Episode 82 | Living On Autopilot

Living on autopilot is a survival mechanism for veterinary professionals. Today I’m sharing how you can determine if you’re in autopilot survival mode, what you unintentionally create for yourself by staying there, and one thing you can begin doing today to become more active in your own life. 



Joy Vet Alliance

Vet Life Academy


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How to recognize if you're living on autopilot, what to do about it and why it's important that you stop this cycle. That's what we're talking about in episode 81. I'm Dr. Cari Wise, and this is the Joyful DVM podcast. Hello friends. Welcome to Episode 82. Today. I want to spend a few minutes talking about living on autopilot. It's something that's. very common for us as veterinary professionals and quite honestly very common in the world.

And it's almost become accepted as normal, but the downside to living on autopilot is that you end up going places in your life that you never intended to go. So if you have had those moments where you've looked around and you've just wondered, how the heck did I get here? And I can mean that literally, like you arrive at work or you arrive home and you don't remember getting there.

You don't remember going through the motions of driving home, man. I remember that happening all the time when I was back in full-time practice. And even when I work at the college, or if you're looking around in your life kind of more in a holistic perspective, like how did my life and up like that, those are two indicators that you very well maybe living in autopilot.

And what happens is that you don't end up creating what it is that you want for your life. You may not even know what it is because you've been in that routine day in and day out for so long. You've never stopped to consider what's happening. So there are some key indications that you may be living in an autopilot type of way. And before we jump into those key indicators,

I just want to share how we end up here. So living in auto on autopilot is a survival mechanism. It is a way that we develop to cope with what is happening around us and mostly to cope with the emotions that we are experiencing when we are feeling very uncomfortable. And we are feeling very out of control, establishing routines, even routines that don't serve us as far as helping us to become more who we want to be more of and create more of what we want in our lives.

Those routines create a bit of safety. And even that recurrence of uncomfortable emotion of frustrating situations of even that anger and despair that can come up can be more ideal. If you will, or more comfortable. I think that's a better word. It's more comfortable as much as they are uncomfortable emotions. They are more comfortable for us than what we would encounter when we step outside of that routine.

And so that becomes part of our survival mechanism. We become very passive if you will, in our own lives. And it becomes a very autopilot type routine. As a result, we don't end up experiencing new things, but from a lower brain perspective, that's, what's keeping us safe. Now, if we think about autopilot and we're wondering, am I in an autopilot kind of existence,

there's three things that really help us to identify that this is where we're living. One of those I kind of talked about already. So if you lose time and what I mean by losing time is where you're on such a autopilot kind of action path that you don't even realize that you're doing the things that you're doing. So for a lot of us, this is when we roll out of bed in the morning and we just go through the motions.

We get up, we brush our teeth, we get dressed, we may take a shower, perhaps get dressed, take care of the pets, roll out the door, get to work. That whatever that period of time is for a lot of us, it's the least amount of time that we need. So we pick just how much time we need from the time we roll out of bed until we need,

we go to work to get done with all of the things we think we need to do each morning and nothing more. And we just roll out and we do all of that. And we show up at work and we get to work. And we're just like, we don't even really remember a lot of what happened in the morning. That's an indicator of being an autopilot.

We're not taking any time to actually be present or aware, present, or aware of what's happening in that period of time. We're just going through the motions. We know what needs to happen. And it just happens. Another indicator is this emotional volatility. So this is the strike up and down, up and down, up and down of the emotions.

Happy, angry, happy, angry, happy, angry. Throughout the day. This definitely was one of the main indicators for me. I absolutely experienced this when I was in full-time veterinary practice. When I own my own practice, even when I was an associate before that these massive swings in my emotions up and down. So I was just basically bouncing from emotion to emotion,

to emotion, to emotion all day long that's autopilot. So when we are stuck in this extreme emotional volatility where we just keep having an emotional reaction to every single thing that happens around us, that's an indicator that we are in a passive kind of way of existing, which is the same as being on autopilot. And that we're again, not present or active in what's happening within us in any given moment.

So that is key indicator. Number two, key indicator, number three, that you may be living in an autopilot kind of way, has to do with looking towards the future. Are you building something for yourself? Do you know where you want to go? Are you taking intentional action to get there? Or are you having that downtime a day off,

perhaps a vacation? And when you're in those downtime moments, this is the really the way you identify this in those downtime moments, do you end up having what I call end of the world days? So when you get a little bit of time off, if it's like during the weekend, for example, do you have Sunday blues? What's your dreading that going back to work the next day,

but in that midst of the Sunday, blues of that dread, when you take a moment and you're left with just what you have, as far as your internal thoughts and your own absolute reality in front of you with nothing pulling at your attention, nothing to react to, where do you go? Do you end up in a downward spiral? Do you end up in with a lot of catastrophizing?

