Have you ever arrived at the office or returned home without remembering any details of the trip you just took? I think it has happened to all of us more than once: we go out, wait at the bus stop, get on the bus or train, walk a few meters and when we reach the entrance to the building we think: “Wow, I'm at home!"
The same happens when we have to drive for hours on a road that we do regularly every day. This is because autopilot is triggered. Engaging on "autopilot" is a popular expression which essentially means letting ourselves be guided by the habits we have established over time.
Thus, we know what we need to do even if different brain areas become disconnected, especially those related to decision making. When the habit is activated, there is no need to think anymore, we perform all actions automatically, unless something changes in the classic routine.
First, putting the autopilot on is useful because it will allow the brain to take a break, since it is not necessary to plan one by one the actions needed to complete a task. In fact, you can imagine how tiring it would be to have to think about each of the steps to follow when bathing, brushing your teeth or driving your car. These are activities that, through practice, have been automated, freeing our cognitive resources to invest them in another activity. So using the autopilot saves us some work and helps us rest.
The downside of using the autopilot
Even if habits are advantages, when most of the day is spent on autopilot it is a warning signal that we should not underestimate. We cannot forget that habits are just that, habits, and do not allow us to grow and improve as individuals.
In fact, these are repetitive activities that must be done but which are not particularly informative, enjoyable or fun. Working with the autopilot always on is like watching life on a screen and letting it flow by looking at it from the outside, as if it were a film that takes place in front of our eyes, but in which the characters are others and we limit ourselves. to be mere spectators. The problem is… we cannot be passive spectators of our life!
When we abuse autopilot, we are missing out on the opportunity to grow, to learn something new, or simply to realize what is happening around us. For example, there are many ways to make the way from home to work: we can travel it with autopilot on, without paying attention to what is happening around us, or we can use this time to stimulate our senses by choosing to do it once in a while. in time a different road.
In fact, is one of the tricks that neuropsychologists recommend to keep our brains active and prevent neurodegenerative diseases always choosing new paths?
Autopilot in social situations
There are times when we don't just put on autopilot when we are alone, but we also use it when we are in the company of others. These are times when we feel absent and we simply respond mechanically when we are asked a question.
As you can imagine, the people around us notice this lack of interest and the apathy we show, and they act accordingly. Therefore, putting on autopilot when we find ourselves immersed in certain social contexts usually generates a lot of problems. Furthermore, it is almost always an alarm signal since it indicates the rejection of the situation. For some reason, we don't like being there and so we avoid reality by putting it on autopilot.
In these cases, it is necessary to carry out an in-depth analysis by asking ourselves if it always happens with the same people or only in certain contexts. If you dig a little inside you may be surprised at what you can discover.
In short, habits are necessary and impossible to give them up, but every now and then we should pause to think about whether we have used too much autopilot in the past few days.