One of the traps with leading such busy lives in this day and age is falling into a state of auto-pilot. A study at the University of Toronto showed that most of us are not consciously focused on the activity at hand and in fact, we are functioning on auto-pilot around half of the time. That’s a lot of unproductive moments!
With overwhelming to-do lists and demanding careers, it is often a challenge to stay focused on the present moment. The problem is, this directly disrupts our productivity, our ability to think creatively and make good decisions, not to mention causing us frustration and anxiety through the day. This article has some good info on the neuroscience of being on auto-pilot if you’re interested in reading up on this.
So how can you get off auto-pilot?
One of the easiest ways to come off auto-pilot and into the present moment is a meditation practice, which brings us into a state of awareness.
The meditation allows us to release the mind chatter, letting go of thoughts that are not serving us and distracting us from the task at hand. During your meditation, take some time to notice non-judgementally everything about the present moment; how you feel, what you see, hear and smell.
Once you’ve finished your practice, turn your attention back to the activity in front of you and witness how you can focus more easily. Plus, your level of happiness and peace will have gone up a few notches!
Here’s a simple practice for you to try.
If you haven’t tried meditation before, here is a really simple breathing exercise to start with. It takes less than 1 minute so no excuses for not trying it right now! Here goes:
- Go to a quiet place and sit or lie down somewhere comfortable where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes. (Alternatively you can do this anywhere, such as at your desk at work, or while traveling on the bus or train.)
- Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, breathing deep into your belly. Feel your belly expand on the inhale (this activates the parasympathetic nervous system which reduces stress hormones and brings about that feeling of calm, clarity and focus).
- Then exhale for 4 seconds slowly and smoothly through the nose, feeling your body relax as you let the breath go.
- Repeat for 4 rounds, noticing each time what feelings are coming up in your body.
How did that feel?
Take some time to notice how your mind and body feel now. Again, remember 'non-judgemental' awareness is key. That means, don't label something as right or wrong (because there is no right or wrong); just notice it.
This is a simple breathing technique that allows you to enter the parasympathetic nervous system (the state of relaxation and presence, where you can access the prefrontal cortex of your brain that connects you with logic, rationale and focus (very handy for managing work tasks and getting through a busy day more productively!)
I recommend doing this simple practice every day to train your body to enter this relaxed, focused state more often, reducing long-term stress, anxiety and overwhelm and getting you out of auto-pilot.
Pick a time during the day that works for you and set a reminder to practice consistently at the same time every day. For example, you might do it each morning to set yourself up feeling positive and in control. You might do it before bed to reduce mental chatter. Or you can do it just before a big meeting or presentation at work to completely calm your nerves. There’s no right or wrong time!
If you have any questions about your own meditation practice or getting off autopilot, feel free to get in touch with me by leaving a comment or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to get your whole workplace off autopilot, functioning at their full capacity?
A group meditation workshop that teaches your team how to create their own tailored meditation and mindfulness practice will be the perfect solution. This fun and interactive workshop will give team members the WHY behind meditation and mindfulness, along with the skills and confidence to be present and productive every day.
To your health and focus,
Founder of Recipe for Health