Jeremy Côté



This is the default mode that most of us operate in, each day. The easiest behaviour is “autopilot” mode, since it requires the least effort. This is the behaviour you would do every day out of habit. For most, this means doing a whole bunch of nothing. For a few hard-working people, this means doing what is routine for them.

However, “autopilot” mode is something we all want to avoid. The reason is that it makes us stay content with doing the same things, over and over again. On “autopilot” mode, there aren’t any challenges. Sure, you may be practicing your craft, but there isn’t anything pushing you out of your comfort zone. As such, the growth you get is minimal.

If our goal is to improve as people in our craft, this is a problem. Our purpose is to become the best we can be, so cruising on autopilot isn’t exactly productive. If we aren’t careful though, this is what happens.

Ever had that feeling that time is flying by? This can be a consequence of being on autopilot. Each day’s experience is blending with the others because they aren’t challenging you enough.

For example, consider the “runner” who is on autopilot mode all the time. He runs every day, but always on the exact same route for roughly the same time. There’s no variation, no novelty, no challenge. Each time he steps out of the door, he can predict when he’ll be back to the minute. In his mind, he’s proud of his routine, happy that he gets his run every day.

Why do we tend to do the same things every day? The reason is simple: we enjoy routines. We are creatures of habit, and as such we like to plan everything in advance.

For our aforementioned runner, it’s mentally taxing to think up new workouts and physically challenging to change paces during the run. Therefore, he keeps it simple by doing the same thing, every single day.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with this idea. The body is amazingly adaptive, and will adapt to the daily runs, particularly if they’re all the same. At one point, the daily run becomes an accustomed part of the body’s routine. It isn’t stressed anymore, which means the body isn’t being pushed to adapt. Instead, it stops improving. Once that happens, autopilot mode has been turned on.

What can this tell us? Basically, if you’ve entered autopilot mode, you’re no longer growing. You’ve replaced variety with routine, challenges with easy-wins. Yes, you’re still practicing your craft, but you’re no longer getting pushed to the next level. You’re just cruising on a plateau, which isn’t part of your objectives.

Obviously, no one wants to lock into autopilot mode, yet many still do. This is because autopilot mode is our default setting, it’s what gets chosen when the mind is not actively planning to take on challenges. If we aren’t being mindful of our daily practices, our autopilot mode kicks in, making the choices for us. As you can guess, these choices don’t have our best interests in mind.

However, autopilot mode can be deceiving. It can be tough to realize that you’re on autopilot mode, because it seems like you’re doing well. For the runner example above, he’s running every day, which seems like it would do him good. However, it’s the intent behind the runs that is troubling him.

Additionally, the biggest hurdle that those on autopilot mode face has to do with stress. When there is a lot of stress in a person’s life, they need to deal with it in an efficient manner. This requires brainpower. As a result, other aspects of your life have to take a step back. Usually, the long-term goals come first. And that’s where autopilot mode comes kicking in. It’s not that you wanted to make these choices, but your life stress kind of forced you to.

This is perfectly reasonable, but the issue is that life stress will always be present. Each person that chooses to work hard on a craft that they are passionate about has other responsibilities and expectations of them. The difference is that they refuse to be put on autopilot, since it can be so paralyzing for the advancement of their craft. Once on autopilot, weeks and months can slip by without meaningful improvement of one’s craft, resulting in the question of where all the time went.

If you’re wondering whether you’ve been on autopilot mode for your chosen craft, these are some points which may help illuminate the situation.

If you find yourself nodding in agreement with a few of these, you may be on autopilot mode for your craft. All hope is not last, however. By realizing that you haven’t been working on improving yourself within your craft like you could, you’ve taken the most difficult step. Now, you must take back the controls of your life and your craft by giving them more priority. Don’t just do the same thing within your craft every single day. Mix it up. Add some novelty and challenges, which will push you to grow. Above all else, be mindful of what you’re doing every day and how it relates to the bigger picture of your long term goals.

Autopilot mode may be convenient, but it is not the best way to help us grow and improve in our craft.