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Have you been feeling flat and uninspired lately? Do you find yourself doing things without thinking? Do you feel numb or overwhelmed easily? Do you dread the day ahead because there is nothing to look forward to? If yes, then it’s possible you are over-relying on autopilot mode.
Autopilot is a coping mechanism adopted by our brain to protect us from life’s stressors. While autopilot can have adaptive advantages (e.g., allowing us to function without expending too much energy on routines), it can also be maladaptive—hindering our thought processes and getting in the way of us achieving our goals.
Here, I’ll talk about three ways to toggle your brain out of autopilot mode.
#1. Update your morning routine
Most of us find ourselves starting our day by looking at our phones. We may hit the snooze button a few times and then jump right in to check our email and social accounts. While you may think this is helping you wake up, it may be jarring you from your morning calm into a more stressful state.
Research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders suggests that people who use their phones for two or more hours on weekdays are at a heightened risk of depression and other psychological issues.
Instead of succumbing to the temptation of an early morning phone check, consider having a morning ritual to release trapped emotions. Morning rituals can be anything that allows you to be your real self and start the day slowly. For instance, you can stretch your body the moment you wake up, watch the sunrise, take a stroll in the garden, or meditate.
Mindfulness can help bring your focus to the present moment. It is one way to help you sit with your thoughts, accepting them for what they are and gently correcting them as needed.
Being mindful in the morning is a great way to tune into yourself before stepping into the chaotic world.
#2. Set a daily intention
One of the best ways to promote happiness is to align your actions with your values and goals. Focus on how you want your future to look and set specific, realistic goals to get you there.
Instead of taking a huge leap, start with baby steps. Set an intention for the day, everyday, that takes you closer to your vision. This could be anything, such as, “Today, I will prioritize three things that I need to get done to reach my goal and schedule my time accordingly,” or, “Today, I will be patient and kind to myself when I feel stressed and overwhelmed.”
It is important to remember that things may not come as easily as you’d like. In such cases, acknowledge that it takes time to change. Remind yourself to focus on progress and not perfection.
Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the personality trait of conscientiousness—that is, the tendency toward self-efficacy, orderliness, achievement, and self-discipline—is the best predictor of job performance and success. It also turns out that, with a bit of dedication and follow-through, we can get better at the trait of conscientiousness over time.
The more you set your sights on achieving your life’s purpose, and the more you pursue it from a conscientious frame of mind, the easier it is for you to break out of a mental rut.
#3. Take an adventurous detour
One of the ways we fall into autopilot mode is by having monotonous routines. Break the monotony, change your routine, and spice it up. Embrace unexpected occurrences. This can benefit your thoughts, emotions, mental health, and physical health.
Take an adventure that will force you into the present moment, engage your brain actively, and make you feel alive.
An adventure doesn’t need to be fancy. It can be anything that gives your mind a new perspective and new sensations, such as spending time with friends, joining a sports team, taking up a new hobby, visiting a museum, or even driving somewhere you’ve never been before.
Too much autopilot can leave us feeling dull and disconnected. To re-engage your mind, try starting your morning without technology, setting a daily intention that aligns your actions with your long-term goals, and seeking out some variety to expose your mind to new sensations and perspectives.