Our brain can adopt different modes of operating depending on the situation we find ourselves in. One of the most dangerous modes is the autopilot. When we are in autopilot, we are not really engaged with our lives, and we are not present for big chunks of our day-to-day.
Here are six signs that you are running through life on auto-pilot.
Frustration with every small thing
The first sign is that you are very often annoyed by small things in your daily life. You might get very angry over small delays or mild inconveniences. This could show that you are too plugged into a routine and feel deep frustration when it is not running smoothly. It also wears you down and makes you feel more tired than you would feel otherwise.
Instead: try to recognize and appreciate the small things in your daily life. Appreciate the things you see, feel, savor, or do. Pay more attention to the nice and interesting things around you and all the experiences you can have.
You keep working through lunch, dinner, and supposed leisure time
When you are working too much, you can feel tired and disengaged at the same time. Your brain is so focused on working that this becomes all that you do. Consider also if you keep on thinking about work when at home or resting. This is also something that can be contributing to your fatigue.
Instead: set boundaries between work and everything else. Disconnect while on lunch breaks and when at home, if your work allows it, or do it as much as you can. Give yourself permission to think about other things beyond work.
You are missing out on life for work
Work is important. For many people, it brings meaning and not just money. But even so, work is not all there is to life. Another sign you are on autopilot is that you constantly say no to things like being with the people you love or having experiences in favor of working. Sure, you might not always be able to make it everywhere, but if you can’t make it anywhere, something might be going wrong.
Instead: make space during your week for time with your loved ones and experiences. Try to prioritize your own time and desires as well as work whenever you can. You need to disconnect and do things beyond just working, or else you find yourself at risk of burning out.
You do the same things day after day
A routine can save us a lot of brainpower and energy, but there can come a point when it’s too draining. We feel caught up in the same patterns and have a hard time distinguishing the days from one another. This can also drain our resources, because we need to have novelty and variation in our days even if we use a routine as a tool too.
Instead: You can try to infuse little bits of novelty into your day. Try a new meal or take a new route home. Do something novel on your lunch break.
Take a new course or watch a film that is unlike your usual fare. By infusing bits of novelty, you can help yourself stay grounded in the present and avoid autopilot mode because the brain enjoys these new things and engages with them more willingly.
You always feel tired
It’s normal to feel tired after a difficult day, but you should not feel tired every morning too. Fatigue can be a sign that something is going wrong and that you are not truly present or engaged with your daily life.
Instead: make sure you are getting enough sleep. Sleep is a foundational thing we need to be OK and to be able to enjoy and stay present rather than disconnected. Consider if you are getting enough hours of sleep every night and what you can do to sleep more and improve your sleep quality too.
You don’t feel good about your life
Autopilot can make us functional, but might make it harder for us to truly feel present and enjoy what we do. Even during fun or enjoyable experiences, we might feel like we are not all there. If you don’t feel at all happy or content with your life, then it’s a sign that work is not making you happy.
Instead: evaluate your priorities. How are you using your time? Where can you make changes? Consider whether you can feel OK with the way your life is at the moment if it continues exactly how it is. Ask yourself what changes you can make to feel better, more rested, and more present to fully enjoy your time.