Are You Running on Autopilot?

Published on: February 6, 2012

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“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it. (21)” – Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step

Consider this statistic; almost 90% of our daily activities are habitual in nature. You wake up, shower, brush your teeth, eat breakfast, catch transport, walk, drive or ride to work/school or other etc.

You do this without hesitation every everyday during the week without the slightest conscious thought. If I asked you to solve a complex problem or asked you to learn a new dance move or sport, you’d certainly engage a part of your mind fundamental to learning new tasks; before it became an unconscious habit.

The point I wish to bring to your awareness is that we engage in life unaware of how unconscious our thoughts and behaviours are. So what? You might ask. I’m glad you asked!

When you fall into the trap of being on autopilot; you unconsciously carry out thoughts and actions which have been imprinted into your subconscious mind without conscious awareness. You REACT to situations which your programming does not identify with, since it’s continually searching its data bank for stores references of such events.

To illustrate the point, let’s say you had an argument with your sibling over a delicate situation. Your sibling over-reacted and called you a number of names which triggered an emotional retaliation. The situation is further escalated by additional hurtful responses traded between you, before one of your storm out of the room in anger and deeply hurt.

Family members know exactly which buttons to press when it comes to one another’s emotional disposition. The truth lies in knowing that your reaction stem from the programmed beliefs and thoughts stored away in your unconscious mind.

When we’re unconscious to our actions, we REACT instead of INTERACT to the situation. Allow me to give you an example which sheds light on this. Some years ago my colleague and I were conducting a health lecture to the faculty of a well known university. We were discussing the disadvantages of drinking tap water to ones long term health.

A member of the audience took it upon herself to attack us, stating we knew little about the situation and there was no scientific evidence to support our statements. Aside from there being a plethora of scientific evidence this person REACTED, instead of INTERACTING with us.

After the lecture concluded, we approached her to discuss her stance. We discovered she was raised on a farm and drank tap water her entire life. She saw nothing wrong with drinking tap water, sighting herself as testament to this. She was overweight and I suspect had a host of related health problems. That’s another story.

This person reacted to something which challenged her beliefs i.e. drinking tap water is fine. It challenged her belief instilled in her by parents that drinking tap water is good for your health.

So when we challenged that belief system, her initial REACTION was to attack those challenging that belief. Apart from being emotionally resilient, I’ve been subject to a host of similar challenges from people who are emotionally and mentally asleep. They run on autopilot, never challenging the validity of their ideas, belief and thoughts. I’m suggesting that you TEST your beliefs continually.

When a belief of idea is challenged, the tendency is to wage a war in retaliation; while not considering if their belief is valid.

These days when I conduct workshops, I cue the seminar by advising people that some of the concepts I present will challenge long held beliefs which may conflict with yours. Rather than attack them, reflect on them and go with the inner resistance that might arise.

I instruct them to conduct their own due diligence by testing my ideas and thoughts before discounting them as inaccurate, wrong or outdated.

In order that internal growth takes place, we must be aware, awake and receptive to new information that challenges our beliefs. You didn’t challenge your current beliefs since they were formed at a stage in your life when (i.e. childhood) you were in a subconscious learning stage.

Furthermore they were impressed upon you by loved ones and authority figures. It may be suggested that we are not entirely responsible for the programming we received as children; yet we are responsible for our actions and the subsequent thoughts and beliefs we adopt as adults.

Next time you find yourself in disagreement with someone, stop for a moment before REACTING and consider whether you’re playing out childhood programs or whether your words and actions are uniquely yours.

It takes a great deal of awareness and introspection to see that we may have adopted inaccurate thoughts and beliefs as adults and in effect, playing them out like broken records.

Ask yourself this questions next time you’re caught in a battle or unsettled discussion with another person; do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?

Physiologically speaking, every time you oppose something or someone, you turn on your ‘fight or flight’ nervous system which is REACTIVE instead of being INTERACTIVE.

The message of this article is to invite you to suspend your beliefs by continually questioning them and come from a place of INTERACTION, instead of REACTION.

Let’s remove the notion that someone needs to win and lose. Strive for win – win every time.




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2 Responses to Are You Running on Autopilot?

  1. Shane says:

    Thank you so much for writing this.

    I have been struggling with finding a good way of understanding the concept behind autopilot for months.

    I have been trying to become consciously aware at least at critical times (such as arguments, yes).

    I suppose what I need to then focus on is to not be “emotionally and mentally asleep” as you said.

    Again, very much appreciated.

    • Hi Shane

      Thanks for your comment and feedback. It takes a great deal of practice to be ‘mindful.’ Many people spend their entire lives reacting to situations as a result of pre-conditioned mental programs. The mind is very astute at doing this, since it searches its data bank of historical data to determine how to respond in the current moment. In effect we are bringing the past into the present and thus not ‘alive’ to what is happening in our current reality. A good method for overcoming this mental habit is to try Byron Katie’s ‘The Work’ which is 4 simple, yet powerful questions you ask of yourself. The result is amazing to say the least.

      Best wishes


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