Lifesaving Resolution #1: Mindful Driving

“Have you ever noticed? Anybody going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a moron.” — George Carlin

A blonde is driving down the freeway when her boyfriend calls on the cell phone. When she picks up the phone he says, “Hi honey, it’s me. I just wanted to tell you to be careful. It says on the news that there’s a car driving the wrong way on the freeway.”

“No, it’s worse!” she says. “There’s not one. There’s hundreds of them!”

Looks like she contributed to the accident. The question is…how?  😉

Okay, enough funny business. For now. While there’s nothing wrong with a laugh or two, real-life driving distractions are no joke. *pausing while y’all switch gears* (Pun intended.)

A cop friend of mine first alerted me to the dangers of mindless driving—driving with little awareness—several years ago. He said, “If people knew how many accident victims are found with cell phones shoved into their heads, they wouldn’t talk and drive.” Scary visual, right?

Authorities say that driving is a privilege, not a right. Yet too many of us treat it with nonchalance—an attitude that can be more dangerous than a loaded gun. While we can’t change the attitudes or behaviors of others, it only makes sense that we adjust our own. We can lead by example and, potentially, save lives.

Before I delve into the specifics of mindful driving, consider these facts:

In 2009, over 5,400 people died in crashes involving distracted driving in the U.S. alone, according to the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with cell phone use being the most common culprit. About 448,000 more were injured. (These numbers are low-ball, however. Distractions linked with accidents, including cell phone use, often go unknown or unreported.)

Numerous studies have shown that driving while talking on your cell phone—with or without a headset, and texting are as dangerous as drunk driving.

Unlike talking to a fellow passenger, cell phone use takes your mind out of the vehicle. So it’s no surprise that researchers at the University of South Carolina found that cell phone users are four times less able to pay attention compared to non-users.

Driving is the most dangerous activity most of us will ever engage in. But that doesn’t mean we should drive in a state of panic. Driving around fear-filled will only worsen matters. Driving with heightened mindfulness, on the other hand… NOW we’re talking.

Mindfulness, according to Psychology Today, is a state of “active, open attention on the present.” To drive mindfully, you apply similar principles on the road. Rather than drive with complacency, which is the norm, you drive with awareness of and respect for yourself, your vehicle and your surroundings—including other drivers.

Effective Steps Toward Mindful Driving:

  • Before driving, remind yourself of your intention: to drive with awareness. This alone will help cultivate mindful thoughts and behaviors.
  • Know where you’re going. This is a tough one for me, seeing as I’ve been known to get lost in people’s homes and, once, a bathroom. Navigation systems are great, but use them as backup. Get the gist of your directions down before leaving. If you get lost, pull over to gather your bearings.
  • Place a ‘mindfulness reminder’ in your car. An inspiring quotation, meaningful charm and photographs of loved ones provide valuable options—anything that reminds you that life is precious and distracted driving, dangerous.
  • Make your car a NO PHONE ZONE. Keep your phone out of arms’ reach, preferably on silent mode or turned off, at all times while driving.
  • Aim not only to follow traffic laws, but to observe other drivers. (Driving “right” does not ensure your safety.) Keep a distance from drivers driving badly. Report risky drivers to the police—after pulling over, of course. 😉
  • Stop the road rage. If someone is driving too slow, slow down or move over rather than ride their tail. If someone’s encroaching behind you, don’t slow down just to peeve them. Move over and get over it.
  • Breathe. If you feel yourself tensing up, due to poor driving, running late or other stressors, take slow, measured breaths.
  • Drive with little or no music. The thought of driving in silence would’ve creeped me out a few years ago. Now I love it. If you do listen to music or talk, keep the volume at a reasonable level.
  • Turn sounds off and roll your windows down before driving and parking. This brings awareness to sounds of animals, small children and other beings/things in your wheels’ way.
  • Sleep enough. I’ll cover this more in the Healthy Sleep post. For now, know this: sleep deficiencies also bring risks similar to drunkenness. If you aren’t in the proper state to drive, don’t. Take a nap. Call a cab. Develop a healthier overall sleep routine.
  • Don’t over-caffeinate. While moderate caffeine, or the amount found in 2 – 3 cups of coffee, is harmless to most adults, excessive amounts can cause or worsen anxiety, irritability, shakiness and accident risks.
  • Don’t drink and drive (duh). About 1/3 of driving fatalities involve alcohol.
  • Drive when you drive, and cut out other clutter. Although phones top the list of risky driving distractions, other common culprits include applying makeup, shaving, smoking, eating, drinking, toying around with navigation systems, music players or other objects.
  • Meditate. Just not while you’re driving.Practicing mindfulness in any area of your life promotes mindfulness in other areas, which boosts your physical and emotional health. You’ll sleep better, think better, feel better and live better.

Sound like a lot to take on? Choose a few baby steps, starting with awareness of the distractions you’re grappling with now and the intention of positive change.

What do you say? Anything you zen drivers out there wish to add? Are you a non-zen driver, willing to admit your faux pax? State your goal and state it loud. I’d LOVE to hear from you and cheer you on.

