“Life is not a journey you want to make in autopilot.” Paula Rinehart
“When you’re living by default, you’re automatically reacting to life in habitual ways, many of which may be limiting you and your life. In contrast, living deliberately means making more conscious and constructive life choices. When you’re living deliberately, you’re living from a position of responsibility; you’re making choices with greater awareness. You’re taken yourself off autopilot, so you’re better prepared to align your actions with the results you want to achieve.” Lauren Mackler
We tend to live in autopilot, by default in our comfort zone. On the way to work, we’ve already completed a number of tasks – which we’ve done daily hundreds of times – without ever being aware of them. Whilst getting dressed, brushing our teeth, having breakfast and dropping the kids off at school, we were probably thinking about the 10 o’clock client meeting, the overdue report, what to cook for dinner and numerous other things that have nothing to do with what we were actually doing. We tend to let our minds race ahead whilst our “production” is achieved in autopilot.
When we are first learning something new, we’re completely focused and aware of the requirements of that new task, but once we get comfortable we tend to let autopilot take over.
When I first sat behind a car’s steering wheel, I was completely aware of all the required sequencing of driving tasks and features: seatbelt; mirrors; dashboard lights; other cars; pedestrians; speed; gear; brake lights ahead, etc. Today I do it all in autopilot, lacking the necessary awareness to drive as safely as I have done before. On the highway, I often find myself unable to account for dozens of kilometres in-between mindful moments.
I have come to realise that this autopilot mode applies to many things in my life:
– Eating – I find myself feeding rather than savouring;
– Working – focus on getting things done and ever more unaware of the process to achieve it;
– Exercising – running for 30 minutes but remembering less than 2 and the ever-changing surrounding landscape;
– Personal care – showering, brushing my teeth, shaving;
– Relationships – sometimes missing essential information in conversations because I am not paying attention, because my mind is assuming rather than actively listening.
I believe that all this unawareness comes from the same place: the comfort of indulging in established routines and expectations, rather than choosing to be focused on the moment at hand.
Meditation has been helping immensely in tackling this shortfall, as it’s all about bringing awareness to ‘the now’. If we can make our body muscles stronger and bigger by regularly exercising them, why not make the same with our brain. Meditating is a form of exercise for the brain and the more I do it, the healthier I feel.
I accept that getting out of autopilot and constantly trying to become aware of the present is an exhausting exercise, but so is going to the gym every day to get a stronger and fitter body. The brain is also a muscle that needs exercise to become ever better in its functions and avoid atrophy.
Actively pursuing to change from autopilot to manual can be done. Here’s a few ideas on how to indulge in ‘the right now’, not in blind and unmemorable routine:
1) Meditate – a daily brain exercise of bringing my runaway mind to the present. Remember that 10 minutes every day is better than 2 hours on the weekend.
I have a challenge for you: focus exclusively on your breath for 3 minutes without having (and engaging in) numerous thoughts.
2) Try something new – doing something for the first time, inevitably makes one pay more attention to it. By putting myself out of my comfort zone, I mandatorily become more aware of it and it also has the huge bonus of helping me grow.
One can try starting a new hobby. Read a different type of book. Read a book. Switch off the TV and other screens. Take singing/guitar/yoga/carpentry/surf/cooking lessons.
3) Use awareness reminders – place notes in the bathroom mirror, the fridge, the front door, the car, the desk and wherever you spend time with a simple question: What are you thinking right now? Set the question up in your phone so it rings at random times. Not only will this give an appreciation for that moment, but also a big surprise at the triviality of the answers.
Turn off autopilot and switch to manual. Deliberately take hold of the steering wheel and focus on this bit of road here and not the destination ahead. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, just what you took from it. It doesn’t matter where you’re going because you don’t really know.
Being here, right now, is not easy, but it sure is simple.
What are you thinking right now?