Running on autopilot
How much of what you do is done simply because that’s the way you’ve always done it?
Your workout for example. When was the last time you questioned its composition? The overriding theory behind each modality? If what you’re doing is still serving your needs?
And I get it: you’re comfortable where you are. The glove fits, the shoe is nicely broken in. Why rock the boat? Nudge the sleeping dog?
Now maybe there WAS a reason at some point that you began doing things the way you do. But is that reason still valid now?
Have you ever stopped just prior to diving into a particular exercise to ask yourself “why this” exercise?
Why THIS particular movement at THIS particular point in my routine? And why even this routine?
Why THIS set and rep scheme?
Why this load? Why this angle?
Why this grip? This stance? This speed?
And why am I even lifting today to begin with? Why not sprint, bike, do yoga or swim.
Or skip the “workout” altogether and simply play?
Or maybe just totally relax, and read a great work of fiction. Recovery matters too, you know. The CNS needs a chance to downregulate.
Is your current routine a hindrance to, or a defined stepping stone toward a string subgoals leading to your “North Star” goal?
Do you even have defined subgoals leading to a “North Star” goal?
And you might even be asking now: what IS a “North Star goal”?
You’re not alone. Most don’t have an ultimate goal in mind. But if you want to live intentionally, we do need to fix that.
Doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind or tweak that goal as you go. Hell, I do. Quite often.
You need to know that running on autopilot (the subconscious) is is a natural response to a complex and chaotic world. It frees the conscious mind to do its thing: identification friend or foe. Creating the new. Personal interaction. Contemplation.
And in a bygone world where the name of the game was mere survival and procreation, and accomplishing those tasks meant a life of daily movement and access to an unadulterated food supply, that outsourcing of cognitive load to the subconscious worked spectacularly.
But that’s is a far cry indeed from our current environment. And the “operating system” that worked so brilliantly for us then is crippling us now in the “human zoo” we inhabit.
At best, operating on autopilot leads to training stalls and lackluster work productivity and just sleepwalking through life.
At worst? Shit, where to even start with that?
Whether it’s mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, relational or financial, we can all find somewhere where we’ve done the “Walking Dead” stroll right off the reservation to wake up, dazed and confused, in whythefuckamidoingthisville.
So, how does one avoid this fate? Whythefuckamidoingthisville is no place to be, btw…
What I’ve found is that mindfulness and smart habit change skills are the best places to begin.
And how do you jump-start that process?
Simple: just begin asking why. About everything.
Seriously. Ask “why” with the burning curiosity the 5-year-old you used to have.
The Root of Habit Change
First off, we have to be mindful enough to even begin questioning our subconscious actions. And this is why I like to start with training. Because if you are working out, you’re at least somewhat aware of your body, and at least more so than the normal Joe. You’ve made a choice to improve. To do, rather than simply muddle.
And the mindfulness process is – again – simple as can be: just begin asking yourself why. Before you even enter the gym today, ask yourself what it is you hope to achieve with THIS particular workout.
But here’s the catch: you, my friend, are VERY good at bullshitting yourself. And it’s not just you; everyone is skilled in this art. Myself included. That “shitty roommate” in your head will spin every conceivable lie and deceit to bump you off kilter.
And you’ll buy it, too. Hook, line and sinker. Giving the devil its due: the shitty roommate is very convincing.
In fact, all of your bad habits (and hell, some of your good ones, too) exist solely to pacify the shitty roommate. Or to protect yourself from its being seen or heard.
Because the shitty roommate deals in the most potent control currency there is: the emotional kind.
And as long as our mission is to satisfy the shitty roommate, he (she? It?) will continue to control you.
Because the shitty roommate LOVES the status quo. And like a pig in a sty, the shittier the better. The shitty roommate avoids even the prospect of change like Dracula dodges sunlight.
And know this, too: the shitty roommate laughs out loud at will power. Will power, valiant and noble as it is, is punching way above its weight class here.
Shaking hands with the Devil
In my experience, the first step to dealing with the shitty roommate is to drag him out into the light of day. Seek him out! Acknowledge his existence. Much like Budha invited his worst fears to sit with him over tea.
More on that idea, here.
Because (again, in my experience – YMMV) you can’t ever really silence the shitty roommate. You can just get better at making him realize that his opinion doesn’t matter to you.
You can learn to coexist.
First (and much like the old US-Soviet Cold War) by the threat of mutual destruction.
Then, over time, by way of a more peaceful detente.
The two aspects of mindfulness
The first aspect of mindfulness is true observation. Slowing down to observe the world as it truly is. Or at least as “true” as your current abilities allow.
The second is to ask the why of a situation (or your actions) with a “beginner’s mind”. That is, seeing it for the first time.
Once you do this with your workouts (it’s the first step of the Five Ts process), you can move on to other areas of your life.
Diet is a natural next step.
For example, why do you eat 3 times a day and not just once?
“Because I’m hungry, you idiot!” might be your initial response. And it might very well be totally legitimate one at that (that’s why we’re engaged in this process).
But have you ever stopped to actually question that reaction? What *would* happen if you simply skipped lunch today? Would you completely self-destruct?
Probably not. And it would give you a nice piece of intel about yourself.
Like maybe you aren’t really hungry at all? Like maybe – just maybe – you’re eating simply out of habit? Or boredom?
It’s quite possible.
But you’ll never know until you first ask why.
Heal thyself, hone thyself, change the world –