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  • rlambakis

How to become powerful when merging

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Is driving stressful? Does merging onto the freeway make you feel like you are in competition with everyone, trying to get ahead? Fighting to feel powerful and not inferior? You're only merging! What if you could get that feeling of power and control a different way?

Picture of traffic merging onto a freeway

You've been here. I've been here. You're merging onto the freeway. As you accelerate, you look to your left to see how you'll get into the lane. There's a car there, going about the same speed as you. And he seems to be accelerating at the same speed you are. There isn't a great deal of room behind him, there's more room in front. But he's speeding up, just like you are, as you try to merge.

What are you thinking as you see this? What goes through your head? What's your first instinct? (Answer this in your head before reading on)

So how do you become powerful when merging? Common western culture, spurred by our consistent upbringing to "succeed and win", says that for me to succeed and "win", I must beat others. Competition is deeply rooted in our culture. Coming in First demonstrates I am successful and powerful (and not weak). Rewards come to those who go after them and achieve them.

Competition and capitalism are great systems, and produce fantastic benefits to us and society overall. I can't knock and won't knock any of that. But if we stop looking there, we overlook a whole other system that goes on in our head and prevents us from achieving what we really want.

"What an asshole! Why would that guy be speeding up? When he passes a merging lane, he should let me in, it's common courtesy!"

Sometimes, you might think that. So what do you do, speed up? I mean there's more room in front of him, so it just makes sense (to me) that he should slow down and I should speed up.

"I'll be damned if I'm going to let that rude asshole get in front of me!"

Your Goals

Since you're not driving right now (and if you are, please stop reading this!), you have the time to analyze this. Think about what your goals are in this situation. What are you trying to achieve? Go ahead, I'll wait.

Times up. I'd be interested in knowing what you thought of, but since this isn't two-way communication, see if any of these fit:

1) The obvious, you're trying to get onto the freeway. To get home, to work, wherever.

But don't you have other goals in that moment? Goals you probably aren't consciously thinking about, but are present regardless:

2) To be successful, stand up for yourself, to be respected? Or maybe stronger--To not get stepped on, dismissed, or made to feel less-than? To have power. Now we don't think that consciously, but is that what drives us to want to get in front of the other guy?

But underneath that, is there one more goal we want for ourselves, deep down? One we crave for but have no idea how to achieve, and maybe have even resigned ourselves to believing we never can.

3) To be happy? Free of conflict? Valued and appreciated? I don't know about you, but that's what I really want in my heart.

The Outcomes

Now go ahead, merge. Replay in your head what happened during your last frustrating merge. What did you do? What did the other guy do? How did you feel?

If you went into this merge trying to "win" something, you probably achieved some of these outcomes:

Outcomes icon

1) The first outcome was already immediately present--You are feeling angry, or agitated. You were having a decent day, but you've just replaced it with some form of anger or aggressiveness.

2) A second outcome is that now someone has to lose. If you can't quite get in front of him, and have to drop back, how are you feeling?? Like a loser? I mean of course it's his fault, but regardless, the outcome is that your decent day is kind of shot. Or...maybe you do get in front of him and he has to drop back, but he is now agitated too. Maybe he feels like a loser now. And if you get in front of him, how are you feeling? Relaxed and focused on what's important in your day or your life? Usually not. You might still be agitated. Along-side your great feeling of power for having succeeded, you're probably still feeling annoyed at the "asshole" and that the whole thing even took place! Sometimes for a few minutes, maybe longer. For how long has that affected you before? So good job, you have successfully caused someone to feel like a loser--maybe him, maybe yourself.

3) A third outcome, which hopefully is rare, is when it escalates and someone crashes or gets hurt as a result of that scenario--but we let's focus on the first two, more everyday outcomes.

There are always two sets of outcomes of any action you choose to take. Ones that are intended, and usually much more visible to us. And ones that are unintended, and often not visible to us, or at best, ignored. So break these down, and feel free to move categories for whatever fits your experience:

Visible, and intended:

  • The obvious, you have to get on the freeway

Less Visible, and perhaps subconsciously intended:

  • Avoiding feeling weak, taken advantage of. Feeling successful, powerful (if you got in front).

