The best advice I ever gave

It’s been a while since the last post, but for this great news I had to overcome my writer’s block.

Anne Wafer just published a great new resource: Barbara Sher’s new E-book:

The Best Advice I Ever Gave – 94 essential tips for making your dreams come true – by Barbara Sher

The best advice I ever gave_Barbara_Sher

It’s a book for everybody. If you are interested in Barbara Sher’s work or not doesn’t matter. It’s wisdom for life in a nutshell. Or as one comment put it: “… and trust me: you’ll wish you’d been handed this list at birth.” 🙂

Just go here: http://www.beyond-mountains.com/barbara-shers-e-book-launched and buy it. No need to ask any questions for this unbeatable price, too.

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The big, dirty secret

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February was the month dedicated to checking on what we need to pack into our bundle when we start to head off into the direction of our WiRP or wish-realization project. We talked already about how important it is to let go of the “no pain, no gain” strategy, how to cure the “Lone-Rider-Syndrome” and the importance of Serendipity.

And now I’m about to reveal the dirty secret not so many people talk about when it comes to following your own path to go for your wish.

The one thing that already sneaks around the corner and will most probably stay with you the entire way is – [BIG drum roll] –

20160226_Self_doubt

It comes uninvited, and you don’t even have to pack it into your bundle. It’s there inevitably, and it appears the very moment you start to think or speak about your wish and that you want to realize it.

Of course, we need to believe in our wish. We need to feel the positive vibes that invite us to go into that very direction. We need the excitement, the tingle, the sparkling promise. And it is there!

But what I find not – well – quite honest is to tell people that it is about happiness, how great it feels to be on the way and how wonderful it is to follow your passion ALL THE TIME.

Putting high expectations on us

This evokes very high expectations, plus you might feel like a failure if you are not happy, happy all along the way. If you are in a bad mood from time to time, you may even believe that this is a sign that your wish is not your TRUE wish. Self-doubt may turn into WiRP- doubt. And you may even stop following through. And this is based on a FATAL ERROR!

Because I still have to find the one person on this way who is not plagued with self-doubt at least from time to time. (And is also no self-centered, narcissistic idiot.)

Yesterday evening I was sitting together with a group of small business owners and solopreneurs I meet regularly to exchange experiences and to talk about our projects and ideas. I brought up the topic of frequently thinking that being a freelancer is a really, really bad idea. And I asked if they feel like this, too. The best reply I got this evening was: “If you believe it is only you. – This is hubris!”

Sometimes self-doubt even stops you in your tracks. And this is OK, too. (Even if it may be difficult to accept.) It is exhausting to go this way step after step after step after step. To stay on track even if just another obstacle appears in front of us.

We are no machines

We are no machines. We need rest, we need reassurance. We need people in our corner who are there for us when we doubt. Not those folks who look at us and say: “Well if you feel like this, you’d better stop. I thought it was a bad idea in the first place!”
(This is the tribe of the “told-you-so”-people. Try to stay away from them – it’s a dangerous and voracious species.)

Instead, look for people who understand what you are going through. Who are on a particular path following their inner compass, too. Who also try to forge a hand-crafted life.

So what to do if self-doubt strikes back?
My starting point is reflecting and trying to understand it.

  • Isolate the problem. Check it out:
    What am I feeling exactly? What thoughts do I have?
  • When did the doubting start? Is there a specific trigger?
  • Is there something that needs to be addressed?
    Maybe a real problem that needs to be solved but I’m too afraid to deal with it?
  • When was the last time I did give myself a break?
    Are my other needs met?
  • Do I take good care of my body? Do I move it? Do I eat well? Do I drink enough?
    (Cosmopolitans or tequilas count only if you drank them with friends on a night out.)
  • When did I meet friends and did not talk the entire time about my WiRP?
  • Is anybody around who hugs me frequently? Just because.
  • Are questions of self-worth or confidence mingled in?
    Be careful there, because these are different topics. They may be related, but self-doubt also comes to people with higher levels of self-confidence. They only handle it differently.
  • You may also try more body-centered techniques: Relaxation techniques, breathing exercises. Take a walk in nature. Anything that relaxes you and feeds your other needs besides your wish-related activities.
  • Talk to your “Right people”: Empathic friends or family members, people who understand based on their own experiences or a coach.

Self-doubt is the other side of the coin.

And tomorrow is another day.

