Is Your Brain on Autopilot? Here's How to Re-Engage and Think Big.
It's Saturday, and you've been looking forward to a friend's party for weeks. You pile into the car, ready to unwind, but five minutes into the drive you realize you've zoned out and unwittingly taken the route to work.
Has something similar ever happened to you? You automatically slip into a routine and start doing something and you don't realize until a minute later you've done it?
That's called autopilot, and most of us are on it. Autopilot governs what we do every day and in many cases, it's for the best, preventing us from wasting a lot of energy on reoccurring tasks. But as much as it serves us, it's also the reason we miss out on new opportunities and fly through day after day without much deeper introspection about why we do things a certain way. One clinical study showed how autopilot literally cost people money: researchers placed money in easy to reach branches of a tree and observed people walking by it, oblivious to the payday hanging overhead.
But autopilot can be a huge asset. The key isn't to deny it, it's to actively program it so when your unconscious mental processor kicks in, it's guiding you to the exact growth-minded behaviors you want it to. You want your autopilot to be constantly course-correcting without you consciously thinking about it.
So how do you program your autopilot sensors? By creating your primary question. Every human being wakes up every day with a primary question. You might wake up on Monday, and your primary question is to work through a leads list. Or on Tuesday it might be to deliver a presentation. But instead of making those day-specific tasks your primary question, your primary question should stay the same every day. Your question should be the fuel for your job tasks, rather than the tasks themselves.
In other words, your primary question is the foundation for your autopilot. It mentally centers you on exactly what you need to do in a given situation. If you’re pulled away from your primary goal, then you know exactly how to find your way back. So, here’s how to program your primary question into your autopilot.
1. Identify your primary question
What is your main purpose for each day? What's the big picture of what you're trying to accomplish? If you’re in sales, your primary question might be, “How can I move a sale forward today?” If you’re a doctor, your primary question might be, “How can I save a life today?” Clearly define the highest primary purpose for each day and build your primary question from there. Then slowly start weeding out tasks and behaviors that don't align with that primary question.
2. Find your “why" to reprogram your autopilot
I believe that when you put a “why” behind everything you do, you’re able to see the impact and importance of your actions. Why is mastering your primary question important to you? Why will this question be your fuel for success? Why do you need your focus on this question in order to improve your life?
3. Put your primary question into action
When you focus on your primary question every single day, it becomes your autopilot. Everything you do each day should circle back to this question. If you feel yourself being pulled off task, your primary question kicks in and you start automatically searching for a road back. When you actively program your actions to connect with your purpose, your autopilot kicks in and steers you back on track.
4. Commit and be consistent
Your primary question is only valuable if it’s used intentionally and consistently. This requires a total way of thinking -- you need to commit to seeing every one of your tasks through the lens of your primary question, which will allow your brain to go into autopilot mode when something doesn’t go to plan. Instead of panicking about an opportunity falling through or a stumble in your day, your brain will be trained to resort to autopilot mode and keep you moving forward.
Start programming your own sensors to work for you, not against you, and your autopilot will never steer you wrong.