Adult Mental WellnessChild and Adolescent Mental WellnessMindfulness

The Perils of Autopilot

A couple of weeks back, a pilot of a commercial airliner, while in flight, experienced cardiac arrest and died. With the assistance of his co-pilot and the jet’s built-in autopilot system, the plane was fortunately guided down safely onto the tarmac without incident (so skillfully, in fact, that the passengers were surprised to learn about the events upon landing).

Autopilot serves a great purpose when it is needed. In our daily lives, our own built-in autopilot system allows us to carry out umpteen routine tasks without having to think critically through each and every step. But occasionally, the autopilot can get stuck in the “On” position in my life, and I find myself with the realization that I’ve been functioning for the last 10 minutes, lost in thought or “daydreaming.”

One of the most common reports of children with ADD/ADHD is that they are constantly “off in another world” when they should be completing the seatwork their teacher assigned. In adults and children with ADD/ADHD, getting “side-tracked” is commonplace. Staying on task is a huge task in and of itself, because the autopilot keeps grabbing the controls out of the pilot’s hands and taking the jet off in a different direction.

But those dealing with ADD/ADHD are not the only ones who are frequently lost in thought. People who are under various stresses in their lives are also very prone to “zoning out.” Anxieties of all sorts consist of turning thoughts and concerns over and over in the mind, regarding the past, the present, and worries about the future. While attention is on those thoughts, it cannot at the same time be directed to the task at hand. The result is that we are robbed of the joy of experiencing the beauty of the details of life. Unaware of what is happening in the world around us at that particular moment, we miss out on life. A walk outside is just that: a walk. A drive to work is the same old, same old. Soon, pretty much everything in our day is dull, routine, humdrum, and gets to be downright depressing.

Indeed, Depression holds captive our life in a similar way. Thoughts are turned right off, there is a deadening of mindfulness, and a retreat deep into a dark cloak. Joy is found in few, if any, places.

The common thread here, lies in the loss of mindfulness, a lack of intentional, mindful awareness. Being mindful of everything happening in a person’s world at any given moment is what enables them to experience new and fresh facets of life that energize and inspire.

As I sit and write this at this moment, two stunning yellow finches have just touched down outside my window. As I study their depth of colour, I realize one is a male and one is a female (based on their colours). They are so tiny! So precious. I am delighted by them. In the past, when deep in anxiety or depression and living in a perpetual state of unawareness of the many goings-on in the world right around me, my mindset would have prevented me from noticing how spectacular these two adorable little creatures were.

If you are wanting to gain back control of your thoughts, to disengage the autopilot mechanism that may be robbing you of the moment by moment joys to be had in life, then know this: mindset matters. Deeply.

(Original posting: January 25, 2011.)

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