How to cure “Lone-Rider-Syndrome”

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The “Lone-rider-syndrome” is a severe condition that can eventually have serious side effects. I know what I am talking about as I suffered from this condition for quite some time.

The symptoms of the syndrome are:

  • Managing things and doing tasks alone is the default setting.
  • Avoiding to ask for help.
  • The strong believe that lone riders are strong figures.
    That it is admirable to achieve things alone.
  • Still feeling often alone and without support.
  • Underestimating the impact of effects not related to what you do.
    E.g. being simply fortunate or not realizing what others actually do for you.

The longer you are affected by this synrome the more manifest the situation becomes. Over time you turn into a real “Lone rider”.

This attitude of preventing to ask for help brings you a lot of very, very exhausting experiences! Oh my! In order to prevent all the negative emotions that were connected to asking and receiving help I simply tried to avoid it altogether. Some time ago now I finally started  to look a bit deeper into the issue of “getting/ asking for help”. I was really surprised to find out actually how bad all this can make me feel. (More details? Read here.)

It can be really challenging and difficult to ask for help. Sometimes because you have learned that asking for help is only for losers. Maybe because you only got half-hearted advice, because the person you asked was not listening properly to you. Or you experienced that it was not worth the effort. Because not only were you not getting help, but the thing you wanted support for was ridiculed.

I try now to ask for help more. And the most important impact came with  the start of my coaching training. An important part of our course was to co-coach within our group. This way we know how our future clients will feel, when we work with them. (“You can’t teach an experience!”) So I was forced to ask for help, because every coaching session needs a topic, right? It was dreadful in the beginning for me. My inner lone rider was in a very bad mood about all of this and was constantly trying to talk me out of it. (“Come on, we can do this better on our own!”)

I learned a lot from these sessions: Problems that I had turned over and over in my head were actually solved within one or two sessions. I learned new things. I was introduced to tools I could use in the future to ease things up. I learned a lot about how I see things and that there are other -more helpful- perspectives possible.

There were also some other lessons on help in general coming from this experience:

Ask the right person. Ask only somebody who is open to your problem. Don’t actively go to those people who usually stick a needle in your colourful balloon.

The only person that needs to feel good about the offered solution is you. If the problem is not solved for you. You can ask somewhere else

Asking for help could be one of the biggest connectors to other people. It is a good way to get in touch. Most people love to help when you ask them.

If you are a VCP (= Very Curious Person) like me, asking for help can lead you to new topics you want to explore. This is such a great added value!

I wish I’d known much, much earlier that asking the right person for help is a game changer. Still my “lone rider” loves to challenge me when I ask for help. Sometimes he manages that I forget about this option completely again. He can still put me in a bad mood when I “discover” that I need support. But hey, I’m recovering from a severe syndrome. It just takes time.

If you feel like you have nobody you can ask for help, search for the “right people”. It’s really important! Your not supposed to feel so lonely. Start with it now.

Isolation is the dream killer.

Barbara Sher

Serendipity or You’ll never know what will shape your life

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The interesting thing with writing is that it sometimes surprises you where an article leads you. Take this one about serendipity. It was on my “to-write”-list for a longer time already and I planned it to be all cheerful and jolly. So let’s see…

How a magazine article changed my life

Doesn’t it sound wonderfully melodramatic? I wanted to write this line for so long, because it has happened to me. Summer 2011 – Me on my balcony, reading a RED magazine article: “One woman, one overcrowded wish list”. It’s about Barbara Sher’s book “Refuse to choose” and I’m hooked. I order the book and read through it in one go. After that it’s clear: I’m a scanner! But of course I have “real life things” to do and decide it’s not important.
I know about the magazine only because I picked up a copy a couple of years previously at the airport in Manchester. And decided to subscribe despite my internal debate along the lines of “Why this luxury? Are German magazines not good enough for you?” and the September 2011 issue was the very first one of my subscription.

Starting a trajectory without knowing it

If I had decided just a couple of days later to subscribe, I wouldn’t have read the article, read the book, forgotten about it, were reminded about it, booked a first Barbara Sher workshop in 2013 in Cologne, made the crazy decision to book the Scanner retreat in France, wouldn’t have taken the even crazier decision to go also for Barbara’s Coaching master class. The impact wasn’t visible overnight, but reading this article had started a trajectory that lead to my being a Barbara Sher coach today!

