Humans are creatures of habit. Much of our day-to-day life is repetitive. We all know that feeling of getting into the car and arriving at work without being able to recount the exact details of the journey. When we repeat actions on a daily basis, we use up less energy by doing exactly what we did before. Safe routines can also protect us from danger. The problem comes when more and more of our life becomes routine until there is no spontaneity left. Don’t live your whole life on autopilot – that is existing and not really living. When we live in autopilot mode we are not really present in our lives and that can only result in plenty of unhappiness. lack of fulfillment and regrets.
Dr. Ira Hyman, Ph.D, did an interesting research project with some former students. They conducted two studies in which they placed obstacles directly in the pathway of walkers and checked if they avoided the obstacles and if they became aware of the them. In the one study (inspired by a YouTube video by Amy Krouse Rosenthal) three-dollar bills were clipped onto a branch of a tree beside a narrow path between some dorms and the academic centre of campus. All individuals had to move their heads in order to not walk into the branch. The researchers discovered that people could walk past the tree, move to avoid a branch, and fail to become aware of money hanging directly in front of their faces. We have all heard the saying that ‘money does not grow on trees’ but even if it did, we probably wouldn’t notice it! Studies like this just help to illustrate how much of our lives is lived on autopilot.
The Cambridge dictionary defines being on autopilot as “doing something without thinking about it or without making an effort”. Here are some warning signs that may indicate too much of your life is spent on autopilot:
- You have lost hope.
You have nothing to look forward to except more of the same. You have given up on your dreams and aspirations. You have given up all attempts to make any changes in your life. You no longer have any sense of purpose. You may begin to feel this way because of all the losses and discouragement you have suffered in the course of your life. You may have decided that you would rather live without the highs and lows rather than being disappointed again.
- You have begun to fear change.
You no longer want to stretch your boundaries or challenge yourself. You no longer ache to do something new. You think that if you don’t continue performing the same actions day after day, the consequences may be frightening. You may get an idea that lifts you out of your mundane life for a moment, but it remains only an idea because your fear kicks in and squashes it with thoughts that it’s too difficult to follow through.
- You don’t take the actions necessary to make your dreams come true.
It seems like just too much effort to take steps towards fulfilling your dreams. You no longer make any conscious effort to make your life or the life of those around you better. You don’t take risks and yet you live every day with regret about what you are not doing. You are always waiting for something to happen to you as you don’t feel you can make the changes yourself.
- You lack self-esteem
When you lack self-esteem, it is easier to live a life of dull routine that provides no challenges because you do not feel equipped to handle them.
- You are influenced by the negativity of others.
When crabs have been caught, they could easily escape from the bucket but they keep dragging one another down and so none of them get out. People who have a ‘crab mentality’ do not rejoice in the success of others but try to prevent it because of their jealousy, envy and competitiveness. If you are attempting to make changes in your life, these are the people who will resent it. If they have to go out and work in a cubicle every day to earn a living, why should you be any different? Why should you be able to follow your passion when they have to do the same meaningless job day after day just to pay the bills? When you share your dreams and hopes, they will point out all the reasons why what you want to do is impossible. If you listen to these voices, you have little chance of escaping mediocrity.
- You are caught in the trap of materialism.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with possessions but sometimes the quest for them gets in the way of life rather than enhancing it. There are many people who reach the end of their lives having accumulated many possessions but still facing plenty of regrets and unhappiness.
A meaningful life without regrets
Do you want to live your whole life with feelings of regret? There is a natural tendency to re-examine our lives at the start of any new phase such as when we have children or when our children leave home. It often takes a near-death experience or some kind of tragedy to really jolt us out of our complacency and take stock of our lives. It took the trauma of divorce to well and truly shake me out of my comfort zones.
Find out what’s holding you back, say ‘enough’ and make a decision that you want to live more intentionally and meaningfully. That’s the first step. Of course just saying it isn’t enough and it has to be followed up with actions. But there’s nothing stopping you except you.
Living life without regrets does not necessarily mean the same for everyone. For someone it may mean embarking on an adventure such as deciding to live off the grid or traveling around the world. For someone else it might mean living simply and authentically according to their true values – they may want to embrace a creative lifestyle or get rid of excess possessions. It may mean deciding to live fully in the present moment without being dragged down by the past or fearing for the future. Be consciously aware of living fully in the present and enjoying what it has to offer.
I thought about this today when my adult daughter came to visit me and I was busy doing all sorts of other things instead of talking to her. I sat down, put aside everything else and we had a good chat. I felt so close to her and my life was suddenly much fuller and richer as a result. This is a simple example but I think it’s the simple choices that can lead to more permanent change. Maybe, living a life without regrets is as simple as beginning each day by making a conscious decision to be more fully present.
I think we all want to live life rather than merely existing. To do this, it’s important to be aware of how much of your life is spent on autopilot. Once you have this awareness and you discover what’s holding you back, you can start making some changes. If you start becoming more conscious and think about what you are doing, eventually your life will become more meaningful. Do this often enough and I believe you will no longer feel powerless. Are you living in a haze where you’re not fully present? If you are, it’s time to make some changes. I am trying to live more intentionally myself and it’s not always easy to leave your comfort zones and challenge yourself. But, I have found that the rewards are great when I do succeed and that encourages me to move forward. It certainly does not happen overnight and takes determination but it is worth it!