Do you ever catch yourself on autopilot or cruise control?
You know that feeling where you’ve driven home from work only to have no recollection of the drive at all?
Or realizing a month has passed without any notable highs or lows?
Or maybe realizing years and decades have passed and you wonder where the time went, what happened to all those plans you had?
You aren’t alone, but you may be a bit asleep.
Not physically asleep, but mentally, emotionally or spiritually asleep. Being asleep spiritually is the sleepwalking, routine following, numbed out, the general malaise that many people experience constantly and without end. The tricky thing about it, you often don’t realize you are caught in the cycle except in brief moments of waking up. Just in those moments of awareness where you look back and question.
Unfortunately, being asleep doesn’t get you to the places you want to go in life. It’s being inside the Matrix. Following the herd and not leading it.
Just like cruise control isn’t going to work very well when you’re navigating city streets, it isn’t working in your life, especially not when you have places you really want to go, things you want to accomplish, habits you want to change or any other self-determined vision for the future.
How do you get off cruise control and take back the reins in your life? Here are some suggestions.
To get off autopilot, it’s important to actually check-in and connect with yourself. You have to break the state of doing the same thing over and over again.
You have to stop and ask yourself “is this REALLY what I want to be doing with my life/time/energy?” “Is this REALLY where I want to be?” “Is this REALLY what I want to be doing?”
Any time you can stop and check-in with yourself, track your own progress, or reevaluate where you're at in life is a moment you are no longer on autopilot.
Checking in usually requires looking at yourself critically and honestly, which can make it uncomfortable and something we want to avoid.
It can require asking tough questions of ourselves. Did I lose sight of my goal? Did I give myself one too many free passes? Am I working toward what I actually want or what I’m being told to want?
It may require acknowledging that maybe one more episode is not the answer when there are more important projects you need to work on right now.
Checking in can be a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly, it just has to be done to get off the autopilot setting. And the more often the more you can catch yourself slipping back into sleep mode.
You can give yourself a day of the week to look back and look ahead or a quarterly check-in to see what you’ve actually been working toward and how much closer you are. Put it in your calendar, stick to it. Whatever you need to do to keep you checking in.
This can take some practice. Find something that works for you so that you actually do it, but just check in with yourself whenever you can and you may find yourself changing course and reaching new heights you didn’t know were possible for you.
Getting intentional is about putting some thought and energy behind your efforts. It requires a level of commitment and restraint and follow through. Being intentional means that you have a bit more purpose behind what you’re doing.
When you get intentional, set some goals and commit to them no matter what, you start moving for yourself rather than continuing to head in the direction you were already headed, without thought or course correction.
Intentions, however, are not enough, there is one more key factor to keep you off autopilot.
Do Something, Anything
Cruise control is a set it and forget it tactic. When you live your life doing the same thing day in and day out, week in and week out, you find yourself traveling to the exact same place you had already been headed. It may look slightly different, but it will feel the same.
Many people feel the dissatisfaction of the repetition and then get angry and resentful they are not where they want to be.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result — Albert Einstein
You won’t get where you’re going if you keep doing the same thing. Instead, choose a different route, get intentional and then remember to take action.
Action, any action no matter how big or small, in the direction of your choosing is better than no action at all and better than the repetitious action that got you where you are now.
Most people have ideas on top of ideas, they talk about them, they think and research but they rarely, if ever, get to the action part (if only you could see the pile of articles written for Medium prior to my first post.. ).
I’ll throw one more cliché at you:
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step Chinese Proverb
That first step and the one after and the one after that, intentionally chosen, again and again, keep you in the driver's seat, hands on the wheel, foot on the pedal.
Keep showing up, doing the work, checking in, getting intentional and eventually you will find you have traveled a very long way.
Cruise control may seem like the easier route. It may have less resistance in the short term, but in the long run, you will only find dissatisfaction, regret, guilt, and any other number of unpleasant feelings.
Do you want to be somewhere else? Choose to go there. Keep on moving with thought and purpose behind you.
Follow your own direction rather than the direction laid out by someone else and you will find the happiness, success, joy, love and whatever else you seek along the way.
It’s the journey, not the destination (whoops, I promised no more clichés, I can’t help it sometimes they’re too fitting).
Onward! The gas pedal has your name on it.