New Year’s Eve Prep: Sidestep the Psychopath

Next week, I’ll officially kick off the Lifesaving Resolutions series with a hugely important topic: mindful driving. But I couldn’t let this holiday weekend pass by without addressing the psychopath in many celebratory rooms. Yes, that’s what I said, psychopath. Natalie Hartford was the first to use the term in this particular way… Lucky of us, she gave me the go-ahead to share her story.

From the moment I spotted Natalie’s blog, lush with hilarity and girlish yet sexy cuteness, I LOVED it. Let me in! I cried. And she did. I soon learned that this welcoming woman and her kin have endured more heartache than anyone should have to…because of the psychopath. Since then, Natalie’s made it her mission to prevent similar pain in others.

Impaired Driving – Our Story

By Natalie Hartford

A brutal before and after

On August 1, 2009, my mother-in-law (the beautiful Donna Kennie who I lovingly called Mamma K) was gunned down. I say gunned down because it feels like she was brutally murdered by a gun-wielding psychopath. Instead, it was a seemingly harmless driver who had one too many drinks and smoked some weed. Someone who likely thought he was “fine” to drive but clearly wasn’t when he cut sharply into the other lane.

It was a gorgeous sunny day. 2:30 in the afternoon.

A witness driving behind Mamma K testified in court that when the 1-ton truck slammed into Mamma K’s 2-door sunfire nearly head on, the force of the collision propelled the truck literally 10 feet in the air as it flipped over and landed on its hood sliding into the gravel. The impact tore the driver side door off her car. It was found imbedded in the truck’s front grill.

My Mamma K was nearly ripped in two and died almost instantly. She lived long enough to turn to her right as she took her final breath and see that her 16-year-old grandson (my step-son) was alive. He watched her mutilated body fade away to the afterlife before his very eyes. Now he lives with recurring nightmares and sleepless nights.

Trent Mallet was charged with impaired driving causing death.

And he did her family the honor (being sarcastic here) of pleading not-guilty to impaired driving causing death. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the Canadian justice system and Trent’s right to plead not guilty to try and get away with it. But that choice meant that my family was dragged through 18 months and over a dozen court dates before finally seeing this guy found guilty and sentenced for his crime (3 whole years…here’s another kick in the gut, he’ll be eligible for parole after serving 1 year…yip…he could serve 1 year for murder!).

The entire court process was like having a Band-Aid slowly torn off with salt pouring directly on an open, festering wound over and over again. We were unable to get closure, heal, or move forward having the hurt and anger stirred up every few months for nearly two years.

And then there was the added emotional roller coaster of not knowing from court date to court date what was going to happen next; were we going to win, was the criminal blood in or out (deemed inadmissible by the way), medical evidence admissible (it was), was he going to get off on a technicality (thankfully by sheer luck, he did not)? I can’t even begin to put into words the emotional torture this was to my family; the not knowing if he’d ever be held accountable for his choices and actions…for her murder.

And it doesn’t end. It doesn’t stop with a final round of court dates, sentencing, his eventual release etc. It lasts forever. It will reverberate through our lives forever. It will always be there. It will always haunt us.

Drunk drivers don’t discriminate against time of day. They don’t care where they are, if the road conditions are ideal, or if anyone will get hurt. Nothing matters to them because you see…they tell themselves they are ok to drive….they think their harmless…

I think they are gun wielding psychopaths!

The devastation that impaired driving inflicts on families is undeniable and unspeakable. Worse than that, it is senseless and 100% preventable. Mamma K never had to die!

Why ever take the chance? Why drive even after a drink or two; even if you feel fine? Why take the risk? What if you inadvertently murder some innocent person(s)…just to save a few bucks on a cab? It’s not worth it! It doesn’t make sense.

******

Natalie’s right. It doesn’t. Most of know the risks, yet drunk driving continues to kill approximately one person every 30 minutes. Many drunk drivers start with good intentions—prior to their drunken-gun-weilding psychopathology. They don’t believe they’ll hurt anyone (only happens to “other” people) and get behind the wheel out of confidence they won’t get caught. But they should get caught. New Year’s Eve is among the most common days of the year for alcohol-related accidents and fatalities.

To sidestep this psychopath, consider the following: 

  • Commit to not drinking and driving before you start drinking. (Now would be a prime time. ;)) Choose a reasonable amount of alcohol or none at all.
  • Share your commitment with others for added accountability.
  • Remember that not normally drinking, genetics and being female or petite increase alcohol sensitivity. (I won’t drive after one glass of champagne…)
  • Eat before you start drinking. A full stomach helps slow the rate of absorption.
  • Drink slowly to give your body time to handle the alcohol. Then allow time before any additional drinks.
  • Avoid caffeinated alcoholic beverages like the plague. Studies show that they don’t minimize drunken/grogginess, but make partakers feel less drunk, increasing the risk for accidents. They also heighten other risks, such as alcohol toxicity.
  • Know what you’re drinking. Don’t accept a drink with unknown ingredients.
  • Never leave drinks unattended. (I’ve seen Rohypnol in action—not pretty.)
  • If you’re the party host, serve food and stop serving alcohol a few hours before you expect the party to end. Provide non-alcoholic drinks for non-drinkers and designated drivers.
  • Never let a tipsy guest drive home. Call a taxicab, have a sober friend drive or urge the guest to stay the night.
  • Whether you’re drunk or sober, take extra caution when driving, particularly late at night. Allow extra room between cars and stay aware of other drivers. Keep your eye out for cars that swerve, sway or speed.
  • If you notice a dangerous driver, note the license plate, pull over then report it to the police.
.
Has your life been touched by drunk driving? What commitments have you made to guard against it? Any thoughts to share with Natalie? (She’s out of town at the moment, but I KNOW she’d love hearing from you. :))
.
Life is precious. Live yours well.

