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Counting Idiots

A Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention for Road Rage


Updated February 10, 2006

Counting Idiots
Reports of road rage incidents are becoming more common as commutes become longer and highways become more congested. My own commute of 45 minutes to work each way can be stressful. I’ve reduced the stress that I experience in at least three ways:
  • I carpool one day a week.
  • I listen to audiobooks (from audible.com and other sources).
  • I count idiots.

This article will focus on the third technique, since not much has been written about it.

I’m sure that you’ve encountered drivers whose driving puts others at risk. Drivers who tailgate or who speed and weave in and out of lanes are examples of this. Road rage sometimes gets out-of-hand when other drivers react to this behavior. I’ve worked with clients who have followed discourteous drivers to their destination and started a fist fight with them.

Cognitive techniques for managing anger and other emotions usually includes modifying one’s expectations of others. If I have the expectation that “Everyone should drive defensively” then I am likely to get upset when I encounter drivers who don’t drive defensively. If I can soften my expectation, then my reaction will also soften. A more reasonable expectation might be along the lines of "It’s good to drive defensively, but I know that there are some idiots out there."

This is where "counting idiots" comes in. If you have a problem with road rage, try this technique when you drive:

1. Remind yourself of the expectation "It’s good to drive defensively, but I know that there are some idiots out there."

2. Keep a running count in your head of how many idiots you encounter on that trip.

3. Once you’ve labeled a driver as an idiot (along the lines of “There goes idiot number four.”) switch gears mentally and focus on the road ahead, the book you are listening to, the radio, or your passenger.

Labeling can be a powerful tool. Once we’ve labeled a thought we are no longer thinking it. We have stepped back a step. It’s much easier to let go at that point and to focus on other things. Try this simple but powerful technique to make your commute less stressful.

Last edited 2/06/06

Authors note - I actually count a$$holes, but some people prefer to count idiots. I've rewritten the article with this broader audience in mind.

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