Some people do spring cleaning annually; for others, it’s a continual clean-out process. The impending change of seasons and a little downtime brought an opportunity to re-evaluate and, quite frankly, re-invent. Those of you that know me can appreciate I’m all about improvement and efficiency.
As the weather finally turned here in NC, I took the opportunity to organize and cull my closet. As I moved aside the colder weather clothes and made room for the spring edit, I decided it was a good time to implement a few new systems.
Does anyone else have Pinterest boards with organizing ideas? Or you’ve pinned one of those Instagram videos showing how to fold items best? There’s nothing I love better than a good system and a well-organized space. Organizing lights me up, and I regularly volunteer to help my sister with her closet. It’s so much easier when it’s someone else’s stuff, LOL.
Following the clean-out, I decided to replicate a drawer inspiration. Well, it’s been well over two weeks now, and darn it if I still l don’t reach for socks in what is now the Marie Kondo workout drawer. No lie. It got me thinking about why it takes so long to adjust when we initiate change. And I’m talking about all changes from our desire to eat better, work out, start a meditation practice, whatever your desired change might be.
Part of the issue with change is that we live on autopilot. What is autopilot? Autopilot is a state or condition in which activity or behavior is regulated automatically in a predetermined or instinctive manner. One study of 2,000 adults found that 94% regularly function on autopilot four times weekly for almost 3 hours daily. It’s estimated that almost 11 hours a week or 23 days a year are spent in this “mindless” state doing the same thing day in and day out.
Not sure you agree with the statistic? Think about the last time you drove to work or a familiar route. How often have you ended up somewhere and realized you hadn’t been thinking about the drive when you got there? Yes, four years of the average adult life are spent doing things without real thought or concentration.
Do you operate on of autopilot because you are so good at what you do and no longer need to give things real thought? Or because you are stuck in the same old routine of thoughts and behavior, feel tired and lethargic? Two totally reasons behind autopilot. The goal is to avoid operating like programmed, living, breathing computers and robots. I’m curious, how often are you doing something on auto-pilot, what is it, and would you like to get off autopilot?
In your mind, what is the difference between operating on auto-pilot versus being in a rut?
I don’t know about you, but being in a rut is about going through the motions, feeling numb, and not feeling like you are living life to the fullest. It has more of a negative connotation. While autopilot is typically thought of as only a few steps higher than a rut, I feel like we can use autopilot to our advantage. The reason being is sometimes autopilot lacks effort. Who’s for making things effortless? I think routines can be super helpful, mainly when they are “good for you” routines. Right? How cool is it when you can put your self-improvement routine or health building on auto-pilot?
The more we do something good for us over and over, the more the neurons in our brain fire to create a synaptic connection. You’ve probably heard the saying, “neurons that wire together fire together”? The more you do something, the stronger the connection becomes. They also become faster and more efficient. Things become easier. Now, this is great if you are learning a new skill like a language or an instrument, but when you have a behavior that does not support your well-being, it works against you. Essentially those neurons maintain our habits, good and bad, and the more we do a particular thing, the further it strengthens the neural circuits.
Let’s talk about autopilot and synaptic pruning, the brain’s process of pruning away connections between neurons that don’t get used and instead focusing on improving connections that get used more frequently. First, how do we break patterns that need interruption, and then how can we use autopilot to replace them with something more positive to improve our self-care routine?
Interrupt negative patterns.
Change is difficult. We are creatures of habit because there is security in routine. When the routine isn’t beneficial, and you create negative patterns, eventually, they lead to problems. If you live in a chaotic mess or your food is consistently wired for junk, you have unfortunately set your autopilot to self-destruction.
I referenced food and our environment but also think about other ways your life might be on autopilot? Maybe it’s your thoughts – are your judgmental, insecure, or negative? How are your self-care/ grooming practices? What about your exercise routine or lack thereof? The way you deal with stress? There are so many ways we put our life on auto-pilot.
So what does it take to get off autopilot when things aren’t heading in your desired direction? Two words. Radical change. LOL. Seriously though. To get off autopilot, we need to interrupt the pattern purposefully. We need to break the normal routine, even if you like it. If it’s not ultimately taking you to your goal, it’s got to go. So how do we do that? How do we create a new auto-pilot that is health and well-being-promoting? We reprogram by consistently replacing negative patterns with positive ones. Easier said than done, right? I know.
Change requires effort. You are resisting well-established behaviors and working against your unconscious. So it’s going to require resilience, planning, and support. This is big work. After all, you want to make big life changes that involve abandoning the way you’ve always done things and developing a new habit or skill.
Several years ago, I knew I had a problem. My office is next door to the house, so I consciously try to go to town to see more of the world. One morning I went to Hardee’s for a country ham biscuit. The Hardees here is quite interesting – each morning, a group of retirees gathers to start their day together. I had decided to eat my biscuit inside, so one of the gentlemen was chatting with the new girl. The biscuit was really good, and I decided to go back the next day.