A long chain of improbabilities

A long chain of improbabilities lead me to my current business! And when I further think about the impact of serendipity on my life I can find more examples in my private and also  my business life.

And that’s where the problems start: I’m a pharmacist by training. Pharmacists don’t believe in luck. They believe in controlled, well-predicable cause and effect sequences. You take an Aspirin and your headache goes away. You make a plan, put it into action and – voilà – you arrive at your destination.

Everything falling into place somehow over time seems to be simply wonderful. So what’s the matter with me? Can’t I just say “Thank you”? And live happily ever after?

But wait what is the real impact of my own actions then?

There is something else hidden beneath the “Just be grateful for this” layer. A layer which is a bit scary: Because if serendipity plays such a major role, what about navigating the development of my business. What about all the effort I put into it? Was so much of it not necessary? Did I succeed because of or despite my efforts? Is there also a similar unpredictable impact of the Negative?

This would mean that my business could fail even though I do all the “Right Things”.
OK, take a deep breath now. Inhale – exhale. [Repeat as often as necessary.]

We can’t completely control what will happen to us

We all know this. But as soon as we start a venture we tend to forget about it. I think it’s because we want that feeling of security and control that taking action gives us.

When I look at the role of Serendipity I acknowledge the impact of the Uncontrollable on my life and my business. To look there scares me. – The question is now what is beyond this fear?

Increasing the chances by taking action

I’m not sure yet how to get my head around it.
But there are some things I can start with:

It’s a great thing if serendipity happens. It’s something to be deeply grateful for.

Taking action means I increase my chances. It’s all about probabilities. Like in soccer: The more offensive the team plays the higher the chances that they will score sooner or later.

Maybe I don’t have to work my butt off in order to succeed. Because then I might be too tired and not mindful enough to register the small and easy things that may lead in an interesting direction.

Inviting serendipity means to be open for the unexpected and as scary as this may feel it means also I can end up in places way better than I could have imagined in the first place. I may be lead to destinations I didn’t even know I wanted to go.

So that’s the status for now. [to be continued]

How do you feel about serendipity?
Does it play a role in your life?
What are your serendipitous moments or stories?

No pain no gain

P1090373Breakfast table, this morning, me and my husband. We were talking about past and current business projects of mine. And how happy I am that I was so lucky to do them with only the nicest people for the past almost four years. We were talking about the ease of discussions, the fruitful collaborations and how great it is to work with people who are on the same wavelength. How I enjoy collaboration with people who are kind and reliable. Then suddenly my mood changed: Tears started to well up. What the hell is going on here? – But I let it go on.

If I learned one thing from Barbara Sher’s classes it is this:

There is always a reason.

And the second most important thing:

If you feel like crying, cry!*

Business is mean

My suspicions come up: You were just lucky. That’s what you say yourself, right? This is the business world, people work for their advantage only. Don’t trust. Look for the trap. Don’t be lulled by your past experiences. Your experiences are limited anyway. As soon as your business will grow further, this will be over. – This was just the surface feeling, the one I always go to. The familiar one: Business is mean, you have to be a shark to survive there. You are no shark, you’ll fail. [blah, blah, blah – the usual].

Try hard

I wait a bit and then something different appears, a second set of feelings. I’m sad, because I can’t appreciate the ease. I’m the one who goes rather for the tough way. I sit a while longer with this. It is uncomfortable, more sadness shows up and then I understand: I believe that I’ll get my reward only when it is tough.

It is a deep rooted belief. Just being there, just do it the easy way will not suffice to get me enough attention or affection or success. I have to make an effort. I have to strain myself. I have to try hard.  … … … It hurts. It hurts a lot.

No pain no gain

Ever said this one? – Maybe to cheer you or others up when things are rough.
I guess it is important to understand and accept that it is not always easy-peasy when you go for your wishes or try to integrate things into your life that are important to you.

But if this belief becomes the underlying guiding principle something is very wrong. Our society rewards and admires the tough ones so it is easy to follow this path. – Wow, you are a marathon runner! Of course it is tough, grow up! Life’s not a picnic! Beauty knows no pain! Life isn’t a bowl of cherries! [Insert here your favorite saying….]

But then again: How do you appreciate or even -careful the e-word is coming – ENJOY!!! – the results of work that is actually easy for you, because you are using your talent, your strengths? What if people are nice? What if even business is possible in a different way? What about coming from a position of mindful trust? What if being kind as a default is a smart way and not naive?

