In previous articles I have told you about some of my learner drivers to illustrate how I apply the Goals for Driver Education (GDE) Matrix to my driving lessons, and, in particular, how I develop self evaluation skills in these learner drivers through coaching. This time, I would like to describe a situation that occurred with one of my trainee driving instructors.
On the approach to the slip road that would take her onto the dual carriageway, Sharon said, ‘Grrr, this has to be the shortest slip road in the whole history of the world!’ She steered left round the bend that then straightens out to become the slip road and started to accelerate, whilst checking in her mirrors and into the blind spot. It was dark and there was plenty of traffic around. Suddenly she hesitated, braked, went back onto the gas, and then braked again. I instructed, ‘Go! Back on the gas! Go!’ in a fashion that I felt was not particularly helpful but nevertheless fairly understandable, given that she was choosing to dither with a truck bearing down behind us, and the car following us on the slip road already joining and now flashing its headlights in the expectation that we would move out in front and also join.
I have to admit that I was taken by surprise because this was an aspect of Sharon’s driving that I hadn’t seen until now. Her well-planned and confident driving style in and around urban areas had lulled me into a false sense of security and, although I knew she was very familiar with the routes we were using, I hadn’t realised that her confidence was actually, and entirely, a product of this familiarity.
We succeeded in leaving the dual carriageway at the next junction without further incident and, at the earliest opportunity, pulled up to discuss what had happened.
By questioning her about how she felt as she joined the dual carriageway Sharon identified the fear she has of driving in fast and busy situations, complicated by the dark. I asked her if she could recall what she said as we were about to join the slip road and it took some prompting before she was able to remember her words: ‘Grrr, this has to be the shortest slip road in the whole history of the world!’ We discussed the relevance of this sentence in that it has no conclusion. What it does is express Sharon’s fear and frustration and also highlights the fact that she does not have a solution. It is open-ended and begs the question: ‘So what are you going to do about it?’ Because of this, Sharon was setting herself up for failure before she even steered onto the slip road.
One of the actions Sharon took away with her at the end of the session was to practise visualisation. I invited her to visualise joining the dual carriageway successfully. For this to be effective she has to practise every day, morning and evening, so I explained in great detail what I wanted her to do. Preferably with her eyes closed, sitting on a chair at home and imagining she is driving, she has her hands on the steering wheel and her right foot on the gas. She can see the rain and the dark through the windscreen as she drives up to the slip road and steers around the bend still in second gear. She straightens up and starts to accelerate, whilst looking in the interior and right door mirrors. Changing into third, she checks her blind spot and starts to signal. She spots her gap and as one car passes her, she accelerates more and moves smoothly into the left hand lane. She continues to accelerate and changes from third to fifth reaching a top, safe speed of just over 60 mph. During the manoeuvre she is aware of how she feels – whether fearful, excited, calm.
When we met again, I asked Sharon if she had visualised joining the dual carriageway on a regular basis as part of her homework. She told me she had and talked me through exactly what she had done each day. We then went and practised.
By visualising, Sharon changed the feeling of fear of failure to one of anticipation of success. Every time she visualised herself successfully joining the dual carriageway, it was as if she had joined it in reality. Her brain created a map or pathway that became well trodden so that joining for real was no different from her visualisations.
Visualisation takes practice and effort and it doesn’t work for everyone every time. I asked three of my learner drivers to visualise themselves driving during their driving test and then passing. One of the three refused to do this, saying he would feel silly and that he didn’t believe it could have a positive effect. When I told him that the other two, whom he knew, had agreed to have a go, he told me they were probably lying. They both passed their driving tests first time, whilst the one, who had refused to train his brain in this manner, failed.
Visualisation is a coaching technique that helps develop self evaluation skills and addresses the highest level of the GDE because it makes drivers aware of their personality and how their intentions and emotions impact on their driving actions and behaviour.