This time the girl at the register was like a country ham biscuit. She remembered me from the day before. By the end of the week, I realized I had been there five days in a row. My car was literally turning out of the driveway and going to Hardee’s every morning for my biscuit. One biscuit every once in a while is great, but this biscuit obsession had replaced my oatmeal and apples and set me up to work against my health goals.
So how do you interrupt autopilot and course correct? I’m going to give you a three-step process. Because I like acronyms to help me remember the acronym: POA. No, it’s not power of attorney. It’s Pause, One, Associate.
Pause and reflect. Take notice of what you are doing that you want to change. The status quo is comfy. When you reflect, you might not be ready and willing to make a change yet, but you decide your future goal. When we want to break habits, we must consciously choose to do that. This involves stepping back, looking at the bigger picture, and using our higher brain to reflect on where our actions are taking us. We need to decide what we want instead. And we need to be able to envision how our life will improve if we make the change. Making a note of this will motivate me to get out of the cycle.
I knew my goal was to be a healthy woman that didn’t make food choices on auto-pilot. I wanted to give my body the right fuel to power me through the day and help me achieve my physical fitness goals. The problem was I was getting a dopamine hit each morning. It was like those lab mice that push the button for food. LOL. The flour lit me up, and the fact that people knew me and were happy to see me.
What is your goal to accomplish in the long run? It has to have some meaning for you to want to commit to your new habits too. Goals have a few facets. They can be practical, they can be feeling-based or emotionally driven, or they can be both.
So how would I break this habit that had become ingrained and work towards my new goal? One of the best books I’ve read on making change is Atomic Habits by James Clear. Consider adding it to your list if you haven’t already read this. It is full of tips on introducing new habits and replacing old ones.
One of the first things James says is when we try to change too many things at once, it breaks our focus, and we become confused and overwhelmed. So that leads me to the O in POA. One.
If you want to reach a goal, you need to break your goals into miniature achievable habits. A great place to start is choosing to do one thing differently. Whether that’s driving a different way to work if your default is pulling into Starbucks, it could be choosing to eat the rainbow (of veggies, not skittles) if your goal is to incorporate more healthy foods. It’s way easier to say I will eat colors rather than come up with some elaborate meal plan. It may be getting one mile in a day walking. Whatever you choose but pick only one thing to start with.
Another tip James Clear has is habit stacking. This is where you build new habits by taking advantage of the old ones. It looks like slipping your new habit into an existing routine, so doing one thing automatically triggers the next step. Synaptic pruning occurs with every habit you build. Likely you have very strong habits and connections you take daily for granted. For example, brushing your teeth. You do this first thing, probably without even thinking. Right? Take advantage of your solid habits and use them to your favor.
One of my goals was to start drinking warm lemon ginger water each morning. The warm water is very hydrating, lemon is alkalizing, and ginger reduces inflammation. Incidentally, warm lemon water is excellent to sip on throughout the day as it helps stimulate agni or digestion. So, each morning I was already in the habit of grabbing water from the fridge before heading out the door. I added precut lemon wedges and ginger to the refrigerator to take advantage of that habit and placed a kettle by the fridge. All the pieces were in place, so adding the warm drink to my routine was easy. That’s an example of how you can pair your new desired habit with a current habit.
What might this look like for you if you want to start a regular journaling or meditation practice? Perhaps it’s, “After I pour my cup of coffee, I will meditate for five minutes as it cools”. How about adding more physical fitness to your routine? “After I get out of my work clothes, I’ll immediately put on workout clothes. “
Simply linking habits allows you to take advantage of strong connections already built into your brain, and you’ll be more likely to stick with the new behavior. I love the quote by Charles Noble, “First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” So master one, then you can add another and create a larger habit stack until your habits create the new identity you are seeking.
Next A. Accountability. The power of having support as you try to get off auto-pilot can’t be overstated. What does this look like? Support groups, community, like The Clarity Club Membership, and an accountability buddy. Whether it’s family, friends, or coworkers, commit to the new action you are trying to get on auto-pilot. Sharing your goals and habits gives an extra layer of help when your mind tries to go back to the old patterns.
So how did my drawer story end up? After about a month, my brain automatically started opening the correct drawer without me having to think about the change. LOL. You see, although we are creatures of habit, we are also creatures of change and adaptation. Adaptivity is our superpower, and all we have to do is harness it for positive changes.
So whether it’s improving your health and self-care practices, finances, getting organized, or pursuing a project on your “one-day when I have time” list. Start reprogramming your auto-pilot and see how it improves your well-being.
Now that I’ve adjusted to the drawer situation, what’s my next goal? Changing my diet to 80% plant-based by this May. If you want to know why 80%, you’ll have to message me or read Atomic Habits 😊 And, committing here on the podcast to you is my way of implementing the accountability aspect.
Until our next chat, I wish you clarity as your get off auto-pilot for the things that aren’t serving you and reprogram your health to a new more beneficial course corrected auto-pilot and start reaping the benefits of naturally choosing healthy behaviors and actions because that’s what your brain has been trained to do easy and effortlessly!