Living on autopilot
You don't want to overthink every small step but you also don’t want to miss your life and chance of happiness in the now.
Did you know that we spend 96% of the time on autopilot? You may be wondering - What does that mean?
It affects your overall life satisfaction and you may not even realise it.
The most typical example of autopilot is, have you ever return back to your front door to check if you locked it, even though you just locked it? In your thoughts, you were so far away you just cannot remember the locking the door.
Have you ever drove yourself to work and could not remember the actual journey? You completely zoned out yet you were able to drive yourself to the desired destination.
For the majority of simple tasks, autopilot makes life easy for you. Brushing your teeth, getting dressed for work, locking the door (clear sign when you have to return to the door to check if it’s locked). You do these simple tasks without thinking twice about them.
Author of the blog, The advantages of living life on an autopilot mode, or not!, Tanuja Dabir, writes: “After all, who wants to wake up and then start wondering, ‘what am I supposed to do next? brush my teeth, no wait… check my email? Heck no, I think I should drink coffee first!”
You don’t want to overthink every small step, every small decision. On the other hand, being distracted throughout most of the day, a partially aware of what’s going on around you, constant sense of missing something, ruminating about the past or being caught up in what-if-s. These are clear symptoms of living on autopilot.
THE IMPORTANT DISTINCTION we need to do here, being on autopilot does not mean that you are thinking of nothing, it is not what author Martha Langley, in her book Mindfulness made easy, calls Being mode where you’re noticing what is going on around you right now, wherever you’re at. An autopilot takes you to entirely different place and you barely notice anything that is going on around you right now.
“A lot of time we cruise along busily, not really thinking about what we’re actually doing” - in her words, we’re on autopilot. “This is not the same as BEING MODE, because on autopilot we don’t really notice anything and are probably thinking about something else entirely.”
The problem with autopilot is that you don’t even realise you’re operating from it, your brain is using well settled habits and they’re in control. If you find yourself living a routine or stereotype, that’s the autopilot. So you would not necessarily remember to come out of it, instead you just do as you’ve always done.
According to author of the book Mindfulness made easy, Martha Langley, “automatic pilot is quite inappropriate for managing emotions, if you forget to switch it off, or it gets stuck in the ‘on’ position, then that can be disastrous for relationships.”
Now that you know, what autopilot is and how it may be ruling your days without you noticing, here’s what you can do:
The mindfulness is the opposite of autopilot. It’s about bringing your attention to right now. This moment, this place where you’re at.
According to recent study conducted by M&S, a 96% of the 3000 people said they were living on autopilot. “The research concluded that our ‘mindless’ state has created an epidemic of non-engagement with the world and sub-conscious decision making.”
Read more here, in the article The higher cost of operating on auto pilot by Margie Warrell. According to the same research, “the average Brit makes 15 decisions on autopilot a day - that’s more than 250000 autopilot decisions in a lifetime.”
There may be small decisions however over the life they consequently may have a huge impact on the way you live your life and how.
Of course, this is how our brains are wired, otherwise we’d overthink on every small decisions and have no brain power for bigger stuff.
CREATURES OF HABITS
We are creatures of habits. “Autopilot is a really clever design that helps our bodies save energy. The way we do that is by constantly evaluating what we are experiencing now against what we have experiences in the past. If it looks familiar, we imagine that it is the same and therefore do what we did last time in a habit loop. As we don’t have to think to do that, lots of energy is saved. It’s essential to our living.” Chris Barez-Brown, an author of the book Wake up!
You may have countless things to do, you may feel you’re being pulled to different sides, different projects, it’s the constant demand on your time. Yet you feel like your life is flying by and you feel like you have not accomplished much.
“We all suffer from having too much to do with countless demands on our time. I have certainly felt as if my life is flying by and have wondered what I’ve been doing with my time. That is a classic symptom of living on autopilot” Chris Barez-Brown, an author of the book Wake up!
LIFE WITHIN COMFORT ZONE
Autopilot leads us to living within our comfort zones, choosing what’s easier, familiar and safer at the moment. Which is fine as temporary solution, but it can have a huge impact on overall quality of your life.
Choosing what’s easier, familiar, safer ahead of what would have a great benefit and impact on our lives and careers.
This could be as simple as saying yes to lunch with co-worker instead of cracking on with the project which has 2 days deadline.
SAYING YES IS EASIER THAN SAYING NO
Saying yes to things which are not aligned to our overall vision of life became norm, purely because it’s easier to say yes and then there’s this constant need not to let people down, especially close ones.
Saying yes to things, events, people simply because it’s easier to say yes. Then you’re caught up in endless battle with a time. Because there’s not enough hours in a day to do it all. So you feel trapped.
Dr. Mark Williamson, Director of Action for happiness, explains: “Autopilot is a growing problem. It has gone from being an evolutionary protection mechanism that stopped our brains overloading to our default mode of operating whereby we sleep-walk into our choices. It has seeped into more and more areas of our lives and relationships making us feel out of control.”
He continues to explain: “We are always on. Autopilot makes it harder for us to make instinctively good choices so we feel trapped, and that we’re living some-one else’s life” Dr. Mark Williamson, Director of Action for happiness.
How to stop living your life on autopilot
“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” Stephen Covery
Our lives are based on constant choices and decision making. Even when you feel you’re out of control of your life, not taking required actions toward change and choosing not to make decisions. It’s still means, you’re choosing to not make change for yourself.
This is one of the main reasons why it is so important for you to be alert when you slip into an autopilot and learn tools to brings yourself back.
