Living your life in automatic mode can be helpful to save time and energy when you’re doing certain repetitive tasks that don’t require you to think or to decide what it is you need to do or how to do it. That automatic mode is less helpful, however, when you’re trying to make a change, do things differently and get different results. Bringing your awareness to what’s going on is a good first step, and then asking yourself whether what you’re doing is actually getting you to where you want to be.
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
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Living life on autopilot
Hello there, welcome back and last week we talked about how the definition of insanity is to do the same thing again, again, again, again, again, again, and expect different results. In other words, what got you here won’t get you there. So if you haven’t listened to the episode do go back, because I think is a really important message. I know it’s an important message that you and I need to hear again and again.
Now, the question of course is, okay, fine I need to do things differently, but how am I going to do that? And the truth is, it’s pretty difficult. So today I want to look at some of the resistance that can come up and the resistance source, which is the mental habits and shortcuts, the way in which our brain goes onto autopilot, our mind just latches onto what we’ve done before, what’s worked before, the rules, the patterns we’ve observed in the past, the stories we tell ourselves, and that then prevents us from moving forward, from changing, from doing things differently.
Now, I think this comes from the conditioning, the programming we’ve had, and it makes total sense. If you think of all the things we have to learn, I look at my toddler who is learning, she’s learned to walk, she’s beginning to learn to speak. She’s very much for rules, “Okay, we put the nappy in the bin there and then we go and do that.” She’s a bit like a robot. She’s learned to pattern, she’s observing, she’s so keen to copy, imitate and then she follows the pattern letter by letter. Is that an expression? So by the letter, by the book, whatever, she follows the rules, she follows the process A to B, B to C and so on.
And we have to do that. We have to have those mental shortcuts. We have to go, “Okay, the traffic light is red therefore we don’t cross the road,” or, “Tiger means danger,” back in the day of fight or flight. And fight or flight is a great example of that programming, of the fear that we feel that isn’t particularly useful now of course. But it makes sense in terms of making those mental shortcuts. We can’t go round every time we think, “Oh my goodness, is that dangerous or not?” Or “Do I cross the road, do I not cross the road?” “Do I say this, do I say that?” “What’s the social context here?” “How do I do this?”
Every day in my business, if we come already to the business example, every time I sit down and think, “Ooh, how do I use this computer? Ooh, do I use this mouse? What am I going to do now? Should I look at my strategy? I’ll start again and I just take a step back and question absolutely everything.” No, of course not. Certain things we’ve assumed. Let’s say again, in business, I’ve got my clients, I’ve got my strategy, boom, I’m going to do that. However, when auto pilot isn’t very helpful, it’s very helpful for consistency and doing the same thing again and again, it’s not helpful when we want to do something differently. We want to change things, we want to get different results.
Remember last week’s episode, it’s not helpful when we want to do something better. So as an example, I’ve given a few examples there of little rules and things that the kids might learn. But I think this is something that I’ve often felt is really important. When we spend time with our friends and family in particular, family, siblings, parents, your children, your partner, it’s very easy to resort to putting them in a box. You might say, “Oh, my big sister is always really bossy.” “He’s really lazy.” “She never does this.” “You always do that.” Always and never, are always very dangerous words to use in arguments, but we can put people into a box, we can pigeonhole them because yes, many times in the past, many examples, anecdotes, stories, events, things that have happened have built up this image of that person in your mind. And you’ve made the shortcut, bossy, lazy, whatever it is.
And that could be partly true and probably it has been built on certain real events of the past, but I think it’s doing that person a disservice, to be honest, because it’s not allowing them any subtleties, any differences. It doesn’t let them, give them, any space for self-improvement. I always got very indignant because I am the self-improvement queen, personal development, obsessed. I always want to improve. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to learn to do it better, differently. If I knew I was hurting someone, I’d want to find that out and behave in a different way.
So if somebody were to say, “You’re not good at this. You don’t do that. You’re always this,” that’s very upsetting to me and I think we all feel that way. It’s just, again, we have the mental shortcuts maybe not to question it. But if we’re constantly, “He’s the lazy one, he’s the smart one,” and so on, that really simplifies someone who’s a very complex human being into one little thing.
