I was recently asked by a friend what “running on autopilot” means to me.
Here are some of the words and phrases that came to mind:
“What’s the point?”
“Skimming the surface”
“Just keep on keeping on”
“Going through the motions”
“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”
But even more than these words, I thought of the following framework:
This is how we typically operate when we’re running on autopilot:
Stimulus → Reaction → Reflection
When things happen to us (or within us), we just react. (Stimulus → Reaction.) We don’t think too deeply about it or spend much time in introspection; we “just keep swimming.” This is survival mode.
And our bodies, used to the stress and strain of daily life in a traumatizing world, are well-practiced in keeping us going as long as possible.
If we’re lucky, we might have time to reflect on our experience and learnings later on.
If we’re lucky. (And often with support, professional and otherwise.)
Getting off autopilot is a shift beyond this default operating system.
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, once said:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
When we lean into this “in-between space” and begin to consistently engage practices that develop our capacity for awareness, we change our in-the-moment operating system to:
Stimulus → Awareness → Response
It is through this expanded capacity for awareness that we can make better choices, be more fully present to our own aliveness, and ultimately feel a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.
And these awareness-expanding practices don’t need to be difficult or take much time at all! Sure, they might include meditation, shadow work, or weekly coaching, but they can also be as simple as taking walks and trying to notice the things around us and within us.
Start small, go slow, and be consistent. �
That’s how we stop running on autopilot.
This article is a version of the July 19th edition of The Wednesday 1-2-3. This is my weekly email where I share short, embodied teachings, along with inner work questions and resources to take the teaching deeper.
Inner Work Questions
What is one practice you can engage throughout this week that will help you shift from reacting to responding with intention?
What barriers do you have in your life that keep you from this kind of operating system shift? Which barriers do you like having? Which barriers frustrate you?
- 5 Days to Get Off Autopilot (my free email series)
- Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl (book)
Viktor Frankl on Meaning (article)
The Contemplative Prayer Summit (2-day virtual summit)
- A Framework for Gathering (free framework for small group leaders)
- Shadow Work: Getting off Autopilot and Learning to See Deeply (6-week course)