We live during a time of many distractions. Life moves quickly, technology has made us almost constantly accessible to others, there are more and more demands placed on our time and energy, leisure activities have been edged out of most people’s lives and, in most areas of life, quantity is valued above quality.
Not surprisingly, people (especially, women) experience a great deal of anxiety and, as a means of coping with stress, tend to go on ‘autopilot’ – when our minds are overwhelmed, we become so engrossed in our own thoughts that we complete certain tasks without any conscious effort or attention. At some point, we’ve probably all had the experience of driving somewhere, arriving at our destination and not recalling any part of the trip. We were so consumed with our thoughts that our body seemingly drove the car by itself. We were on autopilot.
While this is not a state that we want to be in most of the time (and, certainly, not while driving!), there are times when autopilot can actually be useful. Now, I know what you’re thinking…
Why in the world would I, someone who regularly promotes mindfulness and awareness find autopilot useful? How can someone who believes in the power of conscious choice and action recommend going on autopilot and, in effect, eliminating conscious action??
Because I believe that there is a healthy way to do it.
The autopilot feature on an airplane is defined as “a system used to control the trajectory of an aircraft without constant ‘hands-on’ control by a human operator being required. Autopilots do not replace a human operator, but assist them in controlling the aircraft, allowing them to focus on broader aspects of operation, such as monitoring the trajectory, weather and systems.” (Source)
Since we ARE so bombarded with choices and distractions, why not alleviate some of our stress by reducing the number of choices we must make on a daily basis? Why not create some (healthy) habits and rituals that we can easily revert to, without the need to expend time and/or energy thinking about it? Much like pilots do, we can use autopilot to assist us in managing our time and energy, allowing us to concentrate on the “broader aspects” of our lives.
Here are nine examples of what I’m referring to:
- Meals: I tend to eat one of two different breakfasts every day. In addition, I almost always make enough food for dinner, so that I have leftovers for lunch. This ensures that (a) I’ll have meals that are healthy and (b) I won’t have to scramble around in the morning, trying to figure out what I’ll eat throughout the day. To the extent that you can, “automating” meals will support your health and create more ease.
- Shopping: for the most part, I do my food shopping at the same places and at roughly the same time each week (Saturday or Sunday mornings). Furthermore, I use the same basic shopping list each week, as I buy a lot of the same staple items from one week to the next. I typed up a list of these items and printed off a bunch of copies. Each week, I grab it and add or subtract any items, as needed. This saves me time and ensures that I’ll remember to buy the things that I need for the week.
- Food Preparation: I tend to spend some time on Sundays prepping food for the week. Sometimes, I simply slice raw veggies; sometimes I make a soup that I can eat for lunch during the week; other times I roast a bunch of sweet potatoes or make a batch of brown rice. I find that if I get ahead of food prep and have some healthy things on hand, it’s far easier to eat well throughout the week.
- Skincare: This is one of my very favorite rituals. I have certain products that I use in the morning and others that I use at night. My products are organized and easily accessible and, because I move through the same steps each day, it doesn’t take long at all to care for my skin. It also adds a bit of self-care and pampering to my day, which is never a bad thing!
- Fitness: Whether you prefer to take a fitness class, lift weights at the gym or go for a walk/run, try to do it on roughly the same days and at roughly the same times each week. That way, you won’t have to figure out when to squeeze it in. It’ll be easy to plan around it and it’s far more likely that you’ll actually go.
- Social Media: It’s WAY too easy to waste time scrolling through social media feeds and losing precious time during the day (not to mention the fact that it’s well documented that too much time spent on social media actually INCREASES stress and anxiety!?). Set aside a fixed period of time to spend on social media, preferably at the end of the day when important tasks have already been completed. Knowing that you only have, say, 30 minutes to scroll makes you more likely to skip past posts that don’t really interest you. You’ll become much more selective about what you give your time and attention to.
- Supplements: This is a big one for me because, of whatever reason, it’s always hard for me to remember to take my supplements. I take a number of them, so I’ve come to divide them, taking some with lunch and some with dinner. I portion them out ahead of time (usually in the morning) so that they’re all ready for me. I also leave them out on the counter, visible, which serves as a reminder.
- Mornings: I’ve mentioned in previous posts just how important I believe a morning routine is (you can read more about it here). The way we start our day really sets the tone for how the day progresses. Start the day in a pleasant, peaceful way and you’re likely to continue to feel those things throughout the day; start off feeling overwhelmed and scattered and those anxious feelings tend to persist throughout the day. That being the case, creating a morning routine that grounds and supports us, one that is consistent and automatic, is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves. It doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. Maybe you like to start the day with a hot lemon water, then do a few stretches. Perhaps, like me, you prefer to begin the day with a short meditation. You may wish to spend a few minutes reading something inspirational or journaling a bit. Whatever you like, make it automatic and not something that you have to think about. It’ll be that much easier to stick to it.
- Evenings: The same idea applies to our evening rituals. It might be a walk with your dog after dinner. Do you enjoy reading with a cup of chamomile tea before turning in for the night? Taking a hot Epsom salt bath (link)? Maybe you like to meditate at night, as a way to calm the mind. Over time, this kind of evening ritual will signal to the body that it’s time to wind down from the day and prepare for a restful night’s sleep. And a good, restorative sleep pattern is something we can all benefit from!
These are just a few suggestions. I’m sure that you’ll find many others that support you. The important thing is that we understand how and when going on autopilot will serve us well and free up some of our valuable time and energy throughout the day. Very likely, you’ll continue to tweak these routines and rituals as life unfolds and your needs change. The idea is to conserve our mental resources and create more ease and space in our life.
I hope that these ideas serve you and I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on this topic. Please feel free to comment below and have a wonderful, Wellegant weekend!