When was the last time you drove somewhere, got to your destination, and didn’t remember the drive itself? You probably took turns, stopped at lights, maybe even waved at a friendly neighbor, but you have no recollection of the actual path.
Thinking about it probably freaks you out a bit, but what if you think about how much of your life have you lived through habit instead of conscious choice? Maybe half-heartedly listening to a friend talk, but really thinking about your response, or ordering the same thing off the menu without hearing what the specials were.
These may seem a bit trivial, but I’m willing to bet a great majority of your life has been run without a conscious thought and without connecting to the inner self.
This is autopilot. This is your subconscious running the show. And it happens so often we hardly even notice.
Research by Dr. Bruce Lipton on the programming of the subconscious mind talks about how we get into autopilot. Essentially as soon as our conscious mind starts thinking, our subconscious mind takes over the rest. So while you’re thinking about dinner tonight, your subconscious is driving the car.
Take a second before continuing and take a deep, conscious, breath.
Close your eyes and feel the air move through your nose and throat, down to your lungs. Feel your stomach rise and fall, Do this again and hold the breath for a second or two.
Now do me a favor and try to remember the last time this happened. The power of the breath is that it bring us into the present moment, and this is not only where peace, presence, and Self can be found, but it is also the only time we have to make choices.
We can’t change the past and the future isn’t here yet, so nothing we can do there. But right here, right now, this moment is exactly as it should be. And if you’re present, you are in control of your thoughts, your emotions, and your choices. I’m not saying you don’t experience thoughts or emotions, you certainly do, but you can actively decide how you react. My post Thoughts and Feelings and Emotions, Oh My! goes into more detail about this.
I can see for instance that I’m feeling stressed, perhaps there is a deadline coming up at work today and I’m worried I won’t make it. If I stayed on autopilot, I could worry about not getting to work on time because of traffic, which would lose me more work time, which in turn would put me more behind, which causes me more stress, etc etc. All in the two-minute span of brushing my teeth, and now I’m running out the door already in an emotional state. Possibly also a physical state of stress. Sweaty palms, racing heart, maybe even a headache forming.
Or, I can brush my teeth, acknowledge myself for feeling stressed, accept that the deadline cannot be changed, and breath. Finish brushing my teeth and create a plan. I can choose to accept that I have a deadline and I have a certain amount of time to do so, why would I need to stress then?
This seems like an “easier said than done” type of thing, and I’m not trying to say that it is easy, but it will take practice like many other skills in life. We can learn to control our reactions to the emotions and thoughts that pass through our minds and consciously make the decision to react in a more productive way.
The more times we try to bring our conscious mind into the present, the easier it becomes, and the easier it is to stay positive and balanced when times become tough.
I’m a person who has had a hard time with thinking before reacting. When I become emotional in situations, it’s like my head, heart and mouth are all on different pages. But I’ve practiced noticing my thoughts and feelings, watching my reaction and when I start feeling out of control, I breathe.
The focus on this breath creates a pause. A reminder to come back into the present. A reminder that all I have is this moment and my choice here will lead to the next moment and the one after that. So why should I cause a snowball of worry when I can instead breathe and carry a sense of calm to help me deal with the situation at hand?
Try and challenge yourself to find little moments to become present. Start with brushing your teeth, for instance. Each time you brush your teeth, focus on being present and mindful.
Watch what happens as you keep practicing and keep becoming more connected with the inner workings of your thoughts and feelings. Then watch how this practice translates to larger situations. Remember, you can control your thoughts, feelings and actions, you don’t need to be controlled by the autopilot snowball.
Dr. Lipton is also a wonderful reference. His writing combines science with the “new-agey woo-woo” that has become a large topic as of late. Discussing how our early upbringing has programmed our subconscious mind and how we can make changes to the programming.
Take another breath, and go on with the rest of your day.