Habits Are Life’s Autopilot

As a private pilot, I occasionally fly a small plane that is equipped with an autopilot. This amazing electronic gizmo has the ability to keep the plane’s wings level, maintain a set altitude and pretty much fly you to your desired destination by being linked with an on-board GPS device.

Autopilots can be a very handy tool by allowing the pilots to focus on other equally important tasks such as preparing for landing, talking to air traffic controllers on the radio and most importantly, watching out for other pilots droning along on autopilot. Basically, an autopilot reduces a pilot’s flying workload so they have some extra mental and physical capacity to do other more important things.

I was driving to pick up my rental car this week for a trip to Detroit and I realized that I had unknowingly engaged my internal autopilot called a habit. When was supposed to continue straight, I unthinkinly turned onto the road that I usually take to go to my office, instead of staying on the main road to go to the rental car location. As soon as I turned, I abruptly re-engaged my conscious driving with an eye opened laugh. Hey,where ya going Andy? I actually said aloud.  Who was really driving at that moment I thought? Certainly not the me that was wanting to get to the rental car place. I muttered to myself about the force of habit as I considered my options to get back on this morning’s course. A couple of turns later and I was consciously heading in the right direction.

Habits are VERY strong parts of most of us. They, like autopilots, tend to kick in so that we can do other things. They are not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it’s a good habit like flossing or exercising. The problem is that our habits don’t have a GPS link to keep us headed in the direction of our desired destination. They tend to keep us flying towards where we’ve usually been or sometimes they even keep us stuck right where we are in a holding pattern. I’ll admit that in many ways I am a creature of habit.

There’s a general consensus that it takes at least 20 days of continuous conscious effort to change a habit and to develop a new habit to replace the old one. That is why I came up with the pack of Life Matches to serve as a physical reminder to carry with you for at least 20 days to remind you to use your natural God-given strengths, so that you can live a life that is Fired Up! Creating new habits is a challenging and time consuming task. But if the habits can take you where you want to go safely, then they are certainly worth the effort.

We can learn to be mindful of our habits and examine each of them to see if they are still useful to us or if they are perhaps keeping us from being the us that only we can uniquely be. So here’s an opportunity to take some time out and do a quick life system check of your habits.

Think about your day up until the point that you are reading this post. Make a list of the habits you have used to get you to this moment. Be honest with yourself, no one else is going to read your list. If you could have done something with your eyes closed (maybe you did do it with your conscious eyes closed) then you have probably discovered a habit. Next to your habit, place a Yes or a No to note if you want to keep it or if the habit needs to be thrown out or replaced because it is no longer useful. Next review yesterday and see if you can detect a few more of your habitual behaviors. If you’re at a loss, you can always as a spouse, friend, or close family member who will no-doubt take great pleasure pointing out many of your habits.

About this time, you should receive a loud scary warning from one or more of your at-risk habits, letting you know that from the habit’s perspective you are about to make a horrible mistake by replacing or deleting them. Habit’s are very convincing in their pleas, so be prepared to be firm with yourself in your mental housecleaning. Thank the habit for whatever purpose it has served up until this point, and then send it packing.

It’s usually best to replace an outdated or unwanted habit with a new and improved habit. Our brains hate a vacuum and may grab whatever potential new habit is out there to fill the space of the old. That’s why we might decide to eat junk food to replace the old habit of smoking, etc..

Once you have your list of habits that you are ready to delete, upgrade, or replace, you need to get a plan together for how you will overwrite each one. You may not need the entire path to your new habit, but you will need to know what is the first step that you are willing to take and set a definite time for when you will begin. Warning: old habits love to try to confuse you at this point and as a last resort, will try to get you to procrastinate. As the old saying goes, “Old habits die hard.”

Try focusing your attention on what you WANT to have happen and not on what you DON’T WANT to have happen. If you want to trash your over eating habit, then don’t worry about over eating. Instead, focus on developing your new habit of eating the correct amount of healthy food. It’s a small but crucial mental trick to successful habit reform…focus on what you want and give no brain power to what you don’t want.

I suggest you only try to change one habit at a time. Change is often time consuming, because you have to keep thinking about what you want and not fall back into using your old habit. Change can also be discouraging as you may not change as fast as you wish to do so. But if you stick with it, you do have the power to change your old habits. If you attempt too many habit evictions all at once, they will probably gang up on you in and convince you that it is not worth the effort and seduce you with fear so that you stay doing what you’ve always been doing and getting what you’ve always been getting out of life.  Also, it’s natural to slip back into old habits from time to time.  Don’t beat yourself up too badly when you do backslide.  Just admit to yourself you did it and refocus on what you want to have happen and don’t worry about what you don’t want to have happen and get back on your new habit horse and ride!

What habit’s are keeping you from being the ultimate, unique, fantastic, special, one-of-a-kind you that you were created to be? What can you do to build new habits to get you to where you want to go? What do you need to do to create these new habits? What’s the first step? When will you take it?

Engage you conscious brain and take control of your dream life from your unproductive habits. New destinations require new thinking and new habits. I hope you find your way to where only you were destined to go in this life and that you drive “Fired Up!”

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About Andrew W Dix, MS, BCC
Author, Board Certified Executive Business Coach, Trainer, Reiss Motivation Profile Master and Private Pilot. Expertise in motivational intelligence, leadership development, strengths, management, coaching, and change management. Available for keynote addresses.

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