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Drive It Like You Paid a Lot of Money for It!

By Ben.

I remember learning about the car of experience in grad school, many years ago. The model is linked to William Glasser and his Choice Theory approach to counseling. Each year I develop a slightly deeper appreciation of it and the simplicity with which it models how to manage emotions skillfully.

Take a look at the car in the image and notice that it has four wheels. The whole four wheel deal is pretty standard for cars so I imagine you are familiar with this. What you may or may not know is that typically (there are always a few car enthusiasts who correct me on this) the front two wheels steer the car. This is very important in the car of experience model, so be sure to remember it. You have no control over the back two wheels, and they simply follow whichever direction the front two wheels go.

Now, pretend the the front two wheels represent your thoughts and actions. Also pretend that the back two wheels represent your feelings and biophysical responses. Biophysical responses just means how your body responds to emotion. The butterflies you might feel prior to an interview are a good example of a biophysical response. As you think about this pretend car, think about how you typically manage difficult emotions. Do you manage difficult emotions by turning your thoughts and actions? Or, do you allow difficult emotions to just drive the car for you, even though you have no control of the direction they may take you?

It is our experience at Three Trees that many people do not consciously think about what thoughts and actions to engage in, when feeling emotions that they need to skillfully manage. But, by using this model individuals can gain greater control of their emotions and the ways that their emotions impact their lives. For example, lets say you arrive home after a challenging day at work. nd your emotions are feeling frustrated and irritable. When you enter your house your partner is talking loudly on the phone and the kids are running wild. If you are not careful the back two wheels might pick up speed and take your evening to a place it may not want to go. However, if you recognize what is happening you might steer your thoughts and actions in a different direction, and your emotions will naturally follow along. So you decide to take the kids out back and throw a ball around with the dog (ACTION). While you are doing this you think about all the positive things your partner has done for you, while reflecting on how much you enjoy having a house and backyard to relax and play with your kids (THOUGHTS). As you turn your thoughts and actions in a different direction your emotions and biophysical response follow them. You start to feel calmer and less annoyed. You start to feel your shoulders relax and the stress drain out of them. When your partner gets of the phone they tell you how much they appreciate you taking the kids outside as that was their mom on the phone with some health challenges. You breathe a sigh of relief at not coming into the house and starting a fight and adding to their problems, as you may have done prior to learning about the car of experience.

Like many things in life, the car of experience is simple but not necessarily easy. Play around with it with both positive and less positive emotions and see how you do. Remember to drive it like you paid a lot of money for it so you are thoughtful and considerate of the experience. Visit our YouTube channel here to learn more.

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