Are You On Autopilot? Getting Mindful About Mindlessness
Have you ever caught yourself on autopilot? Doing things without really being there? Or just emptily going through the motions?
Maybe what gave it away was noticing the strange little glitches that can happen on autopilot: like putting your keys in the fridge or your notebook in the bin. Or forgetting what you walked into the room for. Or missing your turn-off, or even your destination altogether, because you were ‘lost’ in thought or just ‘elsewhere’ at the time.
(I just got on the wrong train home, so I know the feeling all too well right now).
If mindfulness is about consciously being exactly where you are, in the body that you are, moment by moment, then it seems that being on autopilot is pretty much its exact opposite. Almost mindless.
And maybe it’s worth getting mindful about that mindlessness. To find out where you are while your body’s making its own way through space and time sort of unaccompanied like this…
So what does it mean for you when this stuff happens?
Or maybe a better way to put that is to ask what you tell yourself about yourself when you catch yourself on autopilot (or if you notice you’re doing some of those little glitches). Maybe it unsettles you. Maybe you get frustrated or angry about it. Maybe you even call yourself names for it, or worry that it might be a sign of age setting-in.
Just notice what happens.
What are you thinking about when you’re not really thinking about what you’re doing?
Are you caught up in daydreams or plans perhaps? What are they actually about?
Are they often the same kinds of thoughts? (What might that mean?)
And could it be important to set aside some ‘real’ time for that dreaming or planning stuff – to contemplate it more consciously, actively, to really give it your full and mindful attention rather than just mindlessly multi-tasking your way through it.
If you’re ‘autopiloting’ a lot, another important question to ask yourself might be whether some part of you would rather be somewhere else.
And what does it mean that you’re sort of stuck here for now?
Are there ways you could get closer to that vision of where you’d like to be in your life? (And is being on perpetual autopilot one of them, or are there perhaps other ways you might want to explore too?)
How much time do you estimate you might spend this way?
What would it mean to you to be more ‘present’ in your life for that amount of time?
And what might it be like to actually get back into the cockpit of your life more often and really fly this thing?
Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2010). Are You On Autopilot? Getting Mindful About Mindlessness. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 8, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/therapist-within/2010/11/are-you-on-autopilot-getting-mindful-about-mindlessness/