A few days ago I came the closest I’ve ever come to having a big car accident. I was on a small roundabout turning right (so I had the right of way) & a woman in a minivan cut right across in front of me. Luckily I was paying attention & stopped in time. It shook me up big time & I’m incredibly grateful that I was paying attention, completely in the moment. As I considered what would have happened if I hadn’t been paying attention, perhaps looking at my sat nav or day dreaming I also wondered how much of my life is on autopilot.
This was the 3rd similar example from the Universe in a few days & by far the loudest thank goodness.
The first was in an embroidery class. I used to embroider as a child & recently started again, & before I picked up too many bad habits decided to go on an introductory workshop.
I watched the teacher demonstrating Stem Stitch & started diligently following her technique. But I was doing it differently, so she showed me again. And again. And no matter how hard I tried my fingers were on autopilot flowing in a way known to my unconscious.
My head believed I was doing what she showed me, but my hands were doing something different.
The results are the same, so in this instance it doesn’t matter. What’s interesting is that, although I have no conscious awareness of being able to do Stem Stitch, it was obviously ingrained in my unconscious & has been there for 40+ years.
The second was Nordic Walking which I’ve recently started to learn. It’s a slightly different way of walking, you use poles & there’s more bounce in your step; as the teacher Laura says, ‘like you’re squeezing lemons’ under your feet. In the first lesson we walked on grass & I thought I was doing quite well. Then came week 2 when we walked mostly on tarmac so the sound my poles made (or didn’t make) was painfully obvious. As were my bent arms.
And yes I know it’s a new technique which I can’t expect to master straight away. But it was another example of my head believing I was following Laura’s directions yet my body was doing something else.
So what does being on autopilot mean?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines autopilot as ‘happening automatically or doing something automatically, without having to think about what you are doing” & Collins says “…. you are acting without thinking about what you are doing, usually because you have done it many times before”.
The italics is mine & I feel those phrases are key; the more you do something, the more deeply it becomes ingrained, the harder it is to notice & the more difficult to change.
There are many examples when being on autopilot is helpful to your wellbeing, it’s also comfortable, in the same way that all old habits are. However, this comfort comes with the illusion of safety & discourages you from making changes therefore holding you stuck & sleepwalking you into unhelpful patterns of behaviour.
For years I hung on to my grief; initially it was a conscious decision then it became an unconscious habit, until the Universe brought it to my consciousness in a way that was impossible to ignore. Since then I feel I’ve done well in processing the grief of childlessness & of both parents & I’ve let a lot go.
I’ve decided that I want to be the pilot of my life & these 3 examples got me wondering & have encouraged me to dig deeper so I’ve been asking myself:
Where in my life is my autopilot keeping me stuck?
What behaviours have I sleepwalked into?
I’ve uncovered some behaviours especially around eating & exercise & I’ll be working on these gently, like untying knots. I recently re-wound my embroidery cottons onto different bobbins & no matter how hard I tried, I usually picked the wrong end & it all got very tangled. It was tempting to pull hard but I that would only make it worse so I had to untangle it gently & slowly with gentleness & love. Behaviours are very much like these knots, they take care & time to untangle.
Being in the present
The second lesson I learned is the importance of being in the present. My ‘default’ is to be thinking about & planning for the future & I know I miss out on many things because of this. On holiday recently I was thinking about where we could go in the evening & realised I was missing the beauty around me. So I stopped, took a few breaths, got back into my body, felt the breeze on my face & ground beneath my feet. This brought me back to the present & able to notice what was around me.
As this quote from Eckhart Tolle says, now is all you have.
Looking back with regret & wishing things were different isn’t something I do often. I could easily imagine a happy family scene with my parents & children but however much I want it to be, I know it will never happen so I don’t spend time torturing myself wishing things were different.
I’ve made peace with my past & have let go those dreams I know can never come true. It wasn’t easy, but doing this has brought so much more joy in to my life.
I’m reminded of this quote “stop looking back, you’re not going that way”. I know it’s tempting to spend your time looking back wishing & wanting things to be different. But you know you have to stop that so you too can let happiness back into your life. And one way to start that is to be here in this moment.
So now it’s your turn.
Over to you for the inevitable reflections & questions:
Where do you recognise yourself in my story?
Can you see where you’re on autopilot & how it’s holding you back?
What small steps can you take to become the pilot of your life?
Which way are you looking? Are you spending too long in the past, holding on to dreams which are no longer going to come true knowing that this is stopping you from having other dreams?
How can you start to be more in the moment?
Shall we do this together? Will you dance with me?
Thank you; if this resonated please leave a comment or reflection below (you don’t have to use your own name).