When Did a Yellow Light Mean Speed Up?

Yellow Stop Light

Our lives have become jammed packed with more activities and tasks in recent years compared to decades prior. Because we’ve conditioned ourselves to stay occupied in all moments, this has prompted us to find ways to bypass any potential of momentary boredom. Specifically: speeding up at a yellow traffic light instead of slowing down.

The question “When did a yellow light mean speed up?” is both literal and symbolic regarding our impulse to remain busy at all times. We find such an urgency in avoiding inactivity that our instinct is to accelerate or automatically check our phone, rather than slowing down and sitting still for a few moments. Do note that short cycle lengths in urban areas are 60-90 seconds, and corridor-based signal timing with longer cycles are 24-96 seconds.

Impatience on the Rise

Research has indicated how our patience has continued to dwindle, even in regard to traffic lights. In fact, respondents in a study about patience reported becoming frustrated after 25 seconds of waiting for a traffic light to change.  These same respondents said they believe the dominance of smartphones are to blame for this ever-growing lack of patience.

Many individuals who find themselves bored during a red light turn find themselves checking their phone. However, the need to fill gaps of inactivity extend beyond waiting for the traffic light to turn green again. It is estimated that, of the more than 220 million people in the United States who subscribe to wireless services, as many as 80% of those subscribers use their phones while driving.

A Fear of the Lull

Because there is always new information to consume on our phone, we are now conditioned to regularly keep ourselves peppered with input. Any simple task now needs to be accompanied with additional stimulation to make it remotely bearable. In short: we are afraid of a temporary pause or decline in activity because our phones guarantee constant stimulation.

Our phones have created a dependency that attempts to mask a much deeper issue. We have, particularly, become fearful of being alone in our thoughts. “What would I even think about if I put my phone away?” you might ask yourself. The thought of momentary solitude, when our phone assures constant connection, brings about discomfort. So, we continue using our phone at the stoplight or bypass the yellow light altogether.

Becoming an Observer

Use the yellow light as an opportunity to slow down and observe what is going on around you. What does the weather look like for the rest of the day? Are there any new establishments opening soon? What are the drivers around you doing? Ask yourself these questions if you’re looking for a way to stay occupied at the stoplight, rather than checking your phone.

When we use our phone – regardless of whether it is during a red light or when we are in the middle of another activity – we lose touch with what is happening in our immediate surroundings. We also become less aware of what is going on in our mind. By making an effort to observe more, we increase our ability to discern details we may have overlooked with our phone. This can also keep us more protected from other distracted drivers on the road.

Experiencing the Gap

By slowing down and remaining distraction-free at a red light, you may notice discomfort after speeding up or multitasking behind the wheel for so long. Allow yourself to fully experience this discomfort and temporary moment of inactivity. Too often, we become so caught up in finding ways to occupy ourselves every moment that we forget to experience the gaps in between.

The period of inaction separating one activity from the next serves as a way to be present. Additionally, moments without activity can help us restore valuable attributes such as attentiveness, patience, and stillness. There is much we can learn from moderating our pace and choosing to embrace the lull.

Start with the Yellow Light

Creating any lasting change starts with making an active decision. In this case: challenge yourself to slow down and sit still when a yellow light emerges. Do remember that, in a little over a minute at most, the light will turn green again.

The yellow light can serve as a constant reminder to make our lives a little less busy. Less busy with rushing; less busy with overactivity. Through this small adjustment, which can be applied in day-to-day life, we can begin to assess what is truly important.