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. It's easy to fall into the autopilot rut, after all, life gets busy; we're so concerned with getting to the next thing that we don't take the time to stop and think about what we're doing. Some tasks are made to be done on autopilot such as brushing our teeth, or taking a shower. Those low-impact activities can be done without repercussions.
The trouble starts when we fail to realize that living life on autopilot means we're giving away our power. When we're rushing to get through a day it's all too easy to miss telltale signs that we're settling to make things easier in the moment, instead of acting intentionally.
When we take the time to look 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.
Self-Improvement is no Place for Autopilot
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!
Very few challenges present themselves when we go with the flow. It's much easier to give in than to resist temptation. 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 living life on autopilot rears its ugly head!
Autopilot is a Form of Self-Soothing
If you’re struggling with anxiety (and, let's be honest, 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:
- 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.
Gossiping 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?
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? We all gossip to some extent, but if we make gossip a trigger to stop and intentionally put ourselves into the shoes of those we want to gossip about, we can make great strides in maintaining our integrity and trustworthiness.
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 gossiping 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?
You Need to Learn 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!