me, or C) giving my passengers, or myself, whiplash. I also happen to like the control and sense of security it allows me, because when I see things up ahead, I have the freedom of slowing down without slamming my brakes on and turning the car line behind me into a panicked frenzy of squealing tires, thus worrying about being rear ended and scaring the rest of the roadway and myself.
Here we were, a group of about 35 cars driving on the highway, all doing about 70mph (the speed limit is 70 in many parts of Tennessee) and people are cramming themselves so far up each other’s bumpers, that if just one guy in the group slammed his brakes on, they all had no place to go but into each other and the median.
Smooth and uneventful, thus far, I did not expect it to last. Traffic up ahead began to slow down and the line of cars behind us were obviously starting to get very impatient.  
I could see, that although the majority of these people saw traffic slowing, they were not easing off. And,  if they saw brake lights, just kept on with their pace. Shockingly, no matter how many times they slammed on the brakes to avoid an accident, they kept following the same path, using the same driving habits. They would tailgate someone who was tailgating someone, who was also tailgating yet another someone! At one point I witnessed the same car slam its brakes on, slide into the grass median to avoid rear ending someone, just to do it again in less than five minutes. Unbelievably it happened a third time.  There were plenty of other people joining in this.
I wondered if they were blind. Weren’t they awake when they were involved in near-pile up?  Why would they put themselves in a position to let that happen again? Why would they put themselves in danger, as well as everyone else around them!?
It didn’t make any sense to me.
So, as I witnessed this pattern in traffic, and saw people’s behavior, I thought about how they could travel like that. How could they not leave much room for err, and then make the same mistake over and over. Not only that, but they kept on making the same error, repeatedly, without learning their lesson.
It made me wonder why sometimes it takes us longer to learn, than others.
My friend used to always say, ‘when the pain is great enough, you’ll change’. And she said that about anyone who seemed reluctant to change, or who was too stubborn to admit that they even had a problem that might need fixing.
I assumed that maybe these folks have been traveling like that, on the road, and in life, the same way for years, without much repercussion and so they don’t see the need to change. Nothing’s broken, nothing to fix.
Until, of course, they end up in an ugly pile of metal in the middle of a median. Then I guess that will be their ‘aha moment’ (another term my friend used to use a lot).
I am no angel. I have gotten stopped for speeding multiple times in multiple cars since I started driving. I have made numerous ‘donations’ to the American Cancer Society and paid multiple fines to the courts. But, I have never once pled not-guilty. I was speeding, I knew it was wrong and I paid the price.
I have to say that I am very thankful that the price was never so costly that I did not get a chance to wake up out of my stupor to realize that speeding wasn’t the best thing to do.
Finally one day…the pain was great enough for me to make a change. I was yet paying for another ticket I did not have money for, I was losing a half day of work to stand in line to see the judge-which I never had to do before, and had the embarrassment of getting my first speeding ticket with my children in the car (Shame, shame on me…The judge was not happy with me and I was definitely the topic of talk at the dinner table that night with my kids).
Now…. my lead-foot has retired and my right brain is working. My foot always knows the speed limit without even looking at the speedometer, and my mind checks on my foot, just in case ;)
Change is tough. Habits are hard to break. But there’s never a time that the warning signs are not there, to let us know that we are making a mistake.
I’ve had my warnings. For the past 21 years I have had warnings that I speed and that I should stop.
But, hand it to Ohio to break me of my habit. They do not fool around out here, they are much different than  Connecticut;) My first ticket in Ohio was at midnight, in October of 2007, on 271, with my truck packed with the very last items I was bringing from my move out of my house in Connecticut to my apartment here. No mercy. ‘Have a nice night and welcome to Ohio’. Oi.
I was a speeder from way back, I think Ohio did their job. Touché. And thank you, I'm glad the pain was great enough.
The point is, we all make errors. We sometimes do it and it’s an ‘oopsy’. Then we do it again and it’s not quite an oopsy. Eventually, we continue doing the wrong thing. And in life, like on the roads, we can tend to ignore the signs for a while before the pain is great enough and we finally decide to change.
Try to take a few moments to think about what might not be working for you. Are there any repeat occurrences in your life that keep needling at you? Something you keep doing which tends to bring those not-so-desirable results? Maybe someone’s trying to tell you something.
My recommendation: Don’t wait until the pain is great enough.
It’s much cheaper and a whole lot less painful when you have the freedom to choose to correct it now, instead of being forced to correct it later.
Ask me how I know ;)

"You have to stop to change direction." Eric Fromm


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