No More Autopilot


Have you ever done something like this?

The other day I was drying off from my shower and starting to get dressed when I suddenly thought, “Did I shave my left leg?” I mean, I knew I shaved my right leg; I remembered doing that. But I had no memory of actually shaving my left leg. So I rubbed my left leg. Smooth. Seriously? Two minutes — three, tops! — had gone by, and I didn’t remember shaving that leg at all.

This sort of thing happens to me often. I will finish a shower and not remember using conditioner, though my hair is smooth and soft. Or I will drive home from a doctor’s appointment and not remember passing by stores or buildings that I had to have driven past.

Do you do this too?

It’s like my brain goes on autopilot handling these mundane tasks, and I don’t really pay attention to doing them.

And it’s not such a big deal when I’m shaving my legs or conditioning my hair. But sometimes I will get up from the table, where I’ve been sitting with one of my children. And I know my child has been telling me something about a Lego creation or about an episode of Phineas and Ferb or about the trick bike his friend has, but I won’t remember a word he said. Because my brain was composing that email to a friend or planning next week’s menu instead of listening to him.

Then it really stinks to be on autopilot. Because my children are not mundane tasks. They are people I am investing in. And I know that my time with them is far too brief to spend it on autopilot.

And so I want to be more deliberate, more engaged. The minutes I spend on autopilot add up to hours and days and months and years. And what kind of a life is that? Coasting through, half paying attention, half engaged.

There is a magnet on my fridge that says, “The world is full of people who will go their whole lives and not actually live one day. She did not intend on being one of them.

I want to live being fully present, alert, noticing the smell of the shaving gel, the shape of the rooflines, the vibrant colors of the cars I drive past. I want to look my children in the eyes and listen and actively respond to the things they tell me. I know there will be times when they won’t be jabbering non-stop, so I want to soak it in now. Some day, they will need to talk with me about something far more important than Legos and trick bikes, and I want them to know I will stop what I am doing and listen, really listen.

No more autopilot for me. I want to live my life.

7 thoughts on “No More Autopilot

  1. I can relate so, so much. And I, too, had to deliberately, consciously make sure I was living in the present moment when I was with my child. Stress of a divorce, bills, work, the tax man, everything (!) would mean I was halfway in & halfway out of a conversation with her. It was very unsatisfying.

    I finally realized that one way to escape the stress of things was to actually immerse myself in the time I had with my daughter. If I dove in fully and forgot all the rest, I would have an incredible time listening, laughing, creating, etc. and when I finally dropped her off at school, put her to bed, I realized I had actually re-energized and could better face the stresses BECAUSE of the time I spent with my daughter, giving it my 100%.

    So, I get it, and support your decision to chuck the autopilot. Have fun!


  2. Oh my goodness. I laughed when I read your post. How many times have I left the house and wondered if I’d locked the door or turned off the stove? I remember my mom having to drive back home in the morning on our way to school to check to make sure she’d closed the garage door, so I come by my spaciness rightly.

    My son talks a LOT. I have to deliberately say to myself, okay, now I’m going to listen to Jack, and then look at him and focus on his words. Otherwise I’ll be off in lala land and miss out on what he’s saying.

    But I’m also learning to tell him that it’s time for quiet because I need to think or that I can’t listen to him right now because I’m trying to make dinner and I need to focus on that. He doesn’t always stop talking, but I’m learning that once I’ve told him I can’t listen right now, it’s okay to let his words wash over me without feeling guilty about it.


  3. Yes, Kimberlee, I am learning to at least deliberately say, “I can’t listen right now. Tell me when I finish typing (or measuring or stirring etc. . . .).” And I am so glad I’m not the only spacey one.


  4. This is a great goal. One of the reasons I won’t allow myself to get a smart phone is because so many people are constantly on one while they are supposedly doing something else. And, yes, those childhood years go by so quickly. I have two teenage boys now and some days I am lucky to get a few sentences.


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