And you might like that let’s say again, in the business context as in a personal brand, it’s quite helpful if people think, “Oh, she’s the really happy, smiley one,” or “He’s the really charming one,” I don’t know, whatever that might be. Some kind of shortcut or motif that makes you more memorable in the minds of your audience. That’s fine in a business context, that’s a personal brand, it’s a quick shortcut, boom. It serves a purpose.
With our family and loved ones, that’s not very helpful. We’re not allowing that person to change. And the point is, we’re doing that for ourselves. The stories we’re telling ourselves, the beliefs we have, the mental shortcuts we’re taking are actually preventing us from making the changes we need to make in order to get to where we want to be.
So I think about a few things. I think of nail biting or mindless snacking, those things, putting on the TV and just having it on, droning on in the background, because that’s what you always do, or you and your partner sit down on a sofa with your phone and you sit down and you just pick it up. The phone is a great example. If it’s around, you’re going to pick it up. I tend to pick it up to, “I’m just going to Google this thing, check this one thing,” forget entirely the reason why I picked up my phone. And then I end up down the rabbit hole of all sorts of other apps and things. That’s why they’re designed like that. They’re supposed to tempt you into checking the notifications and everything.
So that’s a great example too of that mindless shortcut that you just pick it up, do it on autopilot. Autopilot is not helpful when we’re trying to do something differently. If I want to manage my stress in a different way, if I don’t want to have these short bitten nails, I want to have long, beautiful strong nails, if I don’t want to have that extra little pooch around the belly, I want to get fitter and stronger and maybe I don’t want to just resort to going into the kitchen and stuffing my face from the fridge whenever I feel a little bit of well hunger, yes I think I should eat, but maybe it’s just boredom or I just feel like I need to treat myself. I’m stressed. Maybe there’s something else I could do, but that requires you to pause, question the way you’re feeling, behaving and so on and then see if there’s an alternative.
So from a work perspective, how can this manifest? Well, I might sit down on my computer in the morning and, “Okay, I’m going to check my email. I’m going to faff about on Facebook a little bit. I’m going to maybe create some graphics in Canva, maybe I’ll look a little bit at LinkedIn, post something here and there.” Before I know a few hours have passed and I haven’t done the things that, “This week I was going to work on my book. This week I was going to record my first videos. Today, I was going to batch record all these podcasts,” and that’s what I’m doing today. So yay me, I’m managing to do it.
But you see how you automatically just fall into your same habit, your same routine, you sit down, you do what you always do and you put off the really important work. Or let’s say sales, you have anxiety around sales so you approach it in a really, “Oh my gosh, I’m not good at sales. I can’t do it. It is achy, it’s sleazy.” And then of course, whenever you have a sales call or whenever you get to the sales portion of your webinar or your training, you’re going to tense up, “Oh my god, I’m doing sales now. Yeah. Well this is what it costs and by the way, but don’t worry, I can just… Oh, no worries. Yeah. Have a think about it. Bye.” Not very helpful when it comes to sales, that story of I’m not good at sales is obviously completely counterproductive.
Or again, video. Video is something we were focusing on in the business accelerator. And it’s something that so many of us and me included, certainly when I first started out now it’s second nature, now it’s almost autopilot to do video. But so many of us think, “I don’t like myself on video. I sit like this, I’m hunched. I’m stuttering. I’m saying um, uh, a lot.” Um, um, um, um. You can see how even just talking about it makes me suddenly very self-conscious and I don’t know what to do with my hands and oh my goodness, this video.
And again, if you’re listening to this podcast, I’m on audio. By the way, you can go over to YouTube and watch me as well if you’d like the more engaging video, which the last 10 or 20 so episodes and onwards we’ll have a video on YouTube as well. So do head over and YouTube also has lots of other trainings and so on. So come and check it out.
So those are some manifestations. I’ve told myself, “I always procrastinate. I’m not good at sales. I don’t like myself on video.” What happens? I’ll continue to procrastinate. I won’t be good at sales and I’m not going to do video. Not very helpful.
And you may have heard of, and I’ve talked about this before, Carol Dweck and her idea of growth versus fixed mindset and that’s very relevant here. So if I have a fixed mindset, “I’m not good at this, never going to be good at this, no point in doing anything,” that’s my shortcut, boom, never going to improve.
