The Importance of Autopilot

Sep 30, 2013

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“The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free fro their own proper work.” –William James

In any given day, there is only so much willpower each of us has. Every single one of us has varying amounts of self-control based on how we’ve conditioned the muscle of our mind, but even the most resolute and disciplined individual will tire if too many decisions must be made in one day’s time.

What occurs when decisions are thrust upon us at the end of our day after becoming mentally exhausted by other vexing problems is that our precision to make the best decision diminishes.

In a Vanity Fair article in 2012, the President of the United States, revealed a simple, seemingly mundane fact about his daily routine – only navy or gray suits were his attire of choice. As the President, understandably, his sartorial choices are not the most pressing of issues; however, he must present himself in proper wares. The simple answer was, eliminate the need to make a decision, so “you [can] focus your decision-making energy.”

Even though we may not be the leader of a country, we all have decisions we can eliminate from our lives which can improve our decision making, ultimately leading to a reduction of unnecessary stress, and increasing the quality of our lives.

Over the weekend, I read Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, which is an insightful compilation of more than a hundred artists (past and present) and the rituals that aided them in their craft (and a few rituals that didn’t). Jane Austen for example, rose early before everyone in her household and played the piano before sitting down for breakfast at nine with the family (her mother, sister, and close friend). Toni Morrison wakes up at five in the morning, makes coffee and watches the “light come”. And Ludwig van Beethoven would take the occasional break to walk outdoors in the afternoon which aided his creativity.”

However, what is most fascinating is that nearly all of the artists (whether they were writers, composers, dancers or psychologists (Freud and Jung are profiled as well), adhered to some sort of routine that freed their mind of the mundane requirements of their days (eating, exercising, resting, sleeping), so that the creativity that is waiting inside of us all could be free to emerge, and the artist would be able to capture it.

Here are a few examples from the book, as well as ideas inspired by the reading, that may be decisions potentially acceptable to be placed on autopilot depending upon what your goals and priorities are:

  • Carve out time to rest each day as you sip a cup of tea
  • Turn off all electronic devices at a certain time each evening
  • Choose the same nail polish – a classic, fool-proof color that never disappoints
  • Eat the same breakfast – healthy, provides energy and starts the day off on the proper foot (see mine here)
  • Set a certain amount of time each evening (or morning) to read and gain new knowledge, insight and information about the world and life in general
  • Go grocery shopping on the same days with a default list for the week or days ahead
  • Once you’ve found a style of jeans/top/skirt/dress/shoe that fits you well, stop searching and become a loyal customer
  • Refrain from trying to understand trends, and purchase clothing, electronics, etc that work and will last (here are the basics to get you started)
  • Use a planner, write your “to-do”s on the proper date and forget about it until it’s time to get it done
  • Set your alarm clock for the same time each morning
  • Create canned email responses for work that are sent as soon as you receive email
  • Set up direct deposit, automatic bill-pay, etc
  • Engrain in your mind the phrase, “I’ll get back to you,” or “Let me think about it,” so you don’t make a rash decision.
  • Exercise at the same time everyday (approximately). Over time, people will come to expect it, you’re body will become accustomed and you’ll have less resistance (both internally and externally)
  • Have a go-to vegetable dish that pairs well with nearly any main entre you make.
  • Schedule appointments for beauty before leaving the salon on the day of the current appointment.
  • Set up automatic subscription renewal

The above list contains just a few of the many ways in which we can take care of the necessities of our lives (staying healthy, eating well, looking presentable, paying the bills). When we eliminate these tedious, yet foundational tasks to make through the day successfully, you will be amazed at the improved ability you have to make the best choice when tough decisions present themselves no matter what time of day it is.

While adhering to routine may at first glance appear to be a mundane way to live, what the artists revealed in the book, and what I too have found, is that when we free ourselves from tasks that can be done without our energy, we usher in the possibility of so many other amazing opportunities to occur that we might have missed otherwise. And that is the beauty of autopilot when applied correctly to our lives.

Today’s Discussion – what simple routines have you placed on autopilot to help create your simply luxurious life? Share in the comments below or on Facebook.

Have a great start to your week!

8 thoughts on “The Importance of Autopilot

  1. Autopilot is essential to me and repeated routine — which becomes ritual — improves the quality of my life so much. Thanks for the list, I can see a few areas I’d like to work on. I’d add menu planning — not rigidly but a rough idea of what we’ll eat each night after I shop for produce weekly, making work lunches based on planned overs or salads, putting items on a list as we use them up.

  2. every morning… I get a cup of coffee, sit on my deck, and read my favorite blogs and my morning devotional. A wonderful way to start the day~

  3. I have started buying a lot of dresses for this reason, and mostly in same colour palette of black and white, with a little pink, red and green thrown in (not at the same time!) as it is such an easy way of dressing…no matching tops and bottoms, and always looks a little dressier (oops pun)!

  4. Saved this to read and soooo glad I did, and I ordered the book straightaway. Thank you Shannon, for your always inspiring (and energizing!) posts. The wonderful thing is that many of these good ideas require little or no discipline or effort — just awareness. But doing just one or two can sure make the discipline and effort required elsewhere – easier – and as you say, more focused. Brava. Can’t wait to get the book.

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