The Mind: Front Seat Driving And Back Seat Driving

The mind is the driver of the body’s vehicle. But it’s easy to fall into back seat driving. Be a front seat driver, and learn why it’s important.

Front Seat Driving Vs. Back Seat Driving

When you engage with the world, you can be a front seat driver or a back seat driver. Typically, you’ll switch between both modes many times a day.

Front seat driving is automatic and instinctual. It’s living in the present, engaging in the moment. This is the realm of fast decisions, quick wit, and high energy. There is little thought when you’re driving from the front seat – it’s almost all action.

Back seat driving is slow and contemplative. It’s engaging with the world from a distance. This is the realm of analysis, processing, and strategizing. Back seat driving is all thought, and removal from the rush of day-to-day life.

Extraversion & Introversion

There are similarities between extraversion vs. introversion and front seat vs. back seat driving. But they’re not exactly alike. (By the way: I meant extraversion).

Extraverts, as the name suggests, are inclined to be extra – outside themselves. They interact directly with the world and draw energy from engaging with what’s around them.

Introverts, by contrast, are inclined to be within themselves. Their preferred interaction with the world is indirect – they like abstraction and contemplation.

Extraverts tend to front seat drive. Introverts tend to back seat drive.

The Perils Of Front Seat & Back Seat Driving

The Back Seat

As you read this, which I thank you for, you’re back seat driving. There’s nothing wrong with that! It is a hugely important part of the human condition to better oneself through learning. Nobody ever achieved anything running around like a headless chicken. Time taken to learn, think, and strategize is important. Those that lack the ability to do so don’t tend to go very far.

But it is easy to get stuck in the back seat. This is especially notable among intellectuals. All the time spent reading, training, learning, and strategizing puts one in a default state of thought.

Back seat driving is not suited for engaging with the world. There’s countless examples of this: smart people who are socially useless, genius inventors who can’t sell their creations, and so on.

The Front Seat

Humans as a species are distinguished by our capacity for thought. We all know an extravert who’s hopeless at processing ideas, but the person you want around if you’re throwing a party. A life lived only in the front seat is an impoverished one.

Get stuck in the front seat, and you’ll get caught in the rush. Pure living-in-the-moment isn’t a good way to plan your life out, or to develop systems that will bring you long-term satisfaction.

Finding Balance Between Front & Back

It is hugely important to find a balance between front seat and back seat driving that works for you. If you don’t:

  • People who skew heavily to front seat driving live in the moment, but are out-strategized by thinkers. They tend to flame out early in life, or require very lucky breaks for long-term success.
  • People who skew heavily to back seat driving tend to win in the long term, but they tend to be far less satisfied with their lives. They overthink things, and are less successful socially.

Generally, you should be a front seat driver when around people, and a back seat driver when you’re not. Use back seat driving to plan, and front seat driving to execute.

Too much front seat driving, and you’re unable to think properly. Too much back seat driving, and you’re unable to communicate properly.


A note on drugs: we often use them to switch our driving mode. Back seat drivers tend to use alcohol to turn off their thinking. Front seat drivers use marijuana to switch to the back for a bit. Note the reverse: front seat drivers on alcohol tend to be angry drunks, as they’ve pushed themselves too far forwards. Back seat drivers on marijuana retreat even further, becoming paranoid or silent.

Some drugs can push you to the back seat involuntarily. I remember taking adderall and similar stimulants in college for productivity. They would help me focus and pull monster hours, but I was hopeless socially. I would double-think about things, second-guessing my social interactions. Knowing that I was wired and trying to hide it would make me retreat into my mind.

Avoid drugs for switching modes – find healthier ways to do this.


Meditation may seem like a back seat activity. And it is – but it’s unique in that it pushes your “back seat guy” to shut up. You’re training the back seat driver to stop interfering in front seat activity, which makes it a hugely valuable tool for introverts.

Mindfulness is spending time in the back seat, so you’re less inclined to do so when you’re out and being active.

Be a Front-Seat Driver

It’s hard to train yourself to be a back seat driver if you’re not one. But it’s easy to jump into the front seat more often. Being in the front seat means not second-guessing yourself, or overthinking things. It is key to successful execution of any plan.

Work on increasing your self-esteem, mindfulness, and inclination to action, and you’ll become a front seat driver. Your social interactions will improve. You’ll be much more capable out in the world. And when you return home, you can back seat drive as much as you want, planning how you’ll attack the next day.

You’re reading this, so you’re probably a regular back seat person. But whether you are or not, tend to your mind garden, and find the seeds that will sprout in the soil you have.

For those that struggle with back seat driving, I highly recommend this book – link goes to my review of it.

Spend your back seat time learning how to use information to your advantage. Subscribe for email updates and follow me on Twitter, where I also post daily.

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