Snap out of autopilot: live with intention

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Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Do you go through most of your day on automatic? On the one hand, this can save mental energy when you’re busy. You don’t spend too much time thinking about what you’re doing. But to really live your best life, snap out of autopilot.

The down side to being on autopilot

You might save time and energy being on autopilot. But you’re not acting with intention.

You’re acting mindlessly rather than mindfully. You don’t notice what you’re doing at any one moment.

You may start out each day intending to acting in a certain way. But if you don’t snap out of autopilot, you won’t be aware of what you’re thinking or doing.

You’re simply reacting to situations

So you find yourself acting the way you’ve always acted.

For example, at the start of the day you tell yourself you’ll stop snacking, or stop yelling at the kids, or will focus more at work. But after an hour, you’ve raided the fridge, snapped at the kids, or checked your phone 10 times.

And that’s not what you intended. You wanted to act differently.

But because your autopilot clicked in, you did what you always do.

Snap out of autopilot

If you don’t snap out of autopilot, nothing will change. You’ll always fall back on habitual ways of acting. And these are often unhelpful.

Stop acting mindlessly

Repeating mindless actions can have a big impact – especially if they’re unhelpful actions.

Then you’re reinforcing habits you want to get rid of. They get stronger and stronger, and harder to break.

So what’s the answer? Here are 20 pointers to get you moving in the right direction. 

1 Notice what you’re doing

Live with intention. Notice those little decisions you make day in, day out. Especially the little decisions to keep doing unhelpful actions.

You may think these decisions are trivial. And that these actions are so small, that they don’t matter.

But little things have a big impact when repeated often. So make sure you act the way you intend.

2 Choose your behaviours wisely

Helpful choices lead to the result you want. They have a positive impact on your life.

Every time you choose a little action in line with your values, you win. You move a step closer to where you want to be. You choose the better option.

3 Choose little actions that matter

Choose to work on something that will make a positive difference. Bigger goals are reached by doing little actions, one after the other. So choose small actions in line with your bigger goals.

What’s the next little action that will move you towards a valued goal?

4 Make it easy

Don’t be too ambitious at the start. You want to succeed, not fall at the first hurdle. It doesn’t matter how small the action is. 

Now break it down even more. Make it smaller. It needs to be so easy that you can’t make excuses. You want to be able to do this even if you’re tired or stressed.

5 Start right now

If you don’t start today, you’ll put it off forever. You’ll keep waiting for the right time.

You’ll wait to be hit with inspiration. But that day never comes. Don’t be fooled into waiting for motivation.

6 Don’t wait to be motivated 

Once you start, even if you don’t feel like it, inspiration will follow.

Writers have to get words down on the page. They have to write even if they don’t feel like it, or if the time isn’t right. They have to start, no matter how dreadful that first draft is.

Once they have that first draft, they can fix it up. But if there’s nothing to work with, they can’t move to the next level.

It’s the same with your goals.

7 Commit to turning up each day

You need to commit to turning up every day, no matter if you feel like it or not.

So take the challenge to follow through with your small goal to:

Plan healthy meals even if you don’t want to.

Focus on your work even if you don’t want to.

Act kindly even if you feel like screaming.

No matter how unmotivated you feel, you can still follow through with your intended action.

Don’t tell yourself you’ll do it when you feel ready. That’s just an excuse.

8 Do it even if you don’t want to

Even if your mind is saying no, you can still act with intention. 

Allow your brain to complain, and then ignore it. You don’t have to listen to its whingeing. Don’t let its grouching rule your life.

Otherwise you’ll stay stuck for the rest of your life.

Is that what you want? Or do you want to change?

Snap out of autopilot to live with intention. 

9 See small actions gain momentum

For example, over a year:

Drinking instant instead of barista coffee will add $1000+ to your savings.

Eating 2 instead of 3 chocolate biscuits for morning tea will stop you gaining 5 kg (provided you don’t eat something else instead).

Adding 100 m to your weekly walk means you’re walking an extra 5 km by year’s end.

10 Harness the power of repetition

Aim for small actions repeated many times. See little successes grow into big ones.

Watch as you get closer to your goals. And all without the need for monumental efforts.

Just small actions repeated consistently over time.

11 Use mindfulness to act with intention

Moment by moment, take notice of your thoughts and feelings. Notice the thoughts that dampen your enthusiasm to act.

For example, that you’re too tired or stressed to act.

Notice how easily you accept these statements as truth. Notice the tricks your mind plays to stop you taking action.

Choose to believe you can still act, even if your mind is telling you not to. Snap out of autopilot to live with intention.

Remind yourself of your small goal

Make it easy to remember.

Have a yellow post-it note somewhere you can see it easily.

Write your little action down on a card in your wallet or purse.

Put it in your phone.

Set an alarm to remind yourself to act.

Tell supportive others what you aim to do.

12 Be proud when you act with intention

Be proud each time you do what you intended. Each little victory is important.

Enjoy these moments of success. Give yourself a pat on the back.

Every time you choose the better option, praise yourself.

13 Keep a record every day

Tally how many times you acted the way you intended. Use a grid for the week, or a column in your diary. It can be on scrap paper; nothing fancy.

Tick each time you resist temptation, or act in the way you intended. For example, each time you eat those carrots, or work for half an hour with focus, or talk calmly with your angry son.

14 Review your tally daily

Notice the urge to criticise yourself if you didn’t act as intended. Then switch your attention to these questions.

What made it easy to follow through on your goal? What made it hard to follow through on your goal?

Can you increase the factors that made it easy? Can you decrease the factors that made it hard?

15 Tweak your plan

Decide how you’ll change what you do tomorrow.

What factors could you change?

Which one would give the best result?

Which one would be easiest to change?

16 Change one thing at a time

Keep on recording your results every day. Notice how any change helps or hinders you in carrying out your goal behaviour.

17 Never give up

Accept that there will be days when you can’t follow through. Don’t use these as an excuse to stop.

Get right back to your intended behaviour ASAP. Just pick up where you left off.

You may have to drop back a little in intensity at times. That’s OK. It’s better to start again at a lower level, than to give up completely.

Or you can modify your goal if you need to, but keep moving forwards. 

18 Be prepared for the long haul

Don’t be discouraged if it seems to take a long time. Slow and steady can be very effective.

Dramatic changes can be hard to keep up.

You’re aiming to change over the long-term, and to make these changes stick.

19 One success leads to another

After you’ve changed one small behaviour, work on another. You may be able to do this after a few weeks, or a few months.

Follow the same process as above. Be patient, and see your progress snowball over time.

Once you know you can change, it gets easier. You’ll grow in self-confidence. Then you’ll tackle the next step, and the next, and the next.

Be prepared for backsliding

Of course, be prepared that you’ll still backslide, even with habits you think you’ve overcome. 

It’s just the way it is. You’re only human. It’s tough changing. 

But don’t give up and give in, and tell yourself it’s all too hard.

Get back to your new habits as soon as possible, and build from there. 

The truth is, you’ll probably have times when you backslide for the rest of your life.

So get used to it. Expect it, and don’t let it stop you.

Just pick up where you left off and start again, using the above tips. 

20 Change is a continuous process

Make sure you’re changing in the right direction. The only way to banish unhelpful habits is to snap out of autopilot.

Make a positive difference to your life, and live with intention.

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