Growth mindset, “Okay. I don’t know how to do this yet. How can I find out? How could I become better? How can I become good at this? How can I break that cycle of always procrastinating of not doing videos and so on?” That’s a really powerful thing. You can check out her TED talk, Carol Dweck, or read her book as well.
Now again, autopilot is helpful when you want to do the same thing. When you want to, “Look, I’ve got half an hour, the kids are in bed. Before I go to bed or first thing in the morning before your call, I’m going to boom, quickly, I need to record this. I need to put that out. I need to email this, that and the other. I need to write this.” So if there’s something you need to be consistent, you need to do every day, you’ve got a very short space of time, autopilot’s pretty good. It’s pretty helpful. And it can give you some shortcuts that can speed things up.
However, when you’re trying to do something differently, when you’re trying to do something better, autopilot is not helpful. So what can we do? Well, first thing, take a breath. Don’t let yourself just do it right away or try to catch yourself, try to at least bring the awareness to the moment. Even if you end up doing the same thing, deep breath, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Observe what’s happening, “Oh, I’m feeling stressed and I started biting my nails,” or, “Oh, I’m a bit bored and I went to the fridge and grabbed a…” whatever is in your fridge. I can’t think of anything exciting in my fridge at all at the moment. A protein ball, that’s the most exciting thing, which is okay. It’s not too bad. So observing that’s happened.
It’s okay if you then still eat the ball, it’s okay if you still bite your nails because you’re just observing the stage, but at least bring your awareness to the fact that this is autopilot, this is how you’re behaving. Then of course question the story you’re telling yourself. “I always bite my nails. I’m a stress eater. I’m tired in the evening so I have to watch Netflix all night. I am a procrastinator. I’m not good at sales. I don’t do video,” and so on.
Okay. That’s the story, look this is the reason, is that a story that I believe in? And is that a story that is going to get me to where I want to be? Again, remember last week’s episode, what got you here won’t get you there. And if not number three is what can I do differently? Hey, how do I change this up? One of the habits that isn’t so relevant during coronavirus as we record this, but let’s say you’re commuting and it’s not relevant with me anyway, because I always work from home, work independently and location independently. But let’s say I take the same route to work everyday to the office. And every time at the train station, I’ll get my caramel macchiato or get my croissant Pain au Chocolat or whatever. And then I’ll get on the train.
That is my habit. I do it. It’s a treat. It’s so nice. I’ve had to get up so early and I’ve had to commute to this awful office job and I’m going to get this lovely treat for myself. I really enjoy it. In fact, I probably won’t enjoy it that much because when you’re doing it everyday like that, it’s not a treat. You probably mindlessly downing the coffee while you’re reading your phone or whatever, head down. And isn’t actually a great treat. So it’s a waste of time, waste of calories, waste of money, so many things, but that’s an autopilot.
So instead of that, can you take a different route to the office that you don’t pass that cafe? Can you stand at the other end of the platform where that you can’t get to the coffee shop? So little, little habit tweak that you can do just to get yourself out of that autopilot, that you always go, always get that coffee. In fact, why not get a different coffee instead of the latte macchiato, the caramel with the syrup and the cream and stuff, maybe try like an oat milk flat white or something, who knows, just something different just for the sake of keeping your weight.
Because, look, from a big picture being on autopilot, yes it speeds things up but it’s really dull. If we do everything on autopilot, we’re not living, we’re not experiencing things to the full. So whether it’s business or life, how dull is it just to go through your life putting everything, “Yeah, he does this. I’m like that. And I do this,” and dah, dah, dah? That’s not particularly exciting. So, remember, take a breath, observe what’s happening, “How am I looking? How am I feeling? What am I doing?” Two, question why you’re doing it, question the story, the belief that lies underneath that and three ask yourself, “Is there a different story? Is there a different belief? Is there a different action or behaviour I can take?” So that’s the short term. In the moment I can breathe, I can observe, I can challenge and I can ask what else I can do.
What about the long term? Well, I say this from a position of very little sleep because I have a little three month old, almost four month old and toddler and all sorts of other things going on. Get more sleep because that’s the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Of course, if we’re exhausted and we have no mental or creative energy, we’re not going to be able to think of things differently. And to be honest, to survive, we just need, okay, I’m getting up, I’m getting my coffee. I’m going to have my shower. Boom, boom, boom. That is the only way I can get through the day most days so that’s okay if that’s the case.
