Pilot Your Own Life or Auto-Pilot?

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
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Pilot Your Own Life or Auto-Pilot?

Debbie Featherstone | www.debbiefeatherstone.com
Published by Debbie Featherstone in Discovering Series · Sunday 17 Mar 2019
Tags: autopilotmindwandering
Who’s in charge of your life? What happens when you give up the pilot’s seat to another? What happens when you get wrapped up in the stuff of life, mind-wandering, worrying, ruminating, day-dreaming, imagining ... your plane is on auto-pilot.

Did you know most of us spend almost 50% of our awake time in autopilot mode? 46.9% according to an article in Psychology Today https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/your-brain-work/201011/new-study-shows-humans-are-autopilot-nearly-half-the-time

When in autopilot mode, you are not piloting your own life. Rather, you become particularly susceptible to taking on others’ views without validating for yourself whether you agree or not, whether they are in fact true or not. And who’s to say what’s true for another person is true for you, or for me?

Being in autopilot mode, we make automatic judgements. We don’t consider what we are judging, we simply react “in judgement”.

These two aspects of life are what we are doing nearly half the time we are awake!

So what about the other 50% of our waking time? Are we piloting our lives responsibly enough to be licensed? Would you set foot on a real plane if you knew for 50% of the flight, the pilot wasn’t paying attention?

Maybe you would if you were still in autopilot yourself, auto-judging that “he’s the pilot, so he must know what he’s doing”. Sadly, spending as much time as we do in an unthinking, mind-wandering state, we leave ourselves at the mercy of arbitrary decisions that have consequences for us and those close to us.

Test Your Autopilot!

Here’s an easy test you can use to see how long you can stay out of autopilot mode.

Focus on your breath - breathe a natural breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Not a deep breath - totally natural depth and natural rhythm. Ok, now you know what to do, set a stop watch to zero. As you begin breathing, start the stop watch.

Breathe in through the nose - cool air, breathe out through the mouth - warm air. Again, and again. Continue focusing on the cool air as you breathe it in through your nose and out through your mouth.

As soon as you notice your mind wandering, thinking about anything other than the feel of the air as you breathe in and out, stop the stop watch.

If you managed to do this for a whole minute, well done! Most people don’t even manage 20 seconds of it to start with!

In fact, this is the breathing exercise everyone I work with, whatever they come to me for, starts with. Though the reason isn’t to test their autopilot kick-in time!

*The breathing exercise done regularly (minimum 3-6 times each day) alters your neurobiology reducing arousal (stress activation) and simultaneously increases ventral vagal parasympathetic nervous system activity (calm activation/relaxation).

Try it yourself! With practice, the autopilot kick-in time extends too.

*This exercise is #Practical 1 for the Tinnitus E-Programme, De-Program Anxiety (both online interventions) and in all my 1-1 clinics.


Debbie Featherstone MSc Hearing Therapy | Psychotherapy & CBT Specialist

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