To find yourself, think for yourself. – Socrates
Do you recognise any of these?
You are bored with life and yourself
Your daily routine is virtually the same – every single day
You no longer do the things you used to love doing
You don’t remember doing something you just did
You do things without thinking what you are doing
You never look forward to the day ahead
You have absolutely no enthusiasm for anything
You have difficulty letting go
You lack focus
You spend too much time in mindless activities
You can’t remember when you last planned something and carried it through
You never seem to have enough time for everything
You just know there must be something better out there
Some of them? All of them? Well, don’t feel bad if you as there was a time when I could say a big fat ‘YES!’ to every one of these and more, because I was operating on autopilot, and if you can similarly affirm then you could be too.
So, what causes us to operate on autopilot? Well, as I said here the unconscious mind is a mighty powerful thing and it works unceasingly to ensure that our behaviour aligns with our thoughts, needs and aspirations, which it diligently memorises and stores and then trots out when it believes they are required. It is also, however, a tad inclined towards saving itself as much energy as possible because it has so much to do and wants the quickest, most energy saving solution it can get for us.
I guess it’s understandable, after all consensus is that we remotely consciously process up to 35,000 decisions a day, which is a huge amount for it to deal with, and it needs to do so in the most efficient way possible. Theoretically, of course, it has to work so very hard to ensure that we are free to deal with up to about seven conscious decisions at a time – although anyone who has ever witnessed me standing in front of a chill cabinet in Marks & Spencer, trying to decide on either ham, cheese and pickle or egg and bacon, could quite legitimately suggest that I am barely able to arrive at one …
So far so good until we have a little look at what else it has to look after. How about your comfort zone? Indeed, neatly filed away and catalogued to be brought into play when our unconscious mind thinks we are in danger and tries to protect us! And it will always act to so protect us, heading us off from making any divergence from what it understands is our safe, unenergetic norm!
Anyway, as our unconscious mind deals with the 35,000 (and I stagger around trying to manage the one), it also maintains a strict vigilance of our comfort zones and if we start to stray from our norm then it will bring into play a few tricks to make us feel extremely uncomfortable – both physically and mentally. The result being that we stay exactly where we are instead of trying something different.
So how is that we let the little tinker get away with quite so much?
Well, most of our ruminations go on in the background of our consciousness, and we are not actually aware of the many messages and instructions we are sending through each day. If we have a maelstrom of emotions and negativity swirling around and don’t know that we are having them, the only messages feeding to our unconscious are in the main of the negative variety. So you see just why the unconscious mind uses that material to process as our norm, and we end up stuck in a perpetual rut of sameness.
As an example, what about your route to work? Do you take the same one every day? I used to – because I believed it to be far easier to follow the path of least resistance. I knew where I was going and roughly how long it would take and, quite frankly, didn’t have the energy for any geographical explorations at that hour! And that was the instruction my unconscious mind had tucked away. So if, one fine morning, I thought about maybe doing something different then my unconscious mind would kick in and try to persuade me otherwise with, it has to be said, a high degree of success!
How about the expensive designer coffee rut? I had a bit of a wobble last year with my sleep patterns badly disrupted. I remember it quite well, arriving at the station and doing a quick sidestep into the coffee shop. One extra strong cappuccino made my rather tired and tedious journey seem that little bit better. Needless to say I did the same the next day! After a couple of weeks my wobble had gone, sleep had improved, energy levels had risen but my bank balance continued to lose three pounds every day – because I was still getting the coffee! Two months after that I was still getting the coffee! Why? Because I had gotten completely comfortable with the idea that coffee would help make my journey better! And that’s how easy it is, without even realising, to send the wrong message through to your unconscious.
And on it goes – we rarely choose our thoughts – instead we leave it to our unconscious mind and blindly accept whatever it gives us to use. We then in turn take those thoughts and translate into our belief system through repetitive behaviour.
Now, I accept that a boring journey to work and an expensive coffee habit are not the worst things that can happen but imagine, for one moment, that you are in the process of a highly emotional experience – let’s say a low mood – I think we’ve all had those and more often than not manage to move out of them. But what if you can’t? What if it goes on longer than usual? Low creates low, and rather than rise out you sink further into it. Before you realise you are in a long tunnel of darkness – you can’t see where you have been and you certainly can’t see where you are going. What if the journey along the tunnel lasts for months?
Then imagine coming out of the tunnel – perhaps not into bright light but a fuzzy greyness. You have no idea how you got here because everything has been the same for such a long period of time. The greyness doesn’t last long and then you find yourself in a tunnel again – only this time it isn’t just dark – it is total and utter blackness. Again, you can’t see behind you and you can’t see in front of you – the landscape is the same whichever way you look.
Now what if the landscape is your mental state – the blackness is the sameness. If you are in this state of black sameness for such an extended period then you stop differentiating between light and dark – you become completed detached from your emotional state and don’t even notice that you have slipped into a self-perpetuating downward cycle of lower and lower mood.
And that is the destructive power of living on autopilot – the narrowing of the gap between our conscious and unconscious mind. Where our unconscious mind encroaches upon our ability to make conscious decisions – such as turning away from the entrance of the tunnel, if you like.
But it doesn’t have to be like that – there is a way out and I’ll be discussing this in my next post, where you will find, among other things, my personal exit strategy has rather a lot to do with bells!