But if we can get more sleep, feel more rested, we’re going to be more open, we’re going to be more sharp. Our brains are going to be sharper. We’re going to be more creative and that’s going to be pretty powerful. Secondly, again, challenge yourself to do things differently. So whether it’s taking a different route to the office, it’s maybe don’t sit down at your computer first thing, maybe grab your notebook or planner, grab a whiteboard and go and sit in a different room. I always find I get so much done back in the days of travel, sitting on a plane and having aeroplane mode. You can think of aeroplane mode even not on the plane. You don’t have the internet. So you get so much more done because you have to write things, you have to create, you have to plan and so on.
So instead of just sitting down at your computer, getting into autopilot, why don’t you sit over there instead with your notebook, with a pen, sit in the other room, go for a walk, listen to a podcast, just do something different. And then of course, really powerful, get someone to challenge you. So whether it’s a community you join, I have the Facebook group, onestepoutside.com/community if you’re not already a member. Can search One Step Outside on Facebook but above all, having a mentor or a coach who’s going to challenge you, “Hey Anna, hang on a second. I heard what you just said. You’re making excuses. How can you think differently? I know that you want to get to this place. I know you want to step up in your business and achieve this result. So let’s examine that for a second. The story you’re telling yourself, I’m not going to let you get away with that. I’m going to push you, challenge you to think differently. And let’s put in place a plan that’s really going to anchor that big new goal in different habits.”
And habits are great. Again, once we’ve established that new habit for the new thing, that’s going to really help you achieve the goal, ironically, but as we’re beginning to shift things to do things differently than we need to turn off that autopilot, get into manual mode and do things differently.
Again, a really important message, there is a resistance. It’s completely natural, it’s human, it’s evolutionary, there is a reason for it. And in many parts of our lives, right now I need these things to be on autopilot, I’m going to focus on this thing and I’m going to get my mental and creative energy to do things differently. And probably and it gets very stressful when we do everything. We’re trying to change our career in business, we’re having children for the first time, we’re moving, we’re doing all these things. Your relationship, you’re trying to lose weight to get fit, exercise, whatever, all these classic things that we put on our plates anyways should, which maybe we should be questioning anyway. But there might be some things.
The other concept I’m reminded of is the spinning plates analogy. If you imagine someone I’m spinning six, seven, ten plates. I spin this one, I can actually leave it for a while because the momentum’s going to keep spinning while I go and spin the others. But at some point I have to come running back to the first one, give it another spin otherwise it’s going to come crashing down. So there too, certain things I can come to it, “Yep that’s doing fine. I’m doing my three runs a week. I’m eating more or less healthily. For now my health and fitness I can leave. Instead, I’m going to focus on this area of my life and my relationship with my partner,” or “Actually you know what, we’re doing quite well,” or “We don’t want to see each other ever again because we’re in lockdown and we’re sick of each other. I’m going to focus on my business and…”
Or even within the business, “Well, actually the social media is going fine. My admin assistant she’s been around for two years now, she’s working great. Now I’m going to focus on my book. And some of the other stuff is going to sort of just fall down to an autopilot. I’ll just do that. It’s not going to be the biggest driver.”
So again, the challenge for you, what can you do in the moment? What are some of the things where you’re telling yourself that story, where you’re creating those mental shortcuts and that’s holding you back? How can you in the moment, take a breath, observe, question, challenge yourself to do things in differently? And then in the longer term, how can you give yourself more sleep? Give yourself the foundation that you need to be better equipped to have the creative and mental energy to do things differently, to come off autopilot? Who can you work with – me, for example! – to help you, to challenge you, to push you, to really help you achieve what it is you want to achieve?
So with that in mind, of course you can get in touch and book a call with me onestepoutside.com.com/call, I’d love to help you. Above all, I want you to begin to question, maybe observe around you. Think about how you’re labelling people in your life, at home and especially during these very strange, difficult circumstances. In your business, what are you just doing on autopilot? Is that okay? Is it working? If not, or if it’s an area where you want to do things better or differently, how can you begin to tell a different story, to behave, to act differently and therefore get different results?
I hope that was insightful for you. More to come on this topic I’m sure. Best of luck with changing things up and turning off that autopilot, getting into manual mode and I’ll see you next week on next week’s podcast episode. Thanks so much for listening. Bye for now.
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