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October 20th, 2018
Set it and forget it is the protocol with any kind of autopilot system. Such systems, we try to design so that they will take care of themselves throughout the duration of whatever important task we entrust.
Autopilot as a concept in human cognition can be helpful when we apply It to our habitual behaviors, both good and bad. Much of the time we are running on autopilot. All bullshit jobs are catered to by people who are mostly running on autopilot. Few in such undemanding jobs require much more than being present and going through the daily motions required.
In diametrical opposition to the bullshit job is the innovator, who is constantly trying to push into new territory where new and useful things might exist.
Such innovators seem to have made a habit out of this difficult work, and to someone striving to do something more interesting with their life, it might appear not only difficult but strangely paradoxical to make a habit of such agile and construct dismantling behavior. The difference is not as contradictory as it may first appear. A habit of innovation arises from a person who has customized their autopilot with a different set of rules. Like a random number generator that is designed to spit out anything but a pattern, building a habit of innovation is more like building a springboard instead of a train track. While the later leads to a set and predictable outcome, the former is an amplifier that can magnify whatever occurs in the moment.
A more practical example rooted in better habits helps clarify the springboard. Let’s say physical exercise is a habit that we would like customized into our autopilot. In a fantastical situation, we might imagine a bedroom that has in it’s center a deep recess with walls fashioned like climbing walls and the bed far down at the bottom. Such a strange set up would force one’s self to climb up the walls every morning when starting the day. This would in essence be a way of taking the autopilot out of the person and designing it into the structures we inhabit. Given enough time in such a circumstance, the urge to do physical activity will probably still remain if the structural situation changed.
Most of us, however, do not have the luxury of designing such fantastical structures into our lives. Customizing the autopilot requires a subtler restructuring depending on what sort of behaviors we’d like to make an automatic part of our lives.
Some kind of innovative habit might be as simple as: write something everyday, period.
A physical habit might be: take the stairs, always, and then take them 2 at a time.
We might even try to design traps for ourselves. Let’s say we’ve started a slow-carb diet that has one cheat day a week. We might decide to go shopping for food at the end of such a cheat day when we have gorged on foods we have been craving and now feel quite gross. Throwing the healthier option into the shopping cart is far easier with this state of mind.
While life is short and spending a single moment on autopilot might seem like a bit of a waste, it’s also unrealistic, and in the grand scheme of things, the tendency to go on autopilot appears to be a fact of human behavior, but one that we need not begrudge, but one that we can use to our benefit. If we can mindfully customize it and endure those difficult periods of change and rewiring, we might find we progressively enjoy a better and better life because so much of the things that contribute to better life are now just a part of the autopilot.
The episode piggybacks off of Episode 44: Autopilot. If you’d like to explore the prequel to this episode, please check out that one next.