I want to be way more careful about using such sentences in the future.
I don’t want to risk anymore that I or others take them too seriously.

Idea party

Oh, and if you feel like establishing your trust in mankind even further, come visit the last days of the IDEA PARTY on facebook. Join the party folks and see how total strangers from all over the world help each other to come up with ideas to make going for their wishes possible. The vibe is amazing. But it is over on Sunday. Don’t miss it, you’ll regret it! [Entrance to the party.]

And what about serendipity?

All this was also my obstacle for writing the article about serendipity I promised you for yesterday. I wrote something, but it didn’t sound right, something was missing. Then I procrastinated. Now I know why: How can I appreciate serendipity if I only believe in effort? 🙂

– Sorry, have to go now. Need to write for next week.

*The theory behind for the rationalist’s among us goes like this: Tears contain stress hormones and crying is the body’s natural way to get rid of them.

February – it’s still winter

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February for me is the first month of waiting for spring. It’s still winter, but it is getting better: Light in the afternoon is there until around 5 pm. I’ve seen the first snowdrops today. But it is still too dark and too cold for my liking.

And sometimes it can also be the month of some deeply felt sighs: “Oh, of course it’s like the last year! What was I thinking?” “Nothing ever really changes!” “I’m done with my New Year’s resolutions already!”

Let’s make waiting for spring more joyful and do some things that keep up the spirit.
What else is important for your personal tool kit? We’ll start on Thursday with one of the most important things: Serendipity! (And doesn’t the word already sound great?)

And by talking about keeping up the spirit: Read this wonderful article by Jade Herriman: Letting the strange pull of what we love transform our lives and I promise you’ll feel yours rise immediately. It definetely worked for me! 🙂

“Enjoy and delight in this thing you want to do,
for no reason other than joy.”

Jade Herriman

Defocusing might be the right thing to do

P1020097Focus, focus, focus! This is an advice we hear ever so often.
But is it really the solution? I think it may even hinder us to live a fulfilled and well-rounded life.

Let’s have a look into your New Year’s resolutions – after all it is still January.
The first step in any “wish realization project” or “WiRP” is in my opinion to make an inventory of all of your wishes. Yes, even if you say, that you have only this one wish. It is very humble of you to say so. But as I don’t believe you anyway we could get over the polite small talk fast and start business. There’s three wishes granted in every quality fairy tale. So go for it!

If you limit yourself to thinking about only one wish you may lose important insights about the nature of your lead wish. Clues about what else to integrate and go for have no chance to pop up either.

And – btw – are you completely sure that THIS is your true wish? Are you sure that there’s no wish behind the wish?  “As soon as I’ve lost weight, I will…”– Yes, I can hear that!

When it comes to really going for your wish we encounter another question:
How long is the time interval exactly I am supposed to be focused?

If we look at a single activity we can assume that our brain can’t focus for unlimited periods of time. Ask some teachers. They’ll tell you that children nowadays can only concentrate roughly 20 minutes. That’s off topic, but I believe it was like that when I was a child, too. At least at school. – Which brings us to the exception to the rule: It’s different when you are in a flow state. Then time flies by and afterwards you don’t really know what happened. If you expect that you are in a flow state the entire time when going for your wish, then you might as well stop right away. To be totally honest with you: This expectation will not be fulfilled.

If we take the bigger picture into account defocusing becomes even more important. Following trough by focusing is a great concept, but maybe not achievable for humans.
Did it ever happen to you that you started procrastinating as soon as you decided to “focus now”? What if procrastination is nature’s way to tell us to stop focusing and to start straying around a little bit? Maybe you put yourself under too much pressure, maybe you need input you can’t get from focusing and pressuring more, maybe you need new inspiration or maybe it is something else.

And actually doing something off-topic may lead to cross-pollination and synergies that propel your WiRP forward. To raise your eyes and look left and right of your path may be worthwhile. You never know where an insight or solution may pop up.

In totally focusing on ONE big project we might also pay a too high price in other areas. Ask family members of a totally focused, dedicated manager what they think about it. Ask also his doctor.

So what is the suggestion?
Focusing is only ONE tool in our tool kit. We need to find out when to focus and when to better use other techniques like helicopter view, talking to others, taking a step back, building synergies or brainstorming. Or simply taking a walk. Or rest. Or play.