  • Or feeling weak, taken advantage of, not successful (if you didn't).

Less visible, and unintended, or at best, ignored:

  • The other guy feels weak, taken advantage of, unsuccessful. This one is sometimes ignored--because who cares, he "should have" slowed down, let you in. He brought it upon himself. Regardless, the outcome exists.

Less visible, and unintended:

  • You are agitated, angry, whether or not you got in front! (That's what's crazy, right? Watch for this next time, do you still feel agitated for some time even after winning?)

  • You are no longer feeling the better feeling you felt just before you merged--relaxed, happy, whatever.

  • Even more unintended, as a direct result of this interaction, next time you are in a similar situation, do you act maybe just a little more aggressively? Just a little bit? "That won't happen again, uh-uh." Driven by a powerful need not to feel weak or taken advantage of.

The Disconnect

Now answer this for yourself: Did the outcomes you caused yourself to achieve match your goals? Did you successfully merge? Did you feel power? Did you cause yourself to be happy?

If you were able to say yes, please enjoy one of my Food or Travel posts now. If no, isn't that interesting. We had 3 simple goals and managed to achieve...what, how many. Not all 3?

The problem is we learned to try to gain our power the way we responded. It's an automatic reflex, we don't even have to think about it. Because we learned it from our parents, our role models, our friends, who learned it from their parents, who learned it from their parents, who... And we never even question it. So while we are keenly aware that it isn't working (aren't you still trying every day to feel powerful? Hint: the way we learned isn't working, yet we continue to believe it eventually will!), we never become aware of how to achieve that power another way. And yes, you can do it while merging onto the freeway.

Change your mind, change the world

A starting point: Simply being more aware of the consequences of our actions gives us more knowledge and tools in our tool belt that we didn't have before. It's not the end-all, be-all, but it's a starting point to taking even more control in a situation like this, being in control of your outcomes and your power.

Get your power differently: Instead of trying to get power from defensively protecting yourself from being stepped on or taken advantage of, shift your thinking to what your true deeper goals are: To be happy? Maybe to spread happiness in the world? To make a difference in someone's life? To get home safely? To be appreciated?

Now: Take a simple action towards that goal. A different one you're not used to taking. Just one simple intentional action, with those goals top of mind.

The Experiment: Power through your true goals

Next time you merge and foresee impending conflict, try one of these actions, with your true goals in mind:

  1. Set an intention for yourself that:

    • You will take control of the situation

    • You will cause yourself to stay relaxed

    • You will cause the other driver to stay relaxed

    • You will prevent one small conflict in the world from happening

That's pretty damn powerful if a person can cause those 4 things to happen. Don't you think?

  1. Slow down a little, leave room for the guy to your left to move up, and signal to merge left as a request to the guy behind him. Wait, what? Let the other guy go ahead? Without a fight? Of course--we already determined that the fight for power doesn't really work, why not try something different? What's the harm in trying it just one time? Taking this action shows respect, and 90% of the time earns respect in return. Isn't respect what we all really want?

  2. Don't force your way in, but wait for the guy behind him to see your request and drop back to let you in. See how often that second guy lets you in--because he saw you letting the other guy go ahead. No, this doesn't work 100% of the time. But if you're committed to pessimism, please do try to prove me wrong and see if 3 out of 4 don't let you in.

Check The Data

Try this 3 or 4 times, and check the results:

  1. Did you achieve your the results of your intention?

  2. If so, do you recognize that you directly caused those results through your thoughts and actions?

  3. How does it feel?

Other results you might have caused that might be harder to see or measure are:

  1. Did the other person go on to do something nice for someone later because he learned how to do it from you?

  2. Did either you or him avoid causing another conflict later on because neither of you were left angry?

Measuring success icon

Your Results

These experiments are for you, not me, or any organization. Choose to try them or ignore them. But if you do try them, and are willing to share your experience or results with others, please comment below. There's power in a community.

Oh, one request if you comment. Don't just post and say "It will never work". If you didn't try it, you don't know that it will never work, and we can only learn through trying and sharing our results from those tries. Thank you for understanding.

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