Strategies when Driven to Distraction

The realisation was not immediate, but I came to appreciate that I was driving myself, quite literally, to distraction. It was time to retreat from the ongoing and debilitating battle to secure an on-campus car park.

Pictured: Gabriel Perry, UQ Graduate of the Year, 2016

Pictured: Gabriel Perry, UQ Graduate of the Year, 2016

Being more an owl than a lark, I typically left home on the drive to UQ considerably later than 6am. This meant that the chance of finding a vacant kerb space upon arrival was nothing short of minuscule. Instead, I would join the flock of cars reduced to circling the ring-road like predatory birds, each hoping desperately to dive into an available spot that everybody else had somehow missed. Of course nobody had, and so we would eventually resort to lying in wait, perched on yellow lines or driveways, set to swoop when anyone looked remotely like they might be leaving. At times we might try driving ever so slowly beside, or behind, the carefree walker, eyes gazing hopefully and imploringly at them, only to become the invariable recipient of an apologetic and crushing shake of the head from our intended saviour.

There were, unquestionably, some moments of triumph. Providence never felt so kind as when not only would one immediately hit upon a student actually in the process of leaving their precious park but when they would offer up their all-day, paid-up ticket, with a smile and a well-wish for a good day ahead. And with such an auspicious start, there could be little doubt that it would be!

But such victories were all too rare. Not uncommonly, it would take between 30 minutes and an hour of agitated circling and/or lurking before the chance to come to a final rest was granted, and one could rush, hot, unhappy, and decidedly late, to the first class of the day. Something had to give.

So I embarked on a new strategy: driving first to the Jack Cook Memorial Park in nearby Taringa, securing a typically easy (and free)  car park, and then walking to Sir Fred Schonell Drive to catch a bus to the Chancellor’s Place terminus. Sometimes I walked, or even jogged, from the Park all the way to campus. In either case, it was typically a shorter overall journey and, more importantly, significantly more relaxing than enduring the previous mental strain incurred in being so near to arrival and yet so far from completion of the journey.  The effect of this stress-reduction strategy was marked and immediate. Why had I not thought of it before?

It is often the small things in life that can provide lasting satisfaction, like finding a shady spot to sit, eat lunch, and people-watch during a break from classes or study. In my case, this spot was the set of steps leading up to a corner patio of the Mayne Gallery. (Given its proximity to what must have been an emergency exit door, I’m still not sure if this location was technically out of bounds or not!) Similarly, small adjustments to one’s routine can embed moments of pleasure as a regular accompaniment to daily life. By changing my approach to getting to campus, not only was the uncertainty and accompanying stress of not knowing how long it would take before I could park and begin the working day removed but I gained the enjoyment of a regular dose of musical relaxation or podcast enlightenment as I waited for the bus or walked to class. The dead time of necessary travel became productive and the start of the uni day measurably more pleasant.

Reflecting on the success of my changes to the daily grind of travel led to a changed outlook; I learnt to keep an eye out for the little adjustments to routines that individually and collectively could enrich my daily experiences or boost my productivity. For instance, as swotvac approached, I would ensure that I always had some flashcards with me – typically formulated to assist in memorising legal principles and case authorities for an upcoming law exam. In periods of forced inactivity, such as when waiting for a food order or for a computer to log on, I could whip out the flashcards and make the most of these otherwise idle minutes. And the change in outlook has stayed with me. Whenever I now identify a sub-optimal, repeated occurrence in my day or week, I look to see whether anything can be done to enhance that experience.

Of course, no system is likely to be a panacea for frustration – bus timetables are notoriously unreliable, for instance – but finding the little adjustments that produce incremental improvements to one’s satisfaction is still worth doing. I commend the strategy to everyone.

Gabriel Perry BA (Hons I), LLB (Hons I), Brisbane. UQ Graduate of the Year 2016.