And especially if you feel stuck don’t do more of the same thing. Change your method. Then you might go back to some focusing again later.

I think it was Paul Watzlawick who said: “If you only have a screwdriver every problem looks like a screw.”

Important note for those of you who think have too many wishes and don’t even dare to name them all: Go here for a first aid emergency support: Introduction to scanner

If you have forgotten how to wish and believe you have no wishes, this is your first aid emergency support: Get yourself a copy of “I could do anything if I only knew what it was” by Barbara Sher.

So that was the last post for January – the month of fresh starts.

I’m looking forward to February: The month where you think winter will never end. It is still too dark and cold. So we will bide our time waiting for spring by looking at things like Serendipity, adjustment and re-ignition of your drive.

Tailor-made wishes and planning


Start of a new journeyWhat type of project starter are you?

Let’s say you want to start running. What is most likely your choice?

A) I know how important motivation is: I dream up my fantastic vision of the fittest version of myself. I’m all excited about the new runner-me and buy all the fancy running equipment and run twice before the stuff somehow disappears in the back of my closet.

B) I know how important planning is: Therefore I buy several books on running, sports nutrition, metabolism and preparing for a marathon. I develop a detailed training plan for me. At some point I drop the project, because it turns out that it is impossible to integrate running into my life.

C) I don’t have time for such fancy self-realization projects anyway. I have real responsibilities.

D) I know how important setting a tailor-made wish and planning is: I develop a picture that makes my heart beat faster. Then I gather some information to define the first possible small step. I start and move on from there. I start running with my old sneakers once a week in form of interval training: 1 minute running, 5 minutes walking. Sometimes a running mate joins in. After a couple of months I think I can run 45 minutes in moderate speed.

(In case of D: What are you doing here? You already know how it works.)

This post was planned for Thursday – last Thursday. So much for planning…
I procrastinated and then I finally wrote something which I didn’t even believe myself to be really conclusive. My test reader was skeptical, too. So I looked into the matter a bit closer.
And found out: I’m an A in recovery! And because I suffer from almost insatiable curiosity I can do B, too.

I feel perfectly fine when I’m invited to develop a vision; to describe my wish or dream is a task I can spend hours on. How does your ideal everyday look like? – Oh wait, I forgot something. I need more time. Oh, and what if this is not the right, the perfect description? Then all the effort I’m going to put into it will be wasted. So back to the drawing board. And only some days later, probably weeks, I may lose interest and go for something different, more exciting.

So it may be a good idea to limit the time and effort I put into the fine-tuning of a wish or dream. Maybe use a more structured approach and stop when the vison is good enough. Actually research suggests that for the brain it is enough to intensively dream about a wish. There is no distinction in the experience of reality and detailed daydreaming. If the description is too detailed, there is no need to take action: The reward system already worked and the brain is convinced that everything is fine and you can stay on the sofa.

Same is true for an information- gatherer or over-planner: Spending hours in the internet, surfing to the most unlikely webpages, browsing the shelves in the public library: Yes, you are not alone! I love this, too.
So if I really want to act on something (and it is not only about satisfying my curiosity) I better set a limit to information gathering and start to act as soon as the first manageable first step is appearing.

For both cases it is important to realize that starting before feeling really ready is crucial. I will never feel “ready” anyway.

So how could such a more structured approach look like?

#1 I really want…

Defining a purpose of the whole project is important: You need something that makes your heart beat faster. Something that relates to who you really are. This vision will carry you forward later on. Take out a pen and paper and write down the ultimate fantasy about it. No limits.

Maybe looking at some of these questions might help:

  • What do I really want?
  • What is different afterwards? What will change?
  • Why do I want to change something?
  • How do I want to feel by doing “it”?
  • What exactly makes me want to change something?
  • How would I feel if I really make it?

By the end of the year you are fit, because you exercise regularly. And YES, you wear THIS wonderful dress. – You spend your money on a holiday or a favorite charity instead on cigarettes. – You stand in front of your beautiful painting. Or you finally have made that ultimate move in your job. How would this be? What are the big advantages of what you want to achieve? What would your friends say, those who want to see you happy? Write it all down. And then stop. Declare your vison ready.

By reflecting these questions you will get a clearer picture about your internal motivation. Some people say that there is no true or sustained motivation from the outside possible.[1] That only our internal motivation propels us in a specific direction while feeling good doing it. I don’t know if this is really true, but I know that to follow external motivation can lead in a direction away from what matters to you personally. So it is also important to answer this question: Who says that I have to do it?

