I got my first real six-string, bought it at the five-and-dime, played it ’til my fingers bled, was the summer of ’69. No. It wasn’t, sorry I’m not that old, but I got your attention right? It was, in fact, the summer ‘07, I’d just finished my A levels and was making the most of a (non-masked, the nostalgia) summer with friends before heading off to University. It was the first summer after I’d passed my driving test so I spent pretty much my entire life zooming around in my VW feeling like nothing could stop me. I was finally free. One sunny July day I was driving to a friends house about 40 minutes from where my parents lived, bopping along to Radio 1 as I zoomed along the M40 and then suddenly, I was parked in my friends drive. But wait. I’d only just left home? Wait. How did I get here? Wait.. what?!
Please tell me this has happened to someone else? Those moments when you suddenly realise that you’ve auto-piloted yourself somewhere without a huge amount of conscious awareness of what was going on. To be clear, I wasn’t asleep at the wheel, I was driving (safely), but I don’t consciously remember taking specific exits or changing gears or steering particularly (you know, the minor things). How can it be, that I could drive, without crashing, for 40 minutes without being 100% consciously aware of what I was doing? How does that even work? Same story for the commute to work and to be honest my entire morning routine. Some days I’d walk into the office and think, wait a second, I’ve just auto-piloted my whole morning. Granted, I used to have to wait up at the crack of dawn and was equally possibly half asleep, but still — I’d dream walk my way from bed to shower to clothes to tube to office and then suddenly (don’t worry ex-bosses) I’d wake up and get to work.
How incredible that our bodies can literally auto-pilot us from one thing to the next without a need for our conscious minds to get involved. So incredible, in fact, that our sub-conscious is running the show about 95% of the time. NIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT OF THE TIME. I remember when I first found this out, wait, so, am I actually just asleep for most of my life? Kind of. Yes. Scary? A little, but it does explain a lot. This was actually one of my theories for why we were all so tired at the beginning of the pandemic, because our sub-conscious patterns that got us out of bed, dressed and onto the jubilee line to work were suddenly broken and we had to consciously decide how to structure our mornings without the commute. We had to decide what to make for breakfast when we couldn’t just go get the usual from the canteen. We had to decide where to go for our daily exercise when we couldn’t auto-pilot it to the gym. We save energy by having our auto-pilot routines, that’s why productivity people always say cut down the number of decisions you have to make in a day so you can save energy for the big ones. Wasn’t that why Steve Jobs always wore the same thing? So he could save energy to think about iPhones? So yes, no need to bash the sub-conscious conditioning in its entirety, but then what happens when auto-pilot does things we don’t want it to do?
This is where it gets interesting. So I used to have this pattern that came up when I got a few missed calls from someone. If there was no voicemail, my mind would go into a mini tail spin and create some kind of story that someone had died (yes. extreme. granted). My auto-pilot had gone haywire and was creating something not particularly helpful. It wasn’t until I saw a friend of mine not even bat an eye lid at THREE missed calls from her mum that I realised that perhaps my response wasn’t entirely normal. One of my other helpful auto-pilot programmes was to get incredibly defensive if anyone asked me a question when I wasn’t sure of the answer. ‘Where did these numbers come from?’ ‘err I found them from this source which is really valid because it was used here by this other really smart person OK?’. Again. Not that helpful.
It turns out that these auto-pilot routines are deeply routed in the sub-conscious, hard coded based on an amalgamation of all of our lives experiences (the most important ones bed down by aged 8). My missed call fear was a legitimate fear from 12 year old me when I missed a call from a friend whose Dad had just died. The route of the defensiveness was less clear cut but is rooted in 1) failing a couple of exams when I was little so thinking I was stupid 2) being in trouble at school and equating anyone questioning me meaning I was in trouble. All legitimate in their original forms, less so when they keep repeating in our adult lives when we are no longer at school and our friends Dad haven’t just passed away. So how to do we fix them so we don’t have to keep responding in the same old groundhog way?
The key is in the WHY. Keep asking yourself why. forever. and ever. Channel a slightly irritating child that perpetually drones from the back seat of a car… but whyyy? The more we question our, less helpful, behaviours and responses, the closer we can get to uprooting them, seeing them for what they are and therefore not having to continually respond in the same way. Once we become conscious to the sub-conscious root of the behaviour, we can then make the choice as to whether we want to continue to behave in that way or change it. Luckily for us, there don’t tend to be too many different things underpinning everything we do — generally there will be a core 3 or 4 and most behaviours link to these, so once you’ve unpicked 3 or 4, you’re getting closer to being able to consciously decide how to behave in life, rather than being stuck in reactive cycles.
When questioning yourself, the important thing is to really dig deep. It’s not enough to ask why, hear the response ‘because they were rude’ and carry on with your day (then you’re stuck in your pattern). Why do you believe what they said to be rude? Why does that affect you? Why do you feel as you do about it? What (ok the only not why) does this say about what I believe about myself? and then finally, is that true? Going back the necklace analogy from my previous note , these are the knots we are unpicking. These are the belief patterns which need to be seen, questioned and then reframed in order for us to move forward. The more you unpick the knots, the more conscious you become. The more conscious you become, the freer you become. The freer you become, the closer you are to living the life you actually want.
Let me know how you get on.
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