Article in brief: Have you ever felt like you have driven to work only can’t remember anything about the drive? Or that you have performed a task or done something but can’t remember the details of it? Have you ever wondered why that happened?
“Autopilot” is a word most people know as a function in which an airplane flies itself on a specific route without a pilot guiding it. As a matter of fact, the human brain also has an “Autopilot” mode, although scientifically it has other names and can cause more harm than good.
“Autopilot” in humans reflects on those times when a person performs a task but doesn’t recall its details, like driving to work in the morning only not remembering the drive, or washing the dishes at night and not noticing a chipped glass. Surprisingly enough, people are on “Autopilot” over half the time (46.9% exactly) when they are conscious.
Scientists have discovered that the human brain functions in two different modes, the “Autopilot” mode (also known as “Default Network” or “Narrative Circuit”) and “Direct Experience” mode. The main difference in the two modes is how the person experiences their surroundings and how information is processed in real time.
It is very easy for people to slip into “Autopilot” mode as it is the default way of functioning, when a person gets used to doing something repetitively, like driving home after work, the brain has enough information stored to allow that person to drive without paying complete attention to the road, if something different does happen on the way (construction, traffic, detours) that person will automatically snap back as the brain doesn’t have enough information to deal with the situation at hand, the danger is however that it takes longer than expected to snap back which may cause accidents on the road.
In “Autopilot” mode, people are usually lost in their thoughts; they are either thinking about the long day ahead of them, or the problems they are currently going through, instead of enjoying the traffic free road to work or the breeze of fresh air on their skin. Unfortunately, people don’t realize how much they miss when they are on “Autopilot” and how being in that mode causes unhappiness.
Imagine sitting on the beach, the weather is more than perfect, the sea is calm, and there are no sounds around except for the sounds of the waves and your breathing. Without realizing it, the mind wonders into other things, thinking about a person that is deeply missed, wondering when life had become so complicated, thinking about what to buy a friend for their birthday, and so on, and that is the “Autopilot” mode. Instead of enjoying what is around and allowing the senses to take in the surroundings, unhappiness kicks in as the mind doesn’t stop wandering long enough to enjoy life. Putting a full stop to the wandering of the brain, the “Autopilot”, and focusing on the sun, the sand, the sea, the breeze is what scientists call “Direct Experience”.
It is very important to know when the “Autopilot” mode is on and try to shut it off, a life lived in the “Direct Experience” mode is much more fulfilling than living in “Autopilot” as it changes the way a person experiences life first hand and helps the small things in life give their full effect.
* Note from writer: The next article will be about ways to minimize the time spent in Autopilot mode
- Autopilot: functioning in an unthinking or reflexive manner.
- Rock, Dr. David. “New Study Shows Humans Are on Autopilot Nearly Half the Time.” Your Brain At Work. Psychology Today, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2014. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-work/201011/new-study-shows-humans-are-autopilot-nearly-half-the-time>.
With a background in communications, her passion for writing is driven by the need to voice her thoughts. Budoor also hold an eMBA in innovation and Entrepreneurship, other than writing, her interests include reading and traveling.