The power of our ‘autopilot’

I think all counselors and coaches might share a similar wish for the well-being of their clients: ‘Don’t underestimate the power of your auto-pilot’.

Learning to drive a manual-transmission car is the best metaphor I can think of to explain the relationship between the conscious and ‘auto-pilot’ parts of your mind.  Automatic transmissions may work just fine to translate your intended direction via the steering wheel, gas pedal and brakes. But people are often drawn to the manual transmission because it gives you a different level of control.

If you haven’t yet, coming to understand how to operate a manual transmission can be very eye-opening. You learn that an ‘automatic’ is actually directing many more functions than you had ever realized needed attention. “Decisions” about what gear to use, at what speed, and many others, are all conveniently made without us even being aware of them. But if the automatic transmission starts to have problems – slow acceleration, stalling, or abrupt speed changes – you have little recourse for control without “manual” options.

Whether it’s driving a manual or spending less time living on auto-pilot, the solution is all about increasing awareness of the mechanisms in play and improving your responsiveness to them.  Increasing your tangible knowledge can be a good first step.  But knowing and doing are two separate steps.   In the case of getting more control in your personal life, some find that they need “hands-on” help in coaching or counseling for the “doing” part of that equation.

The information in these columns is meant to build a foundation of understanding why we might find ourselves unhappy or scratching-our-heads about others’ or our own behavior.  Understanding all the mechanisms in play can help you see things more accurately. And that information can be enough to begin making changes.   But  in either scenario, the doing will be your own creation. As in my post on “Finding Yourself“, it’s very tempting to look outside of yourself for answers.  But the most vital information is already within you.


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