Who Is Driving Your Car? Mindfulness And The Prevalence Of Autopilot

Aug 25, 2021Coaching

You are driving your car, you reach a point on your journey and momentarily can’t recall one iota of how you got to where you are. Ever had that experience?

Recent research carried out at Harvard University by Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T Gilbert suggests that we spend 47% of our days thinking about something else other than what we are actually doing.

Not so surprising when behavioural science suggests that 95% of our decisions and actions are based on unconscious processing. We are pretty well on autopilot relying on our unconscious mind most of the time. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes absolute sense as the part of the brain that produces logic and rational thought is very energy hungry, and uses it a bit like some smart phones use up battery. So to make best use of our effort, our brains evolved to do as much automatic processing as possible, thereby conserving energy for both hunting prey and running away if we become prey.

Nevertheless, in our comparatively safe modern existence, it does beg the question of whether or not this automatic mode of operation has outlived its usefulness. Here we all are, running on auto for 47% of the time, a bit like a driverless car. We have these amazing pieces of equipment called our brains at our disposal, yet harness only a small fraction of what it is truly capable of.

Another metaphor would be seeing ourselves as a wild horse, with the potential to become a race day winner, but instead we just frolic around the fields and eat grass all day because that is what our autopilot tells us to do.

Imagine what might be possible if we focussed on what we are actually doing even 70% of the time? Imagine if we could train our brains to use them more effectively and efficiently? How much more productive might our days be? What might we as individuals and yes even the human race be capable of?

It seems like mindfulness might be the answer. Defined by Jon Kabat-Zin, it’s founder as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose in the present moment, non judgmentally”. In simple terms mindfulness is about paying attention, being tuned into the present moment to create greater awareness and insight.

There is a growing body of research to show that mindfulness has a positive impact on employees and on the bottom line. Results suggest that mindfulness increases clarity, focus, improves creativity, innovation, decision making and leadership. Oh and it also significantly reduces stress.  The good news is that mindfulness is easily learned, MRI scans show positive changes in the brain after attending an eight week mindfulness course for one hour a week supported by a short daily mindful practice.

No coincidence that companies like Google, Target and General Mills and other corporate organisations are sitting up and starting to invest heavily in mindfulness.

Getting more curious? Why not invest a little of that 47% of the time spent in distraction and give it a try?