Are you on autopilot most of the time?
This week I want to look at how autopilot can side-track us from being mindful.
Automatic pilot helps us to be more efficient at those everyday tasks without having to think too much about them. Routine tasks can be complex and involve many steps. Our brain however, is pretty good at learning the steps and putting them together without much conscious effort. This is very useful. Without such a system, we’d not get much done.
Relying on autopilot too much can lead us to live mindlessly without realising. It might become a habit for a constant stream of thought to be running through your mind. It can become a struggle to just sit and be in the moment. Those thoughts keep on coming. You might be at the park with the kids, there in body but not mind, as you plan what to have for dinner, which chores need finishing later on or if they have enough school uniform for the next day. Sound familiar?
I’ve often found myself in this position. After my eldest son finished a swimming lesson one day recently, he asked if I saw him bump his head on the side. Er… no, I hadn’t. ‘But you were there!’ he replied. And yes, I had been poolside while he swam but my mind was inevitably elsewhere (well it is hard to focus on a 30-minute swimming lesson when you’re not actively involved!). But you get my point.
In fact, we spend a lot of our time with minds wandering. The average person is on autopilot, that dreamlike or mind wandering state, 47% of the time.
A good way to break out of autopilot is to use habit releasers. Mark Williams and Danny Penman talk about habit releasers in their book ‘Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’. The practice of making a small change to a daily habit gives us the opportunity to see the world with fresh eyes. Breaking free from tradition and mixing up our daily routines can help free us from negative thinking patterns and in turn, our autopilot.
Routines are useful and help us to navigate our busy daily lives. But, breaking your usual patterns or mixing up your daily routine can help to break free from negative thinking patterns.
Many judgmental and self-critical thoughts arise out of habitual ways of thinking and acting…. breaking some of your daily routines you’ll dissolve some of those negative thinking patterns… – Mark Williams and Danny Penman
Here are a couple of simple habit releasers you can try this week:
- Choose a different view. Always sit at the same seat at the dinner table or in a meeting at work? Try a different one. I do this occasionally as it’s nice to get a different view of the garden.
- Change the channel. Taking the TV for granted is easily done. Decide at the start of the week on the TV programmes you really want to watch, and only watch those. Turn off the TV as soon as the programme has ended and do something else like going for a walk or phoning a friend instead of mindlessly watching whatever happens to be on.
- Try something new. A different sports class, an alternative route to work or the school run. Choose a different magazine or book than you’d usually read.
In their book ‘Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman note that you can become happier, even with tiny changes to your daily life.
Take one action this week to break your habits and see if you can notice when you’re on autopilot.
What will you do? Let me know below!