Driving Mastery

Turn Passion into Glory

1.4 - Attention

How comfortable are you behind the wheel? Do you tend to check out on your daily commute: listen to the radio, make phone calls, reflect on your day, or any number of other activities that have nothing to do with driving? We live busy lives after all and driving is such a simple task. It’s easy to think that anything that can be done while simultaneously driving will save time, which means more time in the day to do other things that need to get done; or better yet, have more time to do things that we actually enjoy. Right?

This is the first perspective that I want to challenge: that multitasking frees up more time to do other things. It is my belief that multitasking is a source of anxiety that adds busy-work throughout one’s day and breaks down one’s ability to focus. Developing a practice of multitasking in one area of your life also leads to it showing up in other aspects of your life. I believe multitasking is responsible for causing one’s mind to wander in conversation; for getting side tracked when working on a project; for forgetting the reason for going to the kitchen; for distracting from any number of activities that require focus and concentration. Any activity that results in splitting your attention on separate, unrelated tasks is an activity that erodes your ability to focus over time.

Notice that I say “unrelated tasks.” Driving requires constantly moving your attention from one thing to another. If you ever become fixated on one thing in driving, bad things are likely to result. However, when your focus is on the task of driving and your attention is focused on all the other things involved in that primary task, you may find yourself in a state of flow where everything seems easy and everything you do is right. In this way a path of driving mastery is a path towards reaching a state of flow. Multitasking in activities unrelated to the job at hand takes you out of the flow state. Studies have proved that multitasking leads to neither task being performed with proficiency and that completing one task before proceeding to the next is more effective in doing each task well.

Sure, there are some tasks that don’t require absolute focus in their completion. They lend themselves well to multitasking. However, it becomes a slippery slope. When you gain confidence while multitasking in simple areas, then you are likely to try it in more complex tasks. If you are able to maintain focus without distraction even while completing the most mundane tasks, then you will find the focus is easier when working on more challenging tasks. You may even find that avoiding multitasking can lead to having more time when you want it.

Consider that focus and determination are critical to solving complex problems. Complex problems take the majority of our time and mental capacity throughout the day. Even a person with a mostly physical job is faced with complex problems that require time and effort to solve. Solving complex problems can also be mentally and physically taxing. You will find that you move through your day with more ease when you maintain a reserve of mental and physical energy rather than trying to extract every bit of productivity from every moment of the day. Furthermore, through focused practice, we get better at solving complex problems. We also have the awareness to create routines to solve common problems and turn them into more simple tasks.

Creating routines for simple and common problems allows us to adapt when more complex problems arise. However, the risk in creating routines is that they can lead to multitasking, by fostering boredom and a need to do something to occupy ourselves while completing “mundane" tasks. We can all agree that driving a car on a racetrack is anything but mundane. However, it is easy to see why the typical driver considers being stuck in traffic as mundane. If you take the time to practice the techniques that I present, then you can turn a mundane drive into a drive towards mastery.

So the first thing to do is minimize any multitasking from your life. It may be difficult at first but rather than trying to do multiple things at once, try applying all your focus to the task at hand. The ability to maintain focus and concentration even when doing the most routine tasks allows you to adapt more quickly when challenges arise; it also allows you to see the challenges before they arise; and it allows you to see ways of preventing these challenges from arising in the future. The ability to anticipate challenges and resolve them before they become bigger issues is what will allow you to have more time to handle your busy life and still do the things that you enjoy. In this way, you create time by not allowing it to be consumed unnecessarily.

Now, consider that multitasking while driving is considered acceptable to one degree or another depending on a person’s values. At the same time, we take for granted how dangerous driving is because we have been able to compartmentalize it into a series of routines that allow us the freedom to multitask while driving on auto-pilot. But auto-pilot cannot recognize dangers before they occur and it cannot respond with the necessary speed when something does occur; unless of course that auto-pilot has been trained and has practiced what to do when a dangerous situation arises.

It is fortunate that life threatening situations occur so rarely on the road. However, it is unfortunate that drivers rarely take the opportunity to study and practice the correct skills and actions to take when such a situation does occur. Having experience is not enough. It must be informed experience. When an experienced driver has developed unconscious routines through years of practice, the driver is able to chose where to focus their attention (even beyond the task of driving). There is more mental bandwidth to see the potential dangers. However, experienced drivers do not necessarily make the right choice when immediate action is required. An experienced driver has more overall awareness and has more depth of experience to draw from but they are typically set in their routines and are less able to adapt to unfamiliar situations. New drivers have difficulty taking in all the outside information while also making so many conscious actions. Developing plans and routines while driving is important. Driving is a complex task and it is very difficult to drive well when your focus must be divided among so many tasks: braking, steering, accelerating, checking mirrors, changing lanes, reading street signs, while also looking out for absent minded drivers, pedestrians, cyclist, animals, potholes, debris… the list goes on. It is no wonder that new drivers are also the most accident prone. Nonetheless, an experienced driver can still get distracted.