Vail Daily column: Fix your gaze
I once dated a woman who made me absolutely nervous in the car. Garnering unsolicited squirming and yells from your passengers is usually a sign that you might need to alter your driving habits … or at least that’s how I think. Usually, after you ride in the car with the same person for any amount of time, your nervousness starts to wear off, and you become more trusting in their driving ability. Not so with this particular individual. I can clearly remember how she would handle curves on the road. Rather than smoothing the steering wheel through the entire curve, she would make sharp minor adjustments, seemingly always surprised at the continuation of the very curve in which she found herself.
I remember the first time I drove on the freeway. I think I was 14 or 15 at the time. My mom used to grip the handhold above her seat and squeak with nervousness. I would suffer from the same problem that the young woman I would later date suffered from. I would make small fast adjustments into the curve, jerking the wheel ever so slightly to compensate for the continuation of the curve in the road. I only had to do this two or three times before my mom pointed out the problem.
You see, I was looking too close to the front of the vehicle. I allowed my eyes to be drawn to the white and yellow marks just in front of and to the sides of the car. My mom pointed out that all I really had to do was look a little farther down the road. As a result of expanding my gaze, and looking to the right place, my desire to create smooth changes of direction and a better ride for my passengers was improved.
Whether a banker or athlete, Christian or Muslim, there is a natural tendency to allow our view of what lies ahead of us to be mired in what might lie immediately in front of us. Rather than focusing on long-term goals, we allow our gaze to be lowered into what might need to be acted upon immediately. The natural consequence of lowering our gaze or reducing our vision to the near-term is the constant state of reactivity in which we must engage. We bounce from task to task, high stress and low tolerance, constantly surprised by what lies around the next curve in the road. We lose sight of our desire to reach an eventual destination and instead focus on the potholes, billboards or other travelers flying by us.
When we allow ourselves to look up at the road ahead, our actions start to fall in alignment with our desired course. We move with the road in front of us, rather than being forced into a course correction by the unnerving sound of rumble strips every time we stray outside of the lines. In addition to the smoother drive, by looking farther down the road we can start to make course corrections for obstacles and hazards long in advance of ever reaching them. In fact, the ease with which we can avoid hazards might make the average person with a forward-looking gaze take for granted the unique skill set they possess.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to take our gaze and our immediate worry off of what might lie before us. It can be difficult to adjust our vision and expand our view. Certainly, we can’t assume that an expansion of vision will automatically eliminate the need for us to pay attention to what might be in front of us. We just never know when that deer will jump onto the freeway. Regardless of what might pop up, if we are paying attention to the road in front of us, then we can likely resolve the potential problem.
Part of our ability to avoid problems in our paths stems from our preparation and our level of focus. Put the cell phone down, put both hands on the wheel, and look forward. Ever wonder why the rear-view mirror is smaller than the windshield? I know that’s kind of a ridiculous question … what I’m saying, I guess, is that some people seem to live their lives looking in the rear-view mirror all the time. It would be a lot easier to drive well and eventually reach our intended destinations if we just look ahead. Learn from what you just went through, sure, but once the learning is done, get on with it. We put what is behind us in its rightful place … behind us.
So, regardless of the destination, I hope we can take a few seconds every time we get behind the wheel — literally and figuratively, to think about where we are focusing our gaze. If we think about where we are going and we examine who might be coming with us, the actual drive might be a bit smoother.
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.