In which form you answer these questions doesn’t matter as long as it is not only in your head. There needs to be something you can actually see in the outside world. Use whatever technique suits you.

Then start with

#2 Research

Most important: Talk to people who do what you would like to do or something related to it.
Ask around. People who already paint know how to integrate it in their lives. They also know where to get good material.
Do some online research. Gather information and let it lead you to new questions. Again method doesn’t matter: Writing in real or electronic note books (e.g. OneNote, Evernote), create audio files, make sketches, fill out an Excel sheet, make a collage, create a mind-map, … use a combination of all of the above. Simply follow your instinct, don’t be stopped by searching for the “perfect” method, just use what is at hand. Go for the simplest solution.

And then STOP. Don’t gather “as much information as possible”. This is a trap! You will continue gathering more intelligence along the way anyway, so you can stop now. As soon as you see a FIRST small possible step emerging: STOP gathering information. This step is as good as any other that will maybe pop up later. You will not feel ready. But move on now to

#3 Micro-Plan

How will I do this step? What exactly do I need to do? Are there skills I need to build up before?
How do I know that I was successful?

Answer these questions using your favorite method. That’s your micro-plan A.

And now for micro-Plan B: Which hurdles may pop up? What do I do if they appear?

Now you are ready to move to

#4 Micro-Action

Simply do what your plan says and observe what happens. Be curious rather than judging.

What happens? Does it work like I intended? Does the plan need an adaptation? Do I have to put plan B into action? Do I have to do something completely different? Why?

This way you continue collecting information and you are able to alter your actions according to what pops up in reality. And once you have completed your task don’t forget to celebrate what you have achieved.

Then you start all over again for the next thing on your list.

This may sound as if it takes a comparatively long time before anything “really happens”. And this is truly so. But very often we are fooled into quick action without proper preparation and fail or are stopped harshly because we lack some kind of skill we didn’t even know we needed. Or we may take too big risks because of lack of information. So the bigger the change is you want to achieve or the wider the impact of it is the more important is the preparatory work. In case you desire large changes your autopilot will definitely try to stop you and knock you back to “normal”. You’d better be prepared for this. While doing the steps of the entire process you also already hone your skills necessary to proceed easier later on, too.

Your dreams deserve that much attention and care.

What do I do if I have identified several possible starting steps or a more complex project?

If you have already some options try a drawing to decide what to start with. Yes, I mean this. It’s difficult to put this approach into action, because it seems counterintuitive (“First I need to know what the most important thing is!”) and it is still challenging for me, too. But I know that it works. Because if you do a small step the risk is not too high. And you don’t put the hurdle so high so that it may scare you away. And most important: You start!

If you have a more complex project like “I want to start a business” you will break down the big dream into small and very small steps anyway. And then work on several of these in parallel or sequentially. But you could use the same method for each of them.

Nobody can develop a plan that needs no alterations. It’s not because you were setting up a stupid plan or because you are a failure anyway. The reason why plans and sometimes even wishes have to be changed or adapted is that the thing with the crystal ball still does not work.

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And next week: Defocusing might be the right thing to do

I don’t believe in focus. I prefer diversity and rhythm. If I’d focus completely on only one project – well I’d get bored pretty easily and would feel tired of it rather quickly. It’s similar to focusing on work only: I have no good reason to go home. So let’s have a look at all the things you desire. Because I also believe in synergies.


[1] Magazine article from my “archive” (aka the large collection of articles, snippets and links I gathered over the years.) Only in German. Copy available on request.

About the nature of autopilot

Your brain is lazy. No offense intended – mine is too. Actually all our brains have developed over time into really effective systems. Saving energy and attention is a top priority. In ancient times this was crucial: Energy in the form of food was always scarce, so it needed to be saved. And it was necessary to pay attention to the really dangerous situations especially when hunting and gathering. Always being alert is simply to energy-consuming and strenuous.
Also for another matter our brains are still stuck in the Stone Age: They believe that if we go out of our cave we will be killed by a saber tooth tiger pretty easily. So staying there in front of the fire feels safe. It’s the same feeling of safety we have sitting on our sofa watching TV.

Humans are on autopilot most of the time.

