Breaking Bad … Habits

It’s recently been announced that the handling of mobile phones in cars is to be banned. The idea is that smart roadside cameras will be able to zone in to drivers who simply touch their phones and the drivers will be in for an instant fine – no excuses to be accepted.

It would be hard to argue with that decision. The problem is that it should be been declared to use a mobile phone in a vehicle when mobile phones were first introduced. The question was raised but the PM of the time – Tony Blair – said he didn’t see a need for such a measure.

Now, more than 20 years on, mobile phones are not just a useful accessory, they have become part of our being. We are told by researchers that children are “addicted” to them and spend up to three hours a day on such devices (I’m imagining the researchers are talking about social media use on tablets and computers as well as mobiles) so that certainly can be classed as a habit. Fortunately, children have not yet become drivers.

But, wait a minute, anyone who drives around a big city – let’s take London for example – can see that adults have the habit too. Stuck in traffic, a driver can often be spotted looking down. S/he may be reading a magazine, but it doesn’t seem too likely. There’s the quick eye movement and downward gaze, then the upward glance to check the traffic, then down again and, maybe, a slight movement of the hand as they put together a quick text. It’s barely noticeable but if you’ve ever done it yourself, you’ll know the signs.

Now, after the recent ruling, anyone caught anywhere near their phone while driving is going to be in trouble – so how to break the habit? 

Like all habits we want to discard, it’s easier not to go there in the first place. Smoking, excessive drinking, over-eating, drugs, sex addiction – we all know it would have been better if we’d never started. But we are where we are and the mobile in the car habit is one that has to go.

A habit is difficult to break because it’s something that creeps up on us, that we’ve grown comfortable with and now enjoy. While we know it may not be good for us for any number of reasons, the feeling that we get from that same habit makes it difficult to let go. Mark Twain once explained he found it easy to give up smoking because, he said, he’d done it many times before.

In the case of the mobile phone and driving, this isn’t something we can “hide in plain sight”. Twain didn’t have high-definition cameras ready to catch him out and face a hefty fine if he carried on puffing.  

We live in a fast-moving world and many of us see it as a badge of honour that we can multi-task – dealing with emails, messages, texts whatever – while on the go. We’re used to operating a quick response policy, it shows that we’re efficient and on message; any time, any place, anywhere. 

Also, we may be afraid of missing out, one of the new challenges of the 21st century. Something might be happening somewhere that we discover about too late and we are left out. How alarming might that be!

Usually, habits take some time to change and there may be a couple of false starts before we achieve our aim. 

Unfortunately, with the mobile, we need to change that habit pretty smartly so, in this case, I’d suggest it’s time to take a step back and wonder what all this frenetic activity and thought is all about. Is it really us or is it manufactured by the world outside to make “us” feel the need to use every second of our waking day productively? Maybe all this freneticism is contributing to the imbalance those of us who live in the developed world are increasingly experiencing.

How about using a car journey as a way of being absolutely present and in the moment? Start off by imagining the experience of every action of your journey, starting from unlocking the car door and making yourself comfortable in the driver’s seat. Imagine what comes after turning on the ignition (you’ll probably have forgotten because we go into our own automatic pilot if we’ve been driving a while) and take it from there. 

When you’ve taken one or two test drives in your head, turn your mobile off and go out and do it for real, this time noticing everything around you, including how you feel without the comfort blanket of the mobile at your side. It could be difficult at first, maybe a bit of a sense of anxiety with that niggling feeling of having left something behind. But, in the end, after a few more stop-starts and kangaroo hops on the road, and a little perseverance, you’ll wonder why you ever thought you couldn’t do without it. 

The next step – after a time spent reflecting on and enjoying how your achievement – is to try the same method with any other habit you feel has outlived its usefulness. Good luck. All is possible.

(Clearly, this blog is not for people who do not and have never used mobiles when driving. That is the exemplary standard to which we should all have aspired. It’s for those who have aspired, and missed, but know now this is the only way to travel. Both hands on the wheel, looking ahead observantly and ready to enjoy the journey – with no noisy distractions to put you off.)

By Lulu Sinclair 

Photo 1 by Damir Kopezhanov on Unsplash