Life on autopilot

When I drive to TNT's office each week, I have to turn the opposite way on the road that I usually take to my job at the bakery. This past Saturday, my appointment was earlier than usual and I was running late, so I had many different things on my mind, the least of which was the roads I needed to be driving to TNT's.

I'm guessing you can tell what happened next: I took a wrong turn. Already late, I kept driving like I was going to work instead of to my therapy appointment. I realized my mistake right as I had committed to the wrong turn, but by then, it was too late. I had to keep driving until I could get to a place to turn around. Which I did, and with a little help from my lead foot, I arrived to my appointment with TNT on time.

The moral of the story isn't driving directions and how I shouldn't be trusted to follow them, the moral of the story is about when habits get ingrained. Of course, we all have habits, and habits can make life more livable. If we had to think about every single decision we made, all we would do is sit around and make decisions. (And by "we," I mean the royal we, as in me, myself, and I. You should know better than to let someone with OCD make a decision.) So we have habits and operate on autopilot. This, in and of itself, is not a problem. The problem is knowing when to stop living on autopilot.

One of the really good times to stop living on autopilot is when you're doing something completely different than what your autopilot is used to doing. Such as driving to therapy instead of work. Or eating lunch instead of exercising. Autopilot says "Turn right!" and "Go for a run!" Okay, fine. No big deal. But if I'm not aware I'm operating on autopilot, I'm going to go ahead and turn right and go for that run when I should be turning left and having a sandwich.

When I was driving to see TNT, I wasn't aware that I was driving on autopilot. I don't always consciously think about where I'm going, but I also don't think that I'm not actually thinking about where I'm going, either. On Saturday, clearly I wasn't thinking about where I was going. I was just driving. If I had been headed to work, there wouldn't have been a problem. This past Saturday, though, I was doing something a little out of the ordinary and I should have paid attention to where I was going.

What I've come to realize in recovery that it's not the presence of ED thoughts that gets me in trouble. My problem is when I stop paying attention to whether these ED thoughts are subtlely influencing my behavior. Of course, this can lead to hours of rumination and perseveration on "is-this-ED-or-is-this-me," but I also can't be deliberately unaware of it, either.

A lot of the inspirational and self-help literature says to live life with intention, and I don't disagree with that. But sometimes, you just need to get from point A to point B and autopilot is just fine for that. When you're trying to find your way out of a tropical jungle with no compass and no map, however, it might be a good thing to start paying attention.


Fellow OCD Sufferer said...
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Fellow OCD Sufferer said...

I certainly agree - sometimes autopilot is a good thing, and sometimes it's not.

From an OCD standpoint I struggle with letting autopilot take the wheel. I often resist allowing my natural instincts to take over when I am doing things that OCD says must be done with complete and undivided attention.

Since my pitfall is usually NOT letting myself go on autopilot, it is interesting to read about how the opposite, can also become a problem!

Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul said...

I think it's so easy to live life on autopilot. Both on a small, driving-to-the-store type of way, but also on a bigger picture, I'm-allowing-my-life-to-take-control-of-me way. I think the answer lies in mindfulness, which I've been practicing recently. I think it starts with becoming mindful of the small moments in order make more mindful choices in life.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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