People often tell me things like “don’t forget to stop and smell the roses” or “don’t let life pass you by,” and I hear them so often that I never really acknowledge or try to follow them. From my perspective, both of these phrases mean the same thing. They are reminders not to rush through life and to acknowledge and appreciate all the things that life has to offer. Although this sounds like a positive sentiment, it can feel impossible at times.
What is Autopilot?
I have a typical student schedule. I have deadlines for school and work, and I try to maintain a social life, all while trying to figure out my future. However, sometimes I feel like I fall into a mindless routine where I am still able to meet my deadlines and follow through on my commitments. It is like I am running on autopilot.
In this context, autopilot is a mode of consciousness that allows people to remain productive without actively thinking or making decisions. Basically, this state of mind allows our mind to wander while remaining functional. When your daily routine becomes habitual, it is easy to complete your day while making the same decisions that you made the day before. When these decisions do not change, your day becomes predictable and decision-making becomes habitual to the point where you can make decisions without actively thinking about them.
For example, every morning I eat a breakfast that consists of a cup of tea, a fruit, and a bowl of cereal. I keep my tea bags, fruits, and cereal boxes in specific places, and each morning I prepare my breakfast in the same way. I do not always have the same type of cereal, and the types of tea and fruit that I have depend on the season. By the end of the day, I know that I have eaten breakfast, but I am often unable to recall what I had.
This example shows that an over-reliance on routines and habits prevent me from actively making decisions. Without having to consciously decide what to have for breakfast in the mornings, my mind becomes free to wander and think about the things that I have to do during the day while I make and eat my breakfast. I am running on autopilot.
Is Autopilot a Good or Bad Thing?
Autopilot is a good thing in some cases. If we had to put high levels of thought into every single thing that we do in a day, from remembering to brush our teeth in the morning to climbing stairs, we would be drained. Imagine having to make a decision about every movement that our hands and feet make while climbing stairs. Thinking about all of the intricate movements that go into climbing stairs would probably triple the amount of time that it takes us to climb stairs, and could offset our balance and cause us to fall. When it comes to these habitual tasks, running on autopilot is beneficial.
On the other hand, I worry that running on autopilot can be detrimental to different aspects of my well-being. After I have recognized that I have been running on autopilot for a significant amount of time, I try to take a look back at the things that I unknowingly bypassed. Sometimes I realize that I have missed out on spending quality time with my family, or that I have made it through an entire semester with good grades but that I cannot recall some of my coursework or even the titles of my courses.
Do you ever feel like you are running on autopilot?
Is autopilot a good or bad thing?
Let us know what you think in the comments below!