Ever get to work or a well visited friends house and not remember the journey? You know you’ve done it but can’t remember the details, time seems to have skipped forward somehow. Welcome to autopilot.
Our brains are wonderfully efficient things. Activities that we perform repeatedly become things that our brains need not trouble our consciousness about. Take riding a bike for example. In order to balance on those two tiny points of rubber connecting to the ground you have to perform some pretty amazing feats. You have to balance, provide momentum, brake, signal to others, lean into corners, observe the environment for obstacles, adhere to street signs, navigate to where you want to go. There is a lot of processing to be done. Yet once you’ve learned to ride a bike you don’t need to consciously think about many of these things at all. It just magically happens. A biking habit has been formed. In the same way you don’t have to think about how to swim or when to change gear in a car. These things you do regularly, your brain has you covered.
The trouble is your brain is not very subjective when it decides what you do and do not need to consciously think about. It takes in the good, the bad and the just plain ugly. That cigarette when you are out drinking friends, it’s got you covered. That belief that you are no good at your job and you’ll get found out, it’s got you covered. That entire daily routine where you get up go to work come home sit in-front of the TV, rinse and repeat. Guess what, it’s saving you time and energy by taking care of it all for you.
Autopilot can be good and bad. It can just as efficiently waste your time with routine as it can allow you to ride a bike. So how do we choose to switch this thing off?
Here are some strategies I’ve employed.
If you have identified the feature in your life that you sincerely don’t want to keep doing then this is a good option for you. You replace your negative habit with a positive one. The trick seems to be to understand the reward that you existing bad habit is providing you. Then find a positive habit that still allows you to achieve that reward. By hitting the trigger point or cue for your old habit and then performing a different routine your brain can build new more powerful neural connections. If your new routine allows you to still get rewarded then it’s more likely to stick. Once built you can find yourself seamlessly performing the new more positive behaviour.
Charles Duhigg wrote an amazing book on the subject and you can hear from him in this clip below.
So one of the gotchas with habit replacement is catching yourself before you hit that trigger or cue. One way of doing this is to make your mission to form a new habit explicit. Other options are described below.
Taking the time to consciously switch off the autopilot by focusing on the self. Our brains work fast, really fast. Mindfulness is the practice of training our focus. With this focus we can take a time out and determine what we really want to happen. It allows us to skip from our impulsive automatic thinking to our conscious aware and considerate thinking system. Luckily like exercise the more we do it the more focus we have and the more ability we have to choose our thinking mode. Daniel Kahneman’s great book Thinking Fast and Slow covers this in detail. It also contains a lovely little example:
A baseball bat and a ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
Now if you are thinking fast.
And you want to get that rewarding feeling of being fast and efficient at working things out.
Then you may well have jumped straight in with a dime or 10 cent for those outside of the US.
However if you have a high level of focus or just took a few quiet seconds to really understand the question. Then you would realise that to be one dollar more the bat must cost $1.05 and the ball $0.05. Remove the 5 cent from each and you have your $1 more.
Learn more here
As you can see we need both ways of thinking otherwise we’d not have made it this far. What we really need however is to have a choice, this is what Mindfulness buys you.
The biggest waste in many of our lives is losing sight of those things we really want. Letting autopilot take us on a ride through our short lives only to realise that we’ve accidentally missed things that would have enriched us. The opportunities that could lead to wondrous places. Or simply understanding what happiness means for us. The trouble is that sometimes we’re so far into our automatic lives that we simply can’t see the wood for the trees. What you need here is a non-judgemental collaborator that can help you slow down, unpack your thoughts, gently challenge your perceptions and support you to re-orient yourself in order to maximise your potential. Luckily that’s exactly what a coach is. A confidential creator of a safe space in which powerful questions can be asked and answered. Where avenues can be explored and actions determined.
A coach can help you identify the habits you don’t want, explore your triggers and find your rewards. Can support you in understanding your underlying beliefs and values. Can provide the space and security to slow down and think about what is really important to you and how you can achieve it. For me coaching has provided me with clarity, direction and motivation. This is why I studied to become a coach and started my business
You have control
When flying a plane for the first time the pilot makes a very specific and explicit statement “You have control.”
Sometimes this is what we need to really understand. You each have control. You are the only one that does. You can choose to change your habits. You can have more focused thinking. You can choose to reach out and get challenging, respectful, non-judgemental support. You can choose to be the best version of yourself and determine what the “best” mean for you.
What will you do?
If you are interested in hearing more about how coaching can help you please do get in contact. If you are located in the UK then perhaps we could meet up and discuss your needs and how coaching could enable them. If you are not then technology provides (Skype, Hangouts or Zoom).
You can learn more here http://www.steelcurve.com/executive-coaching/