XXXVIII – Autopilot

'It seems like I'm just running on autopilot.'    'How do you feel about that?'

“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?

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2 thoughts on “XXXVIII – Autopilot

  1. There is another way of looking at the “living in autopilot” question. You can think of autopilot as walking and staying on the marked path by the previous walkers. You think you are free, free to walk fast or slow, to stop, but in reality you never get off the path so you just follow others. Your number 2 idea applies just right to this “are you really free” question.

    On the other hand I greatly value our hability to “turn on autopilot”. If I’m driving 45 minutes to work I do like to autopilot the car so I can focus on my favourite podcast talk-shows.
    However, I do feel sorry, for people who turn on autopilot for the driving and for the brain, just listening to the that popular radio station that plays the same “top hits” everyday.

    By the way, Tesla will have cars with full autonomous autopilot in 2 years time, in that scenario you can even meditate or read a book while driving!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your comment!
    Are you really free? That’s a tricky one, for which I have no clear answer. In my opinion, one’s only true freedom comes from choice. Choose to walk the tracked path, or to venture through unchartered bush land.
    By choosing to try something new, one is taken through an already walked path, but being one that one’s shoes haven’t tried before turns it into something else – maybe like a secondhand 1st electrical car instead of a brand new 🙂
    A Tesla automobile is on our ‘Wish list’ and its autopilot is definitely one I am keen to turn on.

    Like

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