GDE Scaling Fear
Jack is a slow, methodical learner. He doesn’t like driving particularly and finds every lesson a constant strain because he has to work hard to overcome his fears. He requires regular breaks and often requests that I drive at the end of the lesson. He’s under pressure from his father to learn to drive but he knows himself that it will stand him in good stead for when he joins the Police.
Jack is perhaps my best and most obvious example of someone, who benefits from a client-centred approach. If I was unaware of his individual needs he would probably have given up learning to drive long ago because I would have pushed him too much and expected too much of him on each lesson. I have to really consider how to strike a balance so that I meet his learning needs whilst also encouraging him to challenge himself. Left to his own devices, Jack might still be going round blocks of left turns 20 hours in!
On our last lesson, I worked the conversation around to dual carriageways. I knew that he had been putting off this aspect of his driving so I asked him how he would feel about driving on dual carriageways. He looked terrified and withdrew into himself. It was at this point that I used scaling to get a measure of his emotional state. On a scale of 0 to 10 he put himself at a 10 at the thought of driving along the A14, where 10 meant he was in a state of blind panic. We discussed how this feeling felt inside him, where he carried it in his body, how he thought it would affect his decision-making abilities, whether he thought it would affect his vision – given that we had called it ‘blind panic’. We then compared this 10 to a situation where he was much calmer, which he described as being a 3 and discussed the differences between the 3 and 10 situations. Finally, we spoke about the steps Jack could take to bring his fear down to a 3, given that a 10 was going to make it impossible for him to control the vehicle safely.
We agreed on a number of steps:
- I would drive first to demonstrate the route, allow Jack to work on managing his fear, and talk him through how to join and leave.
- Jack would only have a go at driving on the dual carriageway himself for the first time when his fear was down to a 7. This might not happen on today’s lesson.
- The route would be circular and take no more than five minutes to complete. It comprised joining, leaving at the next junction, doubling around the roundabout, joining, and leaving again at the first junction.
- Jack could drive at whatever speed he felt comfortable.
- Jack would not be overtaking the first couple of times he went on the dual carriageway.
- After each circuit Jack would scale himself and assess his fear levels.
We agreed on the level of help I would give – basically, don’t let the car crash, otherwise let him get on with it himself. Jack understood that it didn’t matter how he did this; the important thing was that he did it, by managing his fear and working on bringing it down.
We went round three times and Jack was beaming after each attempt and quickly brought the scale down from a 7 to a 6, then a 5, and finally, a 3. I gave no instruction – just worked on how he felt by asking him at regular points where he was at now on his scale of 0 to 10.
Jack amazed himself. He never thought he would be able to do this and enjoy it. This is not the first time we have used scaling; but it was the first time he had experienced how effective a tool it could be at managing his emotional state. He also understood how important it is to monitor himself and check his emotional state because how we are feeling affects how we drive. And not just how we drive but also how we cope with every aspect of our lives. Jack now had a tool that he could take away to use on himself and evaluate his fear whenever he needed.
As driving instructors it can be all too easy to focus on the behavioural aspects of learning. I didn’t give a briefing on joining and leaving; I didn’t use levels of instruction to get him to control the vehicle safely; I didn’t identify, analyse or remedy any driver errors. I simply got Jack to focus on his emotional state and everything else fell into place. Scaling empowers people to rationalise how they are feeling. Often when we are working off our emotions our behaviour is irrational and thoughtless. Scaling allows us to think about our feelings and therefore manage our behaviour. Level 4 of the Goals for Driver Education is called ‘Goals for Life and Skills for Living’. Being able to manage fear is a skill for living and not just confined to driving a car.