About 80% of what we do is driven by automated actions. You tie your shoes automatically. You drive to work automatically. (Ever had the situation of not remembering exactly how you drove home? – That’s being on autopilot!)
Every routine and habit is an element of our overall autopilot. The full program develops over time. As children we don’t have so many elements yet. Some life-preserving ones are inborn though: “Cry when you are hungry” for example. All others we learn.

Developing an autopilot is very useful when learning a technical routine like tying your shoes, how to make coffee or how to drive a car. It saves time and energy if you don’t have to think about what you are doing all the time.

But autopilots are also programmed for other more complex things in life. For example, eating habits: “Clean your plate!” Even entire life plans can be based on an auto piloted program: „Find a girl, marry, raise two children, build a house and get a career!”
It can be programmed in a multitude of ways: External expectations and rules or value systems of the culture and society we live in. “This is how we do it here!”

Once our autopilot is programmed it kicks in as soon as the trigger situation is there: To walk into the kitchen in the morning is enough to start the program “Breakfast routine”. And then you run through your routine not looking left or right. Very good strategy, because your breakfast is made even though you are not really awake before your first cup of coffee.

Autopilot is a safety belt

The purpose of the autopilot is to prevent fear and disturbance. To prevent fear is a good mechanism: You don’t do dangerous things. Everything runs smoothly and you can lead a quite undisturbed and safe life.
But if to feel and stay safe becomes the prime directive our lives can also become pretty boring and grey. We may get the feeling that everything just rushes by, because we don’t need to pay attention to our lives.

Autopilot as cage

Boring autopilot

Living by routines that make your life easier is great if your routines really suit you. If they fit your personality and who you are like a glove. You live a life that represents you. If we looked at your life for a week we would be able to extrapolate your goals, values and all that is important to you from that observation.

But it is possible that autopilot takes over your life completely in a way that is not beneficial for you. That is if your routines and habits don’t match you. You clean the house every Saturday, because this is how it is done. But a) you hate cleaning, b) would rather relax and read a book and c) do the cleaning on – say – Thursday! Or even hire somebody to do it. (Shocking ideas, aren’t they?)

Maybe you don’t even notice these facts, because you don’t question your behavior. It always feels uncomfortable to question the status quo, this is why we so often avoid it. Because once you admit that you really, really hate cleaning and miss reading, then you have to do something about it.
Or you push this thought back again into the dark cellar behind the door labelled “Things I don’t want to think about, because they make me nervous.”

In those cases when your routines push you away from your true wishes and desires autopilot becomes a cage. It is actually a very comfortable cage: Life runs smoothly and most probably if you comply with all the little and big rules, standards and regulations you may feel safe. But you may pay a too high price for this safety.

And if you feel the least bit nervous and unfulfilled, please do yourself a favor: Go after this nagging feeling. Look what is missing. Check your routines if they really match who you are. If not: Start to change them. And start now! Life’s too short.

Checking for being on autopilot

  • Do interruptions or disturbances irritate you? This could be a sign of a generally high stress level or concentration, but in a lot of cases it means: My normal routine is interrupted and I have to pay attention to something else. Which disturbs the smooth running of your program.
  • Do you do something even though you intended to so something else?
    E.g. sitting on the sofa in front of the TV and munching away on that bag of chips you don’t even know where it came from.
  • Time flies. Again another day, month or year rushed by. You don’t pay attention to your life, because it is mostly a routine. Paying attention is not necessary. You are on energy saving mode.
  • You are stressed and feel like you are doing nothing at the same time.
  • It’s hard to remember exactly what was happening during the day, week or month.

Get out of autopilot mode from time to time

Make an experiment

Make small behavioral experiments. What happens if I do X instead of Y?
If you don’t have an idea how you could behave differently, you can ask yourself the question what your role model would do: What would Meryl Streep do? What would James Bond do? What would David Bowie do? What would Marilyn do? Or: What is the opposite of your usual behavior? What would your best Self do? – Then act accordingly. You’ll be astonished about how differently situations can develop.

Start small. This is not about developing new habits, it is about becoming curious.
You can always become more daring. The important thing is to start and play.

Do something silly like buying a children’s bubble bath and use it for yourself.
Don’t turn on the TV after dinner.
Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand.
Drive a different way to work.

Enjoy your experiments! 🙂

Next Thursday we will look into possibilities to change things on a larger scale:

Tailor-made goal setting and planning.