Archives for the month of: November, 2013

[Originally in Health Beat, Richmond Register, November 2013]

    Like everybody, I don’t like dealing with traffic.  In fact, a huge chunk of my lifestyle revolves around finding ways to minimize automobile travel, walking when I can.  I think that when I started driving on my own, I learned my first hard lessons about the world, about people’s willingness to follow rules.  And I realized how easy it was to die for the silliest reasons.

    But in our post-recession economy, travel is unavoidable.  Our jobs and lifestyles require us to periodically take a deep breath and then submit ourselves to the blur of variables we don’t control, many of which can be frustrating at best, and lethal at worst.  Ergo, I’ll often try to remind myself of a few important lessons for reducing the stress of dealing with traffic:

1.  You never truly get anywhere faster.  Especially when driving in cities.  You might catch an extra green light or maybe you’ll squeak through one on yellow.  But almost invariably, you’ll either get caught at the next one, or you’ll end up behind someone who will hold you up about as much time as you saved before.  It all evens out.  We’ve had encounters with that one driver who insists on zipping between lanes, cutting off others and risking a collision for that extra car length of progress.  Watch next time, and you’ll notice how usually, you’ll roll up on them stopped at the same red light as you.  Maybe they’ll sometimes push their way a half mile ahead of you, but that brings us to our next lesson…

2.  Every minute is won by increased suffering.  The faster you try to drive, the slower and more bumbling is the rest of the traffic around you.  You get held back more often.  If speed, rather than timely arrival, is your goal, then you’re destined to be frustrated when you can’t go as fast as you want.  Even if you manage to shave off fifteen minutes on a lengthy trip, you’ll be more agitated by the time you get where you’re going.  Settling into the legal speed limit and letting go of the need for speed will help you with the next lesson, the ability to…

3.  Use the time instead of trying to save it.  We’re all in a hurry, and it seems so often like there aren’t enough hours in the day.  But investing in your mental health by leaving ten minutes earlier can be the difference between a decent trip, and hair-tearing frustration.  With a bit of cushion, you can shift your attention to plans upon arrival, rather than the next opportunity for a lane change.  Or, as I personally like to do, you can engage in learning opportunities with audio lectures or recorded books.  Learning or imagining while driving is made easier with the next lesson, which is to…

4.  Minimize Decision-Making.  When we have to react to the highway, it necessitates several exchanges between eyes, spinal cord, brain and muscles.  The human brain is able to send a neural impulse at about two feet per second.  By that time, a 65-mph vehicle has already covered at least 88 feet; enough distance to cause any number of problems for us.  To save your sanity, minimize changes in your driving circumstances as much as possible.  If you drive the same route to work every day, pick the lane you’ll need on arrival several miles out, and stick with it.  Don’t fall prey to the urge to jump lanes each time the traffic in front of you slows down.  The more decisions, the more you’ll have to react to other fast-moving bodies, at a rate that exceeds the human nervous system.

    Ultimately, don’t rely on luck to keep your peace of mind!  Take control of it yourself.  Stay put, enjoy your thoughts and play a few more seconds of your favorite tune.  You’ll feel better, I assure you.


[Originally in Health Beat, Richmond Register, October 2013]

    I consider myself fortunate that I developed a love of recreational reading at a young age.  From comic books to the Hardy Boys, Danny Dunn and even a few of the classics, my life has been steeped in a literate tradition, worlds of imagination between the pages of those low-tech storytellers, books.  Reading has a long history of research behind it, showing that it can boost IQ, lengthen attention span, increase vocabulary and make us better communicators.  Can’t you tell just by talking to someone whether or not they’re a reader?

    Even before I knew about all of these cognitive benefits, though, I always harbored sympathy for those people who never found the love for literacy.  It seems like thousands of ideas, stories and heroic themes are just passing them by.  I’ve had conversations with them before, and they usually have reasons for why they prefer to do anything else besides lose themselves in a book.  Some say that they have to “read all day” in their jobs, and the last activity that draws them in their spare time is more of the same.  But, that can’t be the whole story, because voracious readers also often have to read on the job; yet they still find reading a rewarding use of their time afterward.  In the words of a past college peer of mine, “a reader is a reader is a reader.”  We’re going to read for pleasure, no matter the other word requirements in our lives.

    What’s even harder for me to grasp than the idea of not loving to read, is that non-readers actually pity me!  Yes, I’ve had a few very intelligent non-readers observe that life has too much for them to do to be bothered “staring at words on a page all the time.”  They seem to have confused the technology requirements of reading–using the senses to take in words–with what reading is really all about. 

      I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to dealing with people, enough to know that adult readers almost never win converts from among adult non-readers.  You either develop the love for it at a young age, or you probably never will.  Still, as a professional who focuses on the inner world, I feel the need to try to illustrate what reading entails, absent the idea that it’s just staring at words for people who would rather be doing something else.

    At its heart, reading is about building a relationship.  Although usually considered a solitary activity, reading requires the reader to connect to another person; after all, stories and ideas don’t descend out of the sky.  They are assembled and written down by other people.  More, reading is a negotiation.  The writer uses language to explain something, and the reader chooses how to act on that explanation.  Words on a page aren’t just words; they are a recipe, a set of directions from the writer, suggestions to the reader for how to use their own imagination.  Like a muscle doing different exercises, the imagination gets better and more efficient the more one uses a variety of writers and styles to operate their mental machinery.  You see, what non-readers don’t grasp is that reading isn’t a passive process at all.  A reader is expending large amounts of energy and effort to create something inside themselves.  Ask any doctor which organ in the body consumes the most energy, and they’ll tell you it’s the brain.  A reader sitting quietly with an intense look of concentration on their face might be the hardest-working person you observe in a day!

    I won’t try to convert the non-readers out there.  But I love the mental worlds I’ve built in my lifetime, and hope you have opportunity to experience the same!  Such rewards are as close as your local library.