Do you end up in a lot of hopelessness and despair? If so, that could be an indicator that you've been living on autopilot. Same thing happens if you go on vacation, it takes a few days to just probably wind down enough to even enjoy yourself. But once you get into that relaxed mode, do you then bubble up with all the fears and the worries and the despair over what your life is like right now,

that's just an indicator that you've been living on autopilot. You've just been going and going and going for so long that you haven't had time. Haven't taken the time haven't made the time to consider where it is that you're going. You're showing up, you're doing your job. You're meeting the demands of the job. You're giving people what they need your service oriented.

So you're going through your appointments. You're taking care of the clients. You're taking care of the patients you're taking care of your coworkers or your colleagues or your employees or your employers, whatever your role may be. You're doing all of that. So you're checking off the boxes of getting things done, but you're not really living as you do it. You're just showing up and action over and over and over again.

And the result of that in those downtimes is that when you look up and you look around, you're kind of like, holy crap, how did I get here? I definitely can give you a few examples of this in my own life, Sunday blues, a hundred percent. Some of you heard me talk about this before that is that anxiety of losing an entire day or even several days in anticipation of going back the next day to work the next day.

That was absolutely my routine for years and years and years. Another indication of autopilot for a lot of us ends up being physical, that we are so reactive day in and day out, just coping, just getting through, just making it through with things like in my case, Starbucks and just eating crummy and never doing any kind of physical activity because I was on the run all the time.

That over time I like stopped and looked at. I'm like, oh my gosh, like where did, how did I gain all this weight? That's an, a result of an autopilot function for most of us. It's a coping mechanism. It's a survival mechanism. And I'm not trying to beat you up with this. I want you to just become aware of it because what happens for most of us is we hit that point at some point where we look up and we look at our lives.

We look at our wellness, we look at our careers. We look at our homes, we look at our relationships and we're like, this is not what I want. This is not what I ever wanted my life to look like. And what I want you to see. And what I want you to feel for me is so much compassion because you didn't screw up to get there.

The way that you got there was by doing the best you could to survive. You've been in a situation that your survival instincts have kicked in. And so you've been just an autopilot, just reacting to what's been happening around you. And that repeated over time does create results in our lives that we don't want long-term most of us. So what do we do about it?

Well, the good news is that it is a reversible type of process. The first step is just becoming aware that we're living on autopilot, that our lives have become a bit of a passive existence. And even if they are emotionally volatile, even if they are meaning you're still showing up to work every single day, those things don't mean you're not living in a passive kind of way.

You're just in an autopilot kind of way. So the first thing that we want to do to move out of this is like I said, recognize that we are in this pattern. The second thing is simple is just to stop a few times a day and just become aware of what's happening around you. Just stop and look at it, become conscious of it.

So much of our day just flies by in a subconscious kind of way. We're reacting to what's brought in front of us, but let's stop reacting for just a minute. And just look, let's just look around, what do we smell? What are we here? What can we feel with our fingers? What do we see? So if you get that lunch break,

which I pray that you do it, if you don't, let's get that figured out, cause you need your breaks during the day. But when you have that moment to take a break, use that this doesn't have to be a long drawn out kind of activity, you know, 10 or 15 seconds, just to stop and look around. When you're in the middle of appointments,

you're starting to feeling really scattered and disconnected. Just take a second and look around at everything that's on the counter. Now, some of us may get freaked out by how the stuff is on the counter. We don't need to let our minds go and getting all worked up about that. Let's just become aware of what's there. What's sitting around that. We don't even see when we drive home in the evening or when we drive to work in the morning,

look at what's around you on your route. So many of us are in our head. We're so stuck in our minds during these commutes that we don't even see what's happening. And then when they were like, where did that house come from? Or when did they plant back garden? But if we intentionally look around at our surroundings, that helps ground us in the present and takes us out of that autopilot kind of mode.

When you're having your downtime. When you're getting your time off during the weekends, get engaged in your environment, be consciously aware of what's happening around you. If you start to notice that despair kicking in that downward spiral of emotion, the end of the world days is what I would like to call them, which still happened by the way, still happen.

We're still humans with human emotion. So even as you grow and evolve and you develop your own wellness, you're still going to be a human with a human brain, and you're going to experience human emotion. But in those moments, when you start to notice the pull of the downward spiral back toward the familiar, catastrophic thinking, which is a survival type thinking,

you can take a moment to pause, say, okay, I'm going to just step outside. I'm going to get engaged within my environment. I'm going to go see my pets. I'm going to unload the dishwasher, whatever it might be, become engaged in what's around you look at it, see it, smell it, hear it, touch it, get your senses involved when your senses are involved,

that forces you to be out of your mind. And I don't mean crazy out of your mind. I mean, out of your trapped inside of your brain, where all you're thinking is it forces us to stop thinking and start engaging. And that little shift will bring you back into an active life experience. It will take you out of autopilot. Our instinct is to go back into autopilot for a lot of different reasons.