Lifesaving Resolutions

“He’s dead.” The phrase I’ve read, written and heard in films many times had never before hit me with such heartache, doom or nausea—probably because I’d before never witnessed a death up close.

My husband and I were heading for our favorite hiking spot when the driver ahead of us lost control of his car, causing it to flip up in the air, hit the side of the mountain and land upside down, crushing and killing him instantly. Had my husband not had the wherewithal to keep a distance from the seemingly distracted driver, there’s little doubt that we would have been involved in the accident and faced severe injuries, if not a similar fate. This blog series is dedicated to the young man who died that day.

I’ll never forget…

If you knew that altering some of your behaviors could improve your day-to-day existence, emotional wellbeing, physical health and life expectancy, would you do it? I hope your answer is a non-hesitatory, exuberant YES! For the skeptics among you, don’t worry—there’s no “catch.” (You won’t have to sacrifice your first born or left foot in exchange.) Willingness to learn, determination and effort, however, are required. Psst! A positive attitude and sense of humor will also help. 😉

I’ve committed to the life-saving resolutions we’ll explore here throughout January. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll sign on, too.

Here’s a sneak peak at the resolutions I’ll be covering:

1. Mindful Driving: Driving is the most dangerous thing most of us will ever do, yet too many of us do so with complacency. With the help of experts, including our own Natalie Hartford, I’ll address the risks and dangers associated with driving while talking on the phone, texting or, god forbid, intoxicated and offer practical tips for improving yours and others’ safety on the road.

2. Dodging Diets: We already know that diets don’t work. But they’re so darn alluring! Holiday pounds, friends’ and celebrities’ apparent successes, eagerness for “rapid results” and diets packaged as “lifestyle plans” bring great appeal. Add to that the $45 billion-plus industry rooting against us, and sheesh. We seem like goners. But don’t worry, we’re not. I’ll soon share enjoyable and effective ways to manage your dietary wellness without the multitude of risks linked with dieting, such as obesity, depression and heart disease. (In the meantime, please chuck your scale, diet pills and manuals out the window. Ah… Doesn’t that feel GOOD?)

3. Laying Off the Smokes: Don’t smoke. Just say know. The dangers of smoking are so well touted, these phrases seem cliche. But similar to the dieting industry, the tobacco industry wants our business big time. Sadly, it continues to win. This segment will include personal stories and expert insight on ways (some revolutionary) you and your loved ones can quit or refrain from smoking for good.

4. Trusting Your Instincts: Intuition is always right in at least two crucial ways, says Gaven de Becker—the world renowned expert in fear and self-defense. And honing in on it just might save your own life. If you haven’t read de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, I suggest you race over to Amazon or a book store pronto. In either case, stay tuned for some of his top tips and their significance.

5. Groovy Moving. No, this isn’t some strange new dance craze or 70’s workout video. Inactivity contributes to some of the most common causes of death in North America and it’s on the rapid rise. But forcing yourself to go to the gym when your soul begs you not to won’t do much good. In fact, you’re more likely to order more pizzas to eat while watching workout videos from the couch. (I’ve only done that once.) (Okay, twice.) Fortunately for all of us non-genetically-workout-enthused, lots of effective and yes, FUN, solutions exist. Promise.

6. Healthy Sleep. Sleep deprivation isn’t just bothersome, but hazardous. Improving your sleep hygiene, on the other hand, increases your overall physical wellness and guards against accidents, obesity, emotional tumult and disease. (Whew! I’ll take it.) After decades of personal sleep challenges, I’m to share what works and what doesn’t. Some of these snooze-friendly tidbits might surprise you…

7. Pursuing Passion. Though this one’s a little less scientific, it’s arguably the most important and at the root of many common conflicts—including those aforementioned. If you haven’t yet stepped fully into passionate pursuits, I hope you’ll consider doing so yesterday. If not, baby steps are a great way to start. This segment will feature clinical research and expert insight, along with kick-butt ways to get your passion-plotting self in gear.

8. Active Gratitude. Many of us consider ourselves happy and grateful. But how often to you put it into practice? Studies have linked gratitude with heightened happiness, physical health and longevity. And you may not have heard some of the useful, most valuable ways we can practice it.

Which of these resolutions resonate with you? Which have you mastered? Which remain on your to-do list? 

Whether you’ve mastered them or not, I hope you’ll join me for fun, inspiring conversations, fabulous expert insight and the revealing of tough-to-swallow, but worthy of discussion, truths.

In the meantime, please have a safe, healthy, SPECTACULAR New Year! 🙂