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Driving out Anxiety… About Driving!

I’m using the book Atomic Habits by James Clear to build my confidence with driving.

Video: Rolo driving our EcoVac for the very first time.

Welcome back to my second post.

I’ve had my license for a few years now, but my driving confidence resembles a person with the anxiety disorder agoraphobia. People with severe agoraphobia - agoraphobia “on steroids” - are afraid to even leave their own house. In another not-so-itty-bitty version they may have outside routes they are comfortable with but cannot stray far from these. I can relate to the latter as I have routes I am comfortable driving, but have a wee bit of trouble branching out from. Driving is like a phobia for me.

I’ll tell you my strategy for improvement that I’m in the infant stages of trying. Adapting Clear’s book, I use visual objects to reward my efforts symbolically. I use, for example, a paperclip to represent one of about five driving actions: travel around my suburb. I put the objects in a jar once completed. I must do one action a day at least, and larger objects represent greater difficulty. For two weeks now I’ve tallied my objects on Sunday (which is rewarding), and rated my confidence between 0 and 4, which is important to see my real progress - I want to improve confidence, not just drive more.

This is like systematic desensitization from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which I’ve known about since my high school days. However, I incorrectly applied it, saying ‘I just have to drive more to get used to it’ which is closer to a flooding technique where you dive into the feared situation until you get used to it.

It is true I need to drive more. But building smaller, easier, habits first like Clear suggests has made a huge difference; the most basic item I can add to the jar is a bobby pin, which represents sitting in the driver’s seat of the car while visualising driving for 2 minutes. Only 2 minutes.

When your confidence is low, even thinking about a feared situation like driving can be a trigger for anxiety. Beginning to relax in the driver’s seat without forcing myself to do more has built my confidence and relaxation more than I thought it would. What a surprise!

Last Saturday I was chuffed because (drumroll) I managed to add a large washi tape to my empty peanut and almond butter jar! In other words, I drove to a new location (the hardest action on my current list). I can feel my confidence improving already from the smaller steps; my anxiety was only moderate the difficulty on Saturday.

Clear says to build a new habit, repetition is needed. Funnily enough, when I feel more confident with driving, I feel less motivated to repeat the daily driving tasks. The feeling resembles, “I feel fine so why do I need to drive?”. But this will be vital for success, Clear says, so I’m determined to improve my consistency.

What has helped me may or may not help you, I admit. Progress with anxieties are different for everyone and some people benefit from professional help. But personally, I feel encouraged from my drive on Saturday. I think I can become a “normal” driver as opposed to an anxious - even phobic - one.

Why not brew your (decaf??) tea and have convos and cuppas around anxieties you have with an understanding friend, or even have a read of Atomic Habits by James Clear. (No, he doesn’t sponsor me. I wish!)

- Larz



Hi there,

Lauren Sims is an artist and author from Brisbane, Australia. She has recently become and author and will be releasing her first book in late 2022.

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