Put on Autopilot

“Many of our daily habits are put on autopilot, which conserves valuable thought-fueling energy that needn’t be wasted on familiar movements, experiences, and interactions.” Author Colin Wright writes in his book Come Back Frayed. Wright uses this quote to explain the way we build routines in our lives and the danger that automating our actions can have when we forget to experience and focus on the present moment. The quote above introduces the idea of autopilot, giving us a perspective of autopilot’s usefulness in terms of conserving energy and decision making power, but Wright continues to explain what can go wrong when we let too much of our lives be controlled without our conscious thought:

 

“As a result of this routine-building predisposition, we barely notice the drive to work, and sometimes find ourselves looking up from the steering wheel, already at the office parking lot and unable to recall the specifics of how we got there. … This automation goes far beyond commuting. We listen to the same, familiar music, have the same conversations with well-known, comfortable friends, loop through the same meal-time, bed time, and after-work habits that we’ve been repeating for months, years, perhaps decades. It’s no surprise that time compresses under these circumstances. … At some point it’s not the parking lot that we notice when we look up from the steering wheel, but life. We’re here, experiencing this point in time, but unsure of how we got here. Where did all those years go? Why doesn’t anything from the time between now and back then stand out?”

 

The danger of autopilot is that we put off being an active participant in our lives, and as a result, we fail to build a real history for ourselves. The problem that Wright explains is not with our routines and habits, but it is with our failure to be mindful and present in familiar moments. The more we can be present in even the simplest actions, the more we can become aware of the world around us and engage in a meaningful way to shape the direction of our life. Time will likely still go by too fast and some points will feel compressed, but by being more present in our actions we open new opportunities for ourselves to connect with others, grow, learn, and produce something meaningful with our time.

 

Wright travels frequently and actively believes in changing his surroundings by changing his physical location on the planet. This keeps his habits and routines constantly in flux, and forces him to be aware of his thoughts, actions, and decisions. It is hard to build a similar lifestyle, but we can build habits in our lives that put us in new positions and unfamiliar surroundings, rather than just building habits that replicate the same experience day after day. Creating situations that are not routine forces our brain to be active and present to process the world around us, and these moments may be the defining points in life that help us understand and delineate our growth through time.

The Long Haul

Another shift in perspective that author Ryan Holiday presents in his book The Obstacle is the Way is focused around the time frames through which we view the world and the things which happen to us. When we look at where we are and what is happening to us it is easy to be overwhelmed and frustrated by the negative things that occur on a daily basis. Often times when we step back and look at a longer view of our life and our actions, we see that what happens today that feels so negative is often a very small blip in the narrative of our life. Holiday writes,

 

“There’s no need to sweat this or feel rushed. No need to get upset or despair. You’re not going anywhere—you’re not going to be counted out. You’re in this for the long haul.
Because when you play all the way to the whistle, there’s no reason to worry about the clock. You know you won’t stop until it’s over—that every second available is yours to use. So temporary setbacks aren’t discouraging. They are just bumps along a long road that you intend to travel all the way down.”

 

Holiday’s advice is to give up worrying about things in our past that have plagued us, and to instead focus on how we can move forward in a new direction. What held us back in the past does not dictate what we are capable of today, and just because we missed an opportunity in the past does not mean that we are out of time for improving ourselves or beginning a new path today. This not just a shift in perspective of the past, but it is a reassurance that we don’t need to be limited by the expectations that we have always held, and we are not pushed into or out of certain opportunities because of our age or experience.

 

When we connect Holiday’s quote above to the theme of the book we see that each little bump and setback along the road helps us improve. As we face more small bumps and challenges our lives can feel overwhelmingly challenging and unfairly difficult, but if we learn from each bump and grow, we will constantly be improving and developing ourselves to handle future challenges. Looking over the entire span of our life, past, present, and where we expect to go in the future, we can see each challenge as a badge of knowledge and experience showing that we can handle difficulties that arise in the future. We can see the obstacles we have overcome in our rearview mirror, study how we overcame our challenges, and apply those lessons to our current dilemmas or use those lessons to prepare for  the challenges we have yet to face. The important thing to remember is that our current challenge is not what will define our life, but rather a small chapter in the story of how we applied ourselves throughout our time on this planet.