Get off Automatic Pilot
Elaine St. James

One of the things that made it possible for me to keep going at high speed until I simplified my life was an innate ability to race through my day on automatic pilot.  I think this is true for a lot of us.

We're used to rolling out of bed in the morning, moving quickly through our ablutions, grabbing a bite to eat while we read the paper or watch the morning news, packing the kids off to school or day care, putting the finishing touches on a report for the boss, having a final swig of coffee, then flying out the door to start our workday, without reflecting on what we're doing.

We take the same route to work, so we don't have to think about it, and our minds easily fill with a million other things--worries, responsibilities, obligations--on the way to the office.

While some of our daily work procedures are less automatic than others, there's still a certain predictability about a lot of the tasks we take on.  Mostly we don't have to analyze it much.  We just get through the day so we can hop in the car, and go back home, on automatic.

Then we fall immediately into our evening schedule, whatever that might be for us:  exercise, on automatic; dinner, on automatic; cleanup, on automatic; meetings, on automatic; watching television, on automatic.

The weekends are frequently the same, though they usually allow for a little more latitude in terms of the routine.  But  most of us tend to do the same things over and over again, week in and week out.

Yes, we may vary the specifics somewhat.  We may have social or cultural or recreational outings on a regular basis.  But those can easily become automatic as well.  We tend to go to the same places, see the same people, discuss the same issues.

There's a certain comfort in moving through our lives this way.  The world sometimes seems unpredictable, and the grooves we establish give us a feeling of order and of being in control.  That's fine as long as the things we're doing on automatic are the things we really want to be doing.  Often they're not--or maybe they were once but aren't now--and we haven't stopped long enough to realize it.

And paradoxically, living on automatic complicates our lives.  Living on automatic is often what makes it possible for us to do all the things we feel we have to do.  We squeeze into our days new chores or commitments, adding another errand here, another lunch date there, without considering whether we really have the time to do them, let alone the desire.  We just take a deep breath, put our nose back to the grindstone, and add one more item to our list of things to do.

This is where building some air into our schedules pays off.  We can create the time to have a leisurely breakfast with our family, or take the scenic route to the office and enjoy the ride.  We can create daily and weekly variations that will make it possible for us to savor special moments throughout our days, throughout our weeks, and throughout our lives.

Changing gears from time to time makes it possible for us to get into the habit of being aware and alive each moment, or at least for a lot more of our moments.  And the more aware we are, the easier it is to get back in control of our lives.

The process then builds on itself.  Each time we become conscious of the fact that we're doing something we'd rather not be doing, we can make adjustments in our schedule.  Gradually we can learn to eliminate those activities and substitute more appealing pursuits.

After a brief testimony
to the rewards of
her own simplified
life, St. James discusses
100 areas, from household
chores to e-mail, where
action may be effectively
taken to remove the
clutter from everyday life.

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The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when
we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. 
For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that
we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching
for different ways or truer answers.

M. Scott Peck



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People find themselves in ruts all the time. You're in a complacent
lifestyle where you work 9 to 5 and then you add a mortgage and kids.
You feel trapped, but guess what, brother? You constructed that life.
If you're OK with it, there's nothing wrong with that. But if you've
got unease, then you've got to make a change.

Jeremy Renner


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