Modern people spend most of their time on “autopilot”. Too often, our responses are simply programmed by our past experiences, our education and the enormous pressures of our life. We travel along the same road to work and it just zooms past the car window, seemingly unchanged. We interact with the same people, repeat the same patterns and get the same feelings.
You could compare a modern person, at least in Western society, to a Jumbo Jet. Change starts for us by making a lot of noise, feeling heavy and hardly moving. Then, we start rolling forward and pick up speed for a long time until we finally take off. But as soon as we are in the air, we look for a nice “cruising altitude” and “switch to autopilot”.
When you are a parent, this matters a great deal, because you are “carrying passengers” and these passengers are very precious – your partner and your children. Where you take them is important and how comfortable they are during your “flight” is also important. So sometimes, you have to disengage your autopilot and pay attention.
If you think about it, this unaware “flight mode” is a coping mechanism. It is a result of the overwhelming demands on our time, mental power and emotional intelligence placed by modern technology, lots of people, ever-changing world around us and massive barrage of information. We need to protect ourselves from all this noise, so we build a quiet cocoon by filtering out as much as we can.
How to disengage your autopilot
Relaxing and centering
As with everything related to stress, the first step is to relax and center yourself. Fortunately, this is as easy as closing your eyes and taking a few really deep breaths. Draw in a much air as you can, then let it all out and keep letting air out until the bottom of your belly is out of air.
Your next breath will be very deep. Take it all in and let it out as slowly as you can, exhaling every bit of air in your body before inhaling again. You will find that taking 4-6 breaths a minute is easier than you have ever though and that after 4-6 breaths, your mind is a calmer, cooler, quieter place than it was before.
We do many things in a hurry, which causes us to them without paying attention. We feel busy and try to save time, so our mind keeps looking for ways to do multitask and cut corners. Regrettably, this also makes us miss stuff sometimes, including the joy of doing what we do and creating what we create.
So next time you make a cup of coffee, do it slowly. Smell the coffee before you put it in the cup or the machine. Coffee smells best dry, you know. Or tea. Watch the swirl of water and color or brown and milk in your cup as you add other ingredients to make a hot drink just the way you like it. Bring the cup to your nose and enjoy the aroma again, take in all the flavors in every sip and even close your eyes to enhance the effect. The world can wait.
Next time you wash the dishes, feel the water and the soap, play with the bubbles, conquer every spot of dirt until the dishes sparkle and the sink is empty and clean thank to you.
And next time you come home, stop for a second before you walk in the door, take a few deep breaths, put a happy smile on your face and really pay attention to the reaction on your partner’s and your kids’ faces as you enter. You are important to them and they love you, so enjoy seeing it in their expression from the moment you walk in the door.
One of the main distractions to our awareness is our tendency to talk as soon as we can think of something to say. When other people talk to us, we spend much of the time coming up with a good response that will seem clever, help roll the conversation forward or even help us win in an argument.
When I worked at National Semiconductor in Texas, the new plant manager declared “no phone hour”. He required every senior manager in the facility to spend an hour a day, typically in the afternoon, in strategic thinking and planning. Managers were supposed to disable their phone extensions, close the door and reflect. Everyone else was told to respect these times and save their questions and concerns for other times.
This is very easy to do. I have regular things to do on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays every week, so I only make appointments on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those who work with me regularly already know and those who do not quickly find out. This makes my scheduling and planning a lot easier than if I had to juggle every day and it allows me to start things and finish them on the same day.
There is a story about a monk who joined a monastery where he had to take a vow of silence. He was allowed to talk once every 7 years. It so happened that there was a nail sticking out from his bed and for the first 7 years, this bothered him every night. After 7 years, the head monk asked him if he had anything to say and he said, “Oh, yes, can I have another bed? This one is very uncomfortable”. The monks kicked him out, because he did nothing but complain.
Now, contrary to this monk, we generally judge and complain more when we feel pressure and quiet moments can be very awkward for people, so they create pressure too. However, if we decide to say nothing, no matter what happens, and we calm and center ourselves, a wonderful thing takes place – we start to observe without judgment and get a deeper understanding of people, relationships and things.
So you can declare a periodic quiet time with yourself or the occasional quiet time when you are with others. Spend that time listening to them, looking at them and feeling their feelings. You can even mimic their posture and facial expressions (but try not to be too obvious about it), because that is like the proverbial “walking in their shoes” and will help you connect to who they are and what they feel.
At home with your family, this can bring a surprising change. After calming and centering at the door and exchanging loving smiles as you enter, attuning yourself to your partner’s and children’s moods and stories will get you to appreciate them more than you have ever thought possible. Without the urge to finish their sentences, provide them with solutions and “get on with things”, you will rediscover the people in your life and develop and strong connection with them.
“Bonding” is not just a word. With calm, slow, quiet observation it can be a profound emotional experience for you and your family.
Try it, because you’re worth it (and so are they),