As we've talked about is a very protective way to be. It's a very instinctual kind of experience to keep you in the familiar. Even if the film is familiar as uncomfortable and unhappy, it's still better than experiencing something unknown. According to that lower part of our brain is always trying to keep us safe. The other part of this is, as you start to engage again,

engage with your senses and get out of your thinking. Then you can get more of your choices back. You become more of an active participation participant in the thoughts themselves, our minds are like massive computers. They are going to offer you habit thinking you are never defined by what you think ever. Our thoughts are just sentences. They have no moral value on their own,

but when we give them all of our attention, when we've given them the wheel to driving the bus of our lives, then we do start to define ourselves by what we believe by what we think by the opinions that we draw by the conclusions that we make. But that's not what defines you at all the thinking part of your body, your mind, the sentences that come there,

it's just like any other part of your body. It's just one thing that is a component of who you are, but it's not the whole. And so when we can start to disengage from allowing the mind to control everything, and re-engage the rest of our senses to become aware of what's around us, the experience that we have necessarily changes when we remain on autopilot,

just going through the motions, jumping from event to event, from emotion to emotion, then we miss out on the experience of our lives. We aren't conscious to what's happening. We're living in a subconscious experience. And it's only when we slow down, when those demands on us ease, which is usually like on a day off or in an evening, do the emotions start to rush in and do the thoughts that are not associated with the things where reacted to they start to surface that we start to look around and take a bit of category and,

and what am I a catalog of our environment? And we start to notice things in our lives that we don't want to be there. And we wonder, how did they get there? Well, they just got there because of this autopilot living, but it's not permanent. This is not the way that you have to live in that first step. Like I said,

it's just to become aware that you've been stuck in autopilot. And most of us have, especially as high achieving, highly compassionate people who are service driven, it is in our nature to help others. It is in our nature to react. And we just haven't developed a skill on how to be able to serve, but also to care for ourselves first,

because if we don't learn the skills, becoming an active participant in our lives, we will be very challenged and creating any kind of balance or wellbeing. It all is connected. It's not a surprise that those us who are on autopilot are also the ones who struggle with boundaries, who are perfectionist, who are control freaks, who are people, pleasers, who are afraid a lot of the time who suffer from imposter syndrome.

These things are all tied together. There's nothing wrong with you. You're a human with a human brain and you're living a human experience in a way that in the modern world, our brain has figured out how to keep you alive. Survival mode, passive life, experience autopilot, but keeping you alive. Isn't good enough. We want to enjoy our lives.

We want to build toward the future and we have to first stop and step out of that autopilot mode by recognizing that we're in it and then becoming active participants in what's going on around us. If we're ever going to break this cycle of any of those things, it's all connected. The good news is because it's all connected as we start to fix it in one area,

as we start to understand it, and then penguin in one area, it has domino effect to the positive. Everything then starts to shift for the better. And when I say for the better, I mean for the better of your wellbeing, because that's ultimately what this is all about. If you aren't in the full expression of yourself, if you aren't allowed to be who you are,

if you aren't living the life that you want to live, then there are restrictions that are keeping you from doing that. We need to find those restrictions. And that first piece is just to recognize all the areas that you're living in this autopilot kind of way to break that cycle. Like I said, the only thing you need to do to start is just notice that you're doing it.

So just create that awareness and build in points during your day, just to become present. We're not doing anything major during these moments. We're simply taking a look around, what do we see? What do we hear? What do we smell? What can we touch with our hands? Just that present, present ness in those moments will help to shift you out of that autopilot.

It will help to create some space for you where you can become grounded again, and what is real. And as you start the practice of doing that, then you're going to start to notice how you can expand that time of being present. Pull away that time from that autopilot brain that wants to catastrophize and loop you downward. And in those spaces, you can start to make some intentional choices for yourself that are going to move you forward.

Next month, in Joy Vet Alliance. Our topic is going to be new beginnings, and these are the exact types of things that we're going to be talking about. So if you're not with us, in Joy Vet Alliance. Jump over to joyfuldvm.com/joyvetalliance, to learn all about it and join us in there because may is the month of new beginnings.

And as we're working through what we're dealing with this month, enjoy that Alliance, which is all about conquering, shame and building self-trust. These topics really start to build on each other. So even though we are already through half of April, somehow, if you want to join us, in Joy Vet Alliance. You can still grab our masterclass on how to conquer that self-doubt and build that self-trust by conquering shame,

that masterclass is immediately available, and then you'll be ready to go. Next month, when we start to talk about building new beginnings and how we're going to take back control of our lives with intention, by starting to recognize where we are living in a passive way. And as we do this, and as we build this skill, we're going to be able to create the things in our lives and for our futures that we want.

So jump over to joyfuldvm.com/joyvetalliance, to learn more about joining us there. And don't forget schedule a few moments today for just that intentional awareness in your day, jump out of autopilot, look around what do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel by doing that? You're going to ground yourself in the truth of your experience.

And you're going to be living in a more authentic way to who you are. You'll become aware of what you are not happy with, and you'll start to become, have ideas about what you can do to change it for yourself. All right, my friends, that's going to wrap it up for today. I'll see you soon. Bye for now.