What You've Missed

Escape your autopilot and Wake Up!

I am constantly amazed by how we make this life harder than it needs to be. We have everything we need to lead the most extraordinary lives and yet part of our make up never lets us truly embrace it. We spend 99,117 hours of our lifetime at work yet only 6 minutes a day laughing. Every day should be a ball. If you’re not enjoying your work; you are wasting life and indeed the life of others around you.

A recent IBM survey of more than 1,500 CEO’s reported that creativity is the single most important leadership quality facing the complex business world of today. One of the hurdles preventing people realising their creative potential is the impact our exciting, endlessly innovative world has upon us.

The nature of life is such that we get carried away with our own busyness. Jobs become a big part of who we are and the way in which we manage our time means that we are constantly on the go. Much of our time is spent thinking about the past and the future and not about the present because our minds are overloaded.

Every day we are bombarded by ever-increasing amounts of stimulus. “We now consume about 100,000 words each day from various media, which is a whopping 350 percent increase, measured in bytes, over what we handled back in 1980,” explains the journalist Winifred Gallagher. To cope, we overindulge in sugary foods, caffeine and alcohol and then escape into the world of social media, television, gaming and film. By protecting ourselves with numbness we are dulling parts of our senses and our reactions to the outside world.

We therefore spend much of our lives asleep or on standby.

It’s a waking sleep, where we look as if we are functioning perfectly and seem very efficient. However, we are anything but conscious. We are on autopilot, going through the motions.

Malcom Gladwell shares a succinct explanation in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking: “[Research] suggests that what we think of as free will is largely an illusion: Much of the time, we are simply operating on automatic pilot, and the way we think and act – and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment – are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realize.”

A few years ago, in a survey conducted by an accident prevention charity, 80% of respondents admitted to going through life on autopilot; arriving at the end of a car journey with no memory of driving there, buying the same item twice without realising, even turning up at the office on a day off. Some days we arrive at work and the next time we are aware is when we leave. Days, weeks and even years can seem to fly by as our habit loops take over and live our lives for us. Although this is efficient on energy, it means that we often live in a dulled state and are therefore not as conscious or aware of ourselves and the world we live in.

We are zombie worker-ants.

Our brains are designed to snap onto autopilot. Sometimes.

We have all experienced driving a long distance and arriving at the destination without remembering large chunks of the journey. This is our body’s clever way of saving fuel. Our conscious brain is a gas guzzling V8 engine; when we concentrate hard, we tire quickly, like when we learn a new language or instrument.

To be more efficient we need to get our subconscious to run the show when we can: It ticks over more like a Tesla. Our subconscious saves energy by looking at what we are experiencing now and seeing if it looks familiar. If it does, it assumes it’s the same as yesterday and behaves identically to before. 

When we drive a car, we recognise the wheel, road and whole experience as similar to before and therefore our subconscious, or autopilot, takes over. This happens not only when we drive, but unfortunately when we go to work, with our loved ones and living our lives.

As we become more habituated doing what we always do, we are not seeing and utilising the unique context of the moment. Our lives become a blur.

Due to the increasingly frenetic nature of our lives it is likely that as they become more complicated and 24 seven, the time we spend on autopilot will rocket sky high.

If we manufacture a better balance between the two systems of our brains we can break the cycle. The secret in finding this balance is to deliberately experiment with new and rich experiences that pique our attention and help us connect more with ourselves and the world in which we live.

Wake Up! is there to help us find these moments more frequently. A series of human, playful exercises designed to help you switch off autopilot and engage with the world around you. Introduce the exercises into your life, one by one over a period of a few days, or dip in as feels right for you. These are not meant as another thing on your to-do list, but as a bit of fun to open up your heart and mind.

Come watch me at Mindshare's Huddle on the 9th November 2017 where I will be presenting on behalf of ITV and sharing insights into how we find meaning, purpose and authenticity in a post-human society.

By Chris Baréz-Brown, author, speaker and founder of Upping Your Elvis