This is your brain on autopilot

I'm thinking about daily routines this week—and how to make a clean break from one that was never useful in the first place. It's just stuck around because of a lack of inquiry.

Confession: Since leaving my office job for self-employment in May 2015, I've inadvertently recreated the very environment and routine I despised there. For example:

  • the too-slow build-up to actual, productive work (reading the news and getting mired in my email inbox seems like a responsible and grounding first thing to do, but it never launches me into motion; it only ever serves to derail my early morning train of hope and creativity);
  • the incessant shuffling around of some of the difficult parts of the job, as though they're overcooked vegetables on my plate (planning, strategy, financials, etc.);
  • all that sitting and staring at a computer while typing with my wrists in a definitely-not-ergonomic position;
  • the 3 p.m. slump where caffeine seems like a good idea, but never is;
  • staying late to "finish one last thing" in order to end the day with a feeling of accomplishment;
  • a small compartment of maybe thirty or forty minutes of exercise in the evening, past the point on my daily timeline when it would've benefitted my mind to move my body

This is the template I've brought with me from too many years of not questioning how (or even if) I fit into traditional employment. In my autopilot mind, this is what work looks like and this is how I know I'm doing it right. There's quite a bit of toil, a bizarre punishment/self-flagellating component, and a feeling of being beholden to a boss or an institution and wanting alternately to buck against it and be obedient to it.

There's also an insidious little chip of self-sacrifice that I'm a touch embarrassed to acknowledge here (though that's how I know I need to write about it). The term martyr complex sounds awfully extreme to me and it doesn't really fit the bill when I consider its full definition—but, I do think I have a tendency to relate to my work in a way that's a lot like the old, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Office Helen. (That I'd do so willingly is what horrifies me!) My attitude seems to suggest the mistaken belief that once I get this business further along in its development, I'll be able to bring in more balance and live more holistically.

Egad. When did I become that person?!

(Ahh, what does it matter. There's no use getting pulled into that thought spiral. Instead, let's see what it can teach me.)

When I shine a light on my autopilot work behaviors, when I bring some consciousness to what I'm doing and how I'm doing it, I can see clearly that this old way of doing is just that: an old way of doing. It's familiar and practiced and hasn't been questioned enough or properly. Without even having to force a change, I can initiate my new way of doing simply by paying attention.

The bulleted list above is just the beginning of my paying attention. I'm taking an inventory of what I already know isn't working, considering which of my ways of doing are actually antithetical to my values, and noticing when I start to autopilot again.

This isn't easy work. It's far easier for me to repeat what's not serving me, for the simple fact that it exists along a hideously well-worn neural pathway in my brain. (Side note: A fabulous book on this topic is You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. and Rebecca Gladding, M.D.) But to know that I'm taking charge of my brain, in addition to my business? Absolutely worthwhile.

Where are you bringing an old template or an autopilot mind into your day? Maybe for you, there's a tendency to fall into a Good Employee or Good Student mindset, even though you no longer need to operate from that place (and, incidentally, operating from that place no longer serves you). Give it some thought, then go ahead and leave a comment below.