Your automatic pilot is a moron

HAVE you ever driven somewhere and at the end of the trip, you’ve had no idea how you got there?

You can call recall getting into the car, clipping in your seat belt and turning the vehicle on, but the actual details of the journey remain a mystery to you?

It’s happened to me – happens to me regularly, actually – and it recently occurred to me that it could be dangerous. Thankfully, psychologist Lindsay Spencer-Matthews assures me its not.


“If you develop competency as a reasonably safe driver, it means you’ve taught your automatic pilot to safely navigate traffic and to securely, effectively get you from A to B. It’s unbelievably normal and a very functional and comforting thing,” Lindsay says.

“Your brain is constantly looking out for things that are interesting, important and dangerous, so it will waken you and grab your attention if it needs to.”

That’s the positive side of your automatic pilot. But it also has a darker side – one that Lindsay says is making us “intellectually obese”.

You see, our brains weren’t designed to filter through such a constant stream of information. And it’s your automatic pilot that pays attention to everything, filtering out the things we should and shouldn’t pay attention to.

“We humans don’t think about the manner in which we filter our environment; instead, we let the automatic pilot part of our brain filter what we remember and pay attention to,” Lindsay says.

“But that automatic pilot is a moron.”

This is why 30 minutes spent on social media can make it seem like your own life is inferior and everyone else is having a grand old time – because your automatic pilot is focusing on the great things other people are doing, rather than recalling the great things going on in our own lives.

It’s the same way that watching a news bulletin on TV can make it seem like the world has gone to pot, because all your pilot is seeing is bad reports after tragedy after negative news.

So how do you fight back against the ocean of information and opinions that compete for your attention, so that your automatic pilot stands a fighting chance of highlighting the positive?

You fire your auto-pilot.

You start by focusing on finding examples of your own good fortune and good experiences.

Then you wake up the part of your brain that has the capacity to think, and make conscious choices about what you let in and don’t let in.

In other words: Switch off the nightly news. Turn away from your Facebook feed, temporarily. And let yourself enjoy a little quiet time while you remember what it was like to simply be.

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