Fight Autopilot


Have you ever felt like you were on autopilot?  Maybe, you wake up in the morning and move right into your ‘routine.’  You shower, eat, brush your teeth, go to work, come home, eat, and go to bed?  Or, some other variation?  Human beings seem to be slaves to their habits.  We eat the same foods, we have the same conversations, and we think the same thoughts every day.  Have you ever stopped to consider why you go on autopilot or what it would be like if you didn’t?  Let’s examine that, along with some ideas on what we can do to beat it.

Why we go on autopilot

Our brains are ridiculously efficient.  Not only are they efficient, but they are always trying to be MORE efficient.  They do this because they spend a great deal of energy just by thinking.  Have you ever driven to work, walked in, and sat down at your desk only to wonder ‘how the hell did I get here?’  You have made that drive so many times that your brain almost ‘shuts down’ during the drive because you do not need to think about where you are going in order to get there.

Well, our brains attempt to do that for EVERYTHING, even if you don’t realize it is happening, in order to save energy.  The problem is that many of us have days where we don’t remember anything at all really happening.  Too much of our day was spent on autopilot.  The more you are on autopilot, the less you use your brain.  And, you know the saying, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

Benefits of beating autopilot

Beating autopilot offers a host of benefits that will leave you better off.  First, a small disclaimer.  You don’t want to remove autopilot from your life altogether; it IS there for a reason.  Autopilot is what helps us ignore environmental stimuli that might otherwise distract us (such as the constant hum of the heating system, your chatty coworker behind you, etc.).  Nevertheless, intentionally ignoring autopilot sometimes can be eye opening.  Here’s why:

  1. It will feel like you have created time during your day. One of the drawbacks to not paying attention to some of the things you are doing is that you also don’t recognize that time spent on autopilot.  This is one of the primary drivers of feeling like the day disappeared on you.  One of the more frequent ways we display autopilot is to waste hours of time in front of the television.
  2. You will think more. You exercise your brain by forcing it into a state where it must think about what you are doing.  You will find more opportunities for critical thinking by merely being more aware.
  3. You will be more aware of what is going on around you. Autopilot tends to force us into our own little worlds.  In our own world, there is not typically much room for anything or anyone  By getting out of autopilot, you open yourself up to what others are doing and feeling.  Being social is a human need.  By being more open to others, you can add a little pep in your step, especially if you have a job that often puts you in solitude (if autopilot is a big problem at work).
  4. You will see more opportunities for success, regardless of how you define it. If you are not paying attention to the problems that rise up around you, how will you offer solutions?

Great!  How do I do it?

Clearly, beating autopilot is going to be different for everyone.  We each act on autopilot at different times and for different reasons.  However, there are some things that you can do, regardless of where/when/how you act on autopilot.

  1. Decide that you want to beat autopilot. That’s right!  The first thing you need to do is decide that you want to beat autopilot.  Often, the mere decision to beat autopilot is enough to keep it front in center in your mind!
  2. Set alarms. You can set multiple alarms on your phone or work for a set amount of time (timer function on your phone).  That way, after a set period of time, you can be pulled out of whatever it is you are doing and assess what is going on in the world around you.  There are programs that will only allow you to ‘play’ on the Internet for 30 minutes.  This will force you to focus on other things, such as tasks around the house.
  3. Set goals. If there are certain things that you want to add into your day, add them to your list or set some goals to complete them.  Ideally, these goals will be complex so that you have to do some critical thinking.  “I need to buy my kid’s school supplies” is simple.  “I am going to set my kids up for success this year, buy buying the best supplies that they need, along with some time management books, and motivational items.  I am going to sit down with each of them, and work out a plan to make this year their absolute best” is a more complex goal.
  4. Break up your day with different activities. Add things to your day that are ‘out of the ordinary’ for you.  Autopilot typically comes only with tasks that we have done before (often repetitively).  Volunteer for different tasks at work that aren’t necessarily your job.  In addition to adding a little spice to your work life, it will force you out of your comfort zone, which will keep you off of autopilot. 


Autopilot is keeping you from experiencing life to its fullest.  It is a terrible habit, born from a positive intention, that is annoying at best.  Take some time to think about how much of your time seems to disappear due to this phenomenon and what life could be like if you suddenly seemed to create some more time in your life.  Use these suggestions as a start to combat your own autopilot challenges.  Let me know what works!

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