Why do we fall into the same behaviors, habits, repeating the same thinking patterns over and over again? Because they’re familiar and easy! We aren’t even conscious we do it most of the time. 46.9% of our working hours we are unconscious of what we do.
We tend to live most of our life on autopilot - the default mode.
TWO WAYS OUR BRAIN OPERATES
1) Default or autopilot mode: is an automatic, fast, and unconscious way of thinking. It’s when your thoughts drift. In other words, when you go through your day without even thinking.
The autopilot mode is autonomous and efficient, but deceiving too.
It’s more prone to bias and repetitive errors.
2) Direct mode: is the mode where you’re present, where you are in the moment and you control what you focus on.
It’s more reliable and can filter the misjudgments of the autopilot mode.
WHAT LIVING ON AUTOPILOT IS LIKE
Let me explain it by a straightforward example, i.e. driving a car.
If you drive you know that driving becomes easier over time.
You probably remember the first time you got behind the wheel.
If you are anything like me, you were nervous.
Everything was new, you had to focus on multiple things at one time.
You were focused on what was happening in front and behind you, which pedal to press, which gear to use, how to hold the steering wheel, etc.
Yet, as time went by, driving became less and less of an effort.
There was a time when you no longer needed to focus on the multiple tasks at hand.
You did it automatically.
This occurs every time the autopilot mode kicks in.
When it does, we no longer use our full consciousness.
We don't need to fully concentrate on what we're doing in the present moment.
Driving isn't the only aspect of our lives where the autopilot mode applies.
It applies to every single thing we do regularly.
The default mode takes care of routine tasks like getting up in the morning, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, and so on.
“What’s wrong with it?”, you may wonder.
Nothing seems to be wrong.
As a matter of fact, the autopilot mode is beneficial for trivial activities, such as driving, drinking, etc.
The default mode is an evolutionary mechanism that has developed to stop our brain from overloading and to automatically manage routine tasks.
The scientific community suggests that we make about 35,000 decisions each day.
Our brain would collapse if it had to take the time to consider every single thing we do.
Imagine if you had to focus on each task when you drive as if it was the first time.
It would be a disaster!
Whenever it can, our brain kicks into automatic decision-making gear to save energy.
The ability to think about something else from what you are doing is a cognitive achievement that makes life easier.
Yet, the evolutionary mechanism that is supposed to ease our life is disengaging us from fully living.
According to research, 96% of people in the UK admit to making most decisions on autopilot.
As the research shows, living life on autopilot has become an epidemic.
According to the study, autopilot decision-making is creeping into more and more parts of everyday life.
People make decisions - such as what to have for lunch/dinner, what to watch on TV, what to do at the weekend, etc - without putting in any thinking.
Nowadays, the trouble is that with all the “weapons of distraction” we have, our hijacked autopilot mode is triggering negative habits.
Autopilot distraction means we don’t take proper action to change our lives for the better.
“People recognise that the choices they are making don’t add up to the life they want to live. We can all do better at living more purposefully. The opposite of autopilot is purposeful living”. - Dr. Mark Williamson
I still remember when after a working day I would seek distraction and instant gratification.
Watching tv, minding other people’s business on social media, hanging out with people only interested in having fun were the norm for me.
They were embedded in my default mode.
I didn’t even have to think about what to do, it was an automatism.
But, where were those habits leading me? Nowhere!
I was dissatisfied with my life because I knew I deserved more, but my habits were not aligned with the person I wanted to become.
Today, instead, I do things purposefully.
I prefer to work on my personal development - going to the gym, learning new skills, eating healthy, writing the posts you read, surrounding myself with people who strive for excellence, building my own business, etc.
These patterns have become the new norm.
They have replaced the past, inefficient autopilot mode.
What’s more, they are leading me to achieve my goals and become a better version of myself.
I also remember the time I would hit the snooze button, sleep in and wake up rushing into the day.
Where were those habits leading me? Nowhere! I used to feel left behind.
Nowadays, instead, I purposefully wake up earlier to work on myself, so that I can start my day on the right foot.
Bottom line: living on autopilot can lead you to sleepwalk through life’s pivotal moments and to forget what you need to focus on if you want to transform your life.
By sleepwalking into the choices you make, you prevent yourself from engaging with what matters to you.
Instead of making conscious choices about what you do in your free time, the food you eat, the people you spend time with, the things you buy, the work you do, and the places you go, you make decisions by default.
Before you know it, you live your life by default, not by design.
Over time, the small mindless decisions you end up making will prevent you from reaching what success means to you.
A ZEN STORY - THE HORSE WHO WAS THE BOSS
Once upon a time, a horse came galloping quickly down the road.
It seemed as though the man on the horse had to get somewhere ASAP.
A friend of him, who was standing alongside the road, yelled:
“Why are you in such a rush? Where are you going?"
"I don't know! Ask the horse!", replied the man on the horse.
LESSON FROM THE STORY
The story explains the way we usually live, at the mercy of our old negative habits which have been established in our default mode.
The horse - which symbolizes our inefficient autopilot mode - pulls us along, making us run everywhere without getting anywhere.
The story shows us how our inefficient autopilot mode gets in the way of living our life to the fullest and achieving our goals.
Even though making choices on autopilot has seeped into many areas of our lives and relationships, causing us to feel out of control, there is a way out of it.
We can stop sleep-walking into our choices and get back control over our life.
We can take back the reins and let the horse know who the boss is, who chooses the destination, and the speed.
The first step, as Dr. Mark Williamson explains, is to help people wake up.
"People need to become aware of the impact autopilot can have on their own lives - which will be different for everyone.
Once we do that, we are in a position to make changes.
Once we’ve become aware of our own individual autopilot behaviors, we can start to change them". - Dr. Mark Williamson
AWARENESS is the first step.
When we are aware, we can turn our passive, unconscious, and negative habits into active and positive ones.
This will allow us to reconnect with what really matters.
What’s more, as Dr. Mark Williamson suggests, it enables us to live life more purposefully, which to him is the opposite of living on autopilot.
A FEW QUESTIONS TO HELP YOU WAKE UP
- Where do I want to be professionally or personally in 1/5/10 years from now?
- Are my current habits getting me closer or farther from the life I dream about?
- What is the one step I can take today to set me in the right direction?
Human beings are creatures of habits and routines.
Since the purpose of our brain is to save energy and keep us alive, we have the tendency to rely on the autopilot mode.
Some of the decisions we make on autopilot may have relative or no consequences at all.
Yet, we have seen how living on autopilot can limit our awareness.
It can lead us far away from achieving our goals.
Thus, the small 'mindless' decisions we make day in, day out can have over a period of time a big impact on the shape of our lives.
That’s why it is of paramount importance to become aware when it’s time to use either the autopilot mode or the direct, intentional one.
Choosing which system to use is like taking back the reins of your life.
It’s more comfortable to let life happen to you than make it happen.
Yet, if your autopilot is always on, you are just surviving, not living.
What’s worse, if you have developed an inefficient default mode, you have set yourself up for failure.
It is within your reach to liberate yourself from living on autopilot if you make the effort to notice what’s going on in your life.
Being intentional, i.e. making decisions on purpose is pivotal when you want to change your life for the better.
So, I encourage you to become intentional.
Make a very conscious decision to start paying attention to what you're doing.
Be more thoughtful about why you're doing it and adjust the course accordingly.
Over time small changes can lead to major shifts.
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones”. - Confucius
Start today living your life by design and not by default!
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