TIME FLEW BY SO FAST
“Time flows at the same pace, with or without our permission. The difference lies in whether we are present for it.” An article in Success magazine by Megan Nicole O’Neal, 3 questions to wake up an stop living on autopilot.
The author suggests for you to ask 3 questions:
Where do I want to be, professionally or personally, in one year?
What baby steps can I take to get myself there?
Is my time currently being used in a way that helps me reach these goals?
An author, goes on explaining: “Autopilot has a homey feeling to it because you know what to expect. Tuesday is a laundry day and take-out. Falling into a routine provides structure, yet when you think back to the moments in life where you felt more excited, proud and alive, they’re usually products of change.”
PROS AND CONS OF AUTOPILOT
THOUGHTS & THINKING PATTERNS
A lot of my work is based, centred and focused around the thoughts and our thinking patters.
Purely because as much as our thinking ability is our genius, it’s also the own demise. You cannot stop thoughts flooding through, what you can influence is what you do with those thoughts. Filtering through and deciding for yourself - what is relevant and beneficial thought for you and which one needs to be heading for the mind bin immediately. This is the power you want to be holding onto tight.
This is where skill of mindfulness will aid you on your process. More you develop skill of mindfulness, more choice you’ll bring into your daily experiences. Instead of accepting the flow of thoughts, you learn to check in with yourself throughout the day and choose where to focus.
Simple way to redirect your negative thoughts is to shift your focus towards gratitude. Think of one thing you’re grateful for that day. Then throughout the day, when your mind starts to slip on negativity, redirect it by remind yourself - I am grateful for….
Don’t underestimate simplicity of this simple tool of gratitude.
The quality of your thoughts determine quality of your actions
The thoughts you think generate the feelings, they evoke emotions with you which in turn has direct influence on your behaviour and the action you take.
In order to make a change, you need to understand how your brain works and manages the experiences.
Practical ways to stop autopilot daily
CHANGE UP YOUR ROUTINE
One of your morning routine could be reaching out for your phone as soon as your alarm sounds, checking your emails and updates on social media, to see what you’ve missed out on while getting some good night sleep.
This is classic example of autopilot and the bad move when you want to be productive in your days.
Instead, what you could do is let your mind wander to 3 things you’re grateful for and 3 things you look forward to in the day.
Have a peaceful cup of coffee, enjoying every sip sitting or standing outside. Get a peaceful wake up instead of catch up on news.
“If you do the same things, you get the same results” Mark Rhodes
Here are some of the ideas offered by author Chris Barez-Brown, in his book Wake up!:
Get lost at the lunch time
Cook your dinner from the scratch
Make a paper plane
First 10 minutes outside
Dress the same (will eliminate one extra decision you have to make daily)
Take a walk in the woods
Follow your body clock
TAKE A WALK
“Walking is one of the great autopilot activities, indeed many people say they do their best thinking on a walk, once they’ve settled into a steady walking rhythm. However, it is well worth walking mindfully on occasion. This will reground you and put you back in touch with both your body and your environment.” *3
BE MINDFUL DURING ANY ACTIVITY
“You can bring mindfulness to any activity, from cleaning your teeth to servicing the car. Allow yourself to be fully engaged with the activity in the present moment, instead of doing it on autopilot while your mind is busy with other things.” *4
“You’ve probably heard the expression ‘wake up and smell the roses’ (or, sometimes, ‘wake up and smell the coffee’). It’s another way of reminding you to switch off the autopilot and engage with the moment, which often has intense pleasures to offer you if only you would notice them.” *5
THE THREE-MINUTE BREATHING SPACE
“The three-minute breathing space is a kind of mini meditation. You can also do less structured mini meditations throughout the day. Take your awareness to your breathing. If you have a fairly structured day, you can programme in times for these mini sessions. It’s particularly useful when you’re switching activities.” *6
“Regular meditation is the key part of a mindful stress management. If you see mindfulness as a quick fix technique to be called on only when you need it, then it’s unlikely to help, although you may achieve a moment of calm from mindful breathing or a short body scan. However, if you start each day with a mindful meditation, rather than feeling you have to hit the ground running, then you’ll be far more likely to cope with whatever the day throws at you. And the effects are cumulative, so as the days pass, your levels of bad stress will go down.” *7
REMIND YOURSELF TO COME OUT OF AUTOPILOT
“A lot of tiredness is actually driven by mental activity. Running round busily on autopilot, while all the time thinking of a thousand and one things that need doing, should have been done, will never get done and so on is quite exhausting. Remind yourself to come out of autopilot and connect mindfully with the task in hand. It’s far less tiring to focus on one thing at a time.” *8
FIND OUT HOW OFTEN YOU’RE TRULY AWARE
Spend a day or even a week and pay attention and start noticing how often you feel awake and present.
”When you take a deep breaths, you feel more energy and less stress. As oppose to being on autopilot, when your breathing is more shallow; “our cognitive abilities go slack, we have trouble staying alert” *9
“When we breathe incorrectly, we starve out bodies of oxygen and therefore find it hard to achieve clarity and balance between our subconscious and conscious brains. When our brains are going too fast and don’t have that balance we are naturally on autopilot.” *10
breath in through your nose for five seconds, hold the breath for six seconds
breath out through your nose for seven seconds
repeat two more times
My hope for you is, now I’ve explained how our brains are wired and how easily you can slip into autopilot more, you’ve learned that not all of autopilot is negative, nor it’s all positive, that you’ll now become more aware of operating system you use on daily basis and it’ll help you pause, consider your options and make conscious decisions that’ll take your life towards direction you want. And of course, I want to hear about your experience and conscious decision you’ve made in the comments below.