Stop Living On Autopilot And Become A Better Person

As we go through our lives, we do many things on autopilot. We are creatures of habit and do many nice things subconsciously. This is a pity as if we were more aware of our positive behavior. It would brighten our day.

Even when you feel down and depressed walking to work, you still say hello to the neighbor. You let people get out of an elevator. You let the older person sit on the bus. You smile automatically when you bump into a friend. These are small gestures and rituals that show the positive side of ourselves. They can also have a positive boosting effect on our mood. But often they don’t, as we don’t notice them. Being more mindful of these rituals can brighten your day. They can create a brief alternate reality that can, step by step, change who you are. You can become a more grateful and positive person.

Saying please and thank you

In The Path, Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh talk about why we say please and thank you. A couple of hundred years ago, social relations were defined by the hereditary hierarchy. If you were a peasant, you would be speaking to a lord different way than talking to your peer. If a lord were speaking down to you, he would use a different language too. As markets developed, certain rituals popped up so the buyer and seller could speak as equals, even though they were not. Please and thank you is an as-if ritual, an equalizer that we use to pretend that we are at the same level so we can have an amicable exchange of information and goods.

If you have kids imagine a scene every parent experiences. A small child not yet aware of social rituals wants something, so they go and take it. At best, they say, “hand me my toy.” What is your reaction? “I will, but what’s the magic word?” and you pressure them until they say “please.” Then you hand over the toy and pressure them to say “thank you.” The child doesn’t understand why you make things so complicated. What you are doing is training your child to treat others with respect, as equals, and to express gratitude. It is not only about a stupid social ritual. It is about guiding your child to be a decent human being. Rituals work. But they can’t be done on autopilot. It may feel like a rote act initially, but eventually, the child sees that people respond more positively when this ritual is used. She also learns how to make the ritual even more powerful with a smile and a tone of voice.

Being on autopilot

Being on autopilot is often a significant cause of broken relationships. Two people disagree on the way to solve a problem or how to live. They each get into a pattern of how to deal with it from their side. The more they repeat it, the more it becomes them, and the bigger the divide between the two grows. They may both feel bad about it but don’t know how to get out of the circle of arguments and misunderstandings. In reality, the only way out is to stop trying to change the other person and instead change your approach. If nagging your adolescent children doesn’t work, then stop doing it and try something else. Change the way you think and behave around them. We are all changing whether we want or not, so why not give the change a hand. We are the architects of our own reality.

Alternate realities

We create alternate realities all the time. Just imagine keeping the truth about Santa Claus from your kid as long as possible so they can have a more magical Christmas and behave better for a week or two leading to Christmas Eve, so they get some presents. Or think about telling your better half that they are the best person in the world. Objectively that is probably not the case. But in your reality, it certainly is. We say things that we know deep down are not true, but we also know that we can make others feel better by creating an alternate reality. So we do it, and it works.

By creating an alternate reality often enough, we can make it the actual reality. If you roll your eyes every time your partner starts talking about their work, they will get annoyed and feel you don’t care about them. If you make it a habit to suppress your need for eye-rolling and pay attention instead, your whole relationship will shift. Your partner will feel that you care. In time you internalize this behavior, and you become a better partner.

Putting it all together

Close your eyes and consider all the small rituals you go through every day, from the moment you wake up to when you go to bed. Consider all the small interactions you have with other people. How many of these interactions are less than positive? How many are done entirely on autopilot, so you don’t even realize you are doing them? Way too many.

By adopting rituals and following them consciously, you won’t become rigid. You will become more aware. You will see the good side of you, and over time you will internalize it. You will show the world a more positive version of yourself, and you will step by step change the reality around you. By living in the moment and by a conscious focus on your daily rituals, you will make the world a better place. You will evolve and become a better person too.

What is your take on the topic? What rituals do you follow that are completely automatic and subconscious? Do you remember the last time you said hello or thank you with full awareness, and you really meant it? How did it make you feel? Do you believe that being fully present in your daily interactions can change the world around you and even your own view of yourself?

Photo: Alexas_Fotos /

For more, read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, introversion, software development, and career The Geeky Leader or follow me on Facebook and Twitter: @GeekyLeader

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Categories: Life

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