What does it mean to live life on autopilot? It means you’re living life out of habit; you don’t stop to think about what you’re doing or why, you just do.
Life gets busy, and there are some things that we want to streamline such as brushing our teeth, or taking a shower. Those low-impact activities can be done on autopilot without repercussions.
When we start looking at high-impact activities it becomes apparent that thought needs to be put into them, and intention applied, to get the best possible outcome.
Let’s look at some common situations where autopilot creates a stumbling block to growth and change.
Let’s say you want to lose a few pounds, remove sugar from your diet, or stop smoking. How did you get to the point that you need to lose, remove, or stop those things in the first place?
Most likely you are a victim of autopilot!
There are no challenges that crop up when we go with the flow. Advertisements, social pressure, and desire all lead us down a path of excess. When you want something and you have the ability to get it you do! Rarely do you stop to think about WHY you want it, and that’s where autopilot creeps in.
If you’re struggling with anxiety (and living life causes anxiety), it’s likely that you’ve developed self-soothing activities that you aren’t consciously aware of. Let’s take a look at common self-soothing techniques that lack intentionality:
- Resting (sounds better than lazing on the couch)
- Checking Social Media
- Drinking Alcohol
All of us do some of these things daily; I mean we all have to eat and rest right? Eating and resting are essential, but when you start doing them to ease anxiety you start getting too many calories and not enough exercise, which is a deadly combination.
Gossipping is not something that you might recognize as being a self-soothing activity, but it is. What do we get when we gossip? Typically, we’re gossiping with like-minded people, so we immediately get a sense of belonging, but at what price?
Do you consider yourself to be a person of integrity? Someone who can be trusted? If you gossip are you either of those things? We all gossip to some extent, but if we apply thought and intentionality to what we’re doing we can maintain our integrity and trustworthiness - to an extent.
Let’s say you only gossip about the neighbors with your partner - no harm right? Nobody else is going to find out, and you two get to release frustrations. The problem is that what we do becomes habit, and we may be souring ourselves to a person we simply don’t understand. The next time you see that person will you be genuinely kind?
Checking social media is a problem for more people than care to admit it! What do we get from doing it? Again, we get a sense of belonging. More than anything, humans want to belong. We are social creatures. We can even combine gossipping and checking social media together and blow things out of proportion online - good times! (insert sarcasm here)
As for smoking and drinking alcohol, those things had risen to mainstream status before I was even born, and we’re all familiar with the pitfalls of addiction.
So, how do we stop taking things to the extreme by falling victim to living life on autopilot?
How to be Mindful and Intentional
- Create a schedule for yourself, and then stick with it. Figure out how many times a day you’re going to eat/snack, what kind of exercise you’ll be doing, when and for how long will you check social media?
- Next, keep a notebook and pen/pencil with you to make notes every time you reach for something to eat, or you’re tempted to check social media, etc. and ask yourself:
- What am I feeling right now that I’m trying to soothe away?
- What does my body feel like? Do I have anxiety in my chest, butterflies in my stomach, something else?
Then, sit with the uncomfortable feeling until it passes. Don’t do anything else but sit and observe it. Once it passes (and it will), write down what the experience felt like. Did fear, anger, or any other emotions rise up? Were you able to identify what emotions you were trying to soothe away?
It’s so important to observe and identify what’s happening when we’re tempted to self-soothe in a destructive manner, because that’s how we release whatever is bothering us. Doing so is what brings our attention to the present moment and allows us to become mindful.
- Make a list of ten positive self-soothing techniques you can do to replace the behavior you want to eliminate, such as:
- Walk around the block
- Hug your dog
- Clean something
- Do Yoga
- Get outside
- Plan your day
- Set a new goal
- The next time you’re tempted to grab a cookie, or check your Facebook feed, or anything else you do on impulse, do one of the positive techniques instead.
You might not be able to identify the cause of your impulses right away; after all, paying attention to them is new to you. If you keep up with this practice, you’ll elevate yourself to a new level of consciousness, and that's well worth it.
I go deeper into how to stop living life on autopilot in the Passport to Purpose 7-step mini-course, check it out!