Here’s a Monday news flash, traffic stinks!

With school, school buses, and school zone speed limits back in session, it’s even worse. Did you know, the average commuter in a big city in America spends 50 hours a year stuck in traffic? What does that do to our psyche?

Of course, you could rise above it all and use traffic as an opportunity to work on your intrapersonal skills.

  • Practice empathy by being polite to fellow citizens during the ebb and flow of traffic.
  • Practice your relationship management skills by engaging fellow commuters with a smile and wave as you let each other in and out of the fast, now slow, lane.
  • Finally, you can use this opportunity to demonstrate social responsibility by respecting traffic laws.

Yes, this is a grand time to take baby steps towards making friends and influencing people. Whatevs!

The fact is, the vast majority of us will leap at the first chance we get to change lanes or take an alternate route so we can increase our speed of progress toward our final destination. We’ll take the ‘long-cut’ to maximize our speed. Even if the detour gets us to our destination at approximately the same time as sitting in traffic, it just feels better to be moving and psychologically making progress.

The psychology of progress is very invigorating.

So if it’s true in traffic, why isn’t it true in other aspects of our emotional intelligence, specifically fear, doubt, and worry. Why are we willing to spend so much time in fear, doubt, and worry about day to day problems in school, work, or relationships instead of ‘changing lanes’ or looking for an alternate route?

One simplistic answer might be it’s just easier to be afraid, have doubt, or worry than to do anything about it. Some of us prefer to wallow in the mire than to actually face our fears or hammer through a tough challenge. Another possible answer is we like the payoff better. For those of us that love to play the victim and use our difficulties as a blanket to keep us warm with all the attention we get, you not only get to avoid working on your challenge, but you also get to feel sorry for yourself. Good for you!

Maybe there’s something to this lane-changing, alternate route approach to dealing with traffic.

What if we put energy into progress towards a solution/destination versus self-pity?

By shifting our attention and refocusing our energy, what kicks in next is a mix of optimism, problem-solving, and flexibility.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” - Theodore Roosevelt

You might not get there any quicker, but you are so preoccupied with taking action you don’t have quite as much time and energy for self-pity. So the next time your teenager is sitting around with their chin on their chest, ask them these questions:

  1. What’s wrong? You might need to probe a little to find out what’s really wrong.
  2. What action are you going to take to make it better? Get them problem solving and taking action as quickly as possible.

If they respond that they can’t do anything about it, tell them “well then there’s no reason to worry or think about it any more.”

Summary

Everything takes energy. Fear, doubt, and worry not only drain us of valuable resources, they are empty calories, providing neither growth nor learning. Encourage teens to take action and face challenges. No one always get it right when they take action, they will learn and grow.

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