Thursday, February 10, 2011

Look Ma - No hands!!!


We all get tired. Really tired. During these times what do we do? This last weekend I found that I had switched to autopilot and hadn't even been aware of it. I am not talking about physical tiredness, I mean we get that way too, but I am referring to that mental tiredness that sort of saps every last bit of energy out of us. When there is nothing left autopilot can be blessing. 

For most of us out there that have children we have witnessed this autopilot in action and are often amazed at what can be accomplished when you thought everything was lost. In these cases your kids needed something and out of nowhere there it was and you were able to give it to them. I know I am still amazed at how much I have to give them when I feel there isn't even enough in me to breath. When I was acutely aware of this ability over the past weekend I thought to myself, "why don't I give myself that much when I'm empty?" Well, the first obvious answer that popped into my head equally as fast as the question was that I love my kids way more than I do myself. This is my emotion mind speaking of course, because right along side that thought logic mind weighs in with, "yea, but you can only love others as much as you love yourself" and the two of them start arguing and it gets really embarrassing! Whoa, "MJ, where are you going with this?" Good question:
I would like to introduce you to my newest employee, you may recognize him. He lost his job by a garbage collector's earnest efforts:

I call him "Otto". Confused? OK, his credentials can be found here.(Alright, so for the movie Auto's voice was different, but you get the picture... well and except mine isn't so unruly as the Axiom's. Mine didn't need it's butt kicked by a 500 lb man without enough bone density to walk!) Moving on... 

An untrained autopilot is as dangerous as the one depicted in the movie Wall-E. But, having an autopilot is certainly a useful tool, only if you can use it properly. An autopilot not used properly will likely get you into trouble and lead to target behavior. So how does one train their autopilot? Anyone??

M I N D F U L N E S S

Betcha all saw that coming! Seriously, this is why practice is so important. There are going to be times when you need to go through the motions without much effort and not make things worse. Now, don't misunderstand me, I am not at all saying that autopilot is a great fall back skill, it isn't one that you would want to use often. Only when it is absolutely necessary. Switching into auto-mode can promote laziness of participation in your own life if over-used. However, if you practice your mindfulness skills enough that autopilot becomes effective, chances are you are nowhere near lazy!

Here's the idea, mindfulness teaches us to stay in the here-and-now. Autopilot gives you permission to not be anchored to yourself in the moment you are in. Autopilot can promote time-travel if you do not have disciplined autopilot, in-other-words, if you have not programmed your autopilot to experiences that are acceptable and not acceptable then it will likely send you down the wrong path. Training comes in the form of you having practiced your mindfulness so often and so regularly that you could do them in your sleep, or do them in your autopilot. That's the idea.

You can train yourself to go through the motions and automatically know what you can add to your plate and what you cannot under the pressure of needed action. This is a short-term skill. If allowed to be used too long, again, can wreak havoc. 

Example: You have spent an enormous amount of mental energy working through stuff with your therapist, on top of having had worked all day. You go home in need of some private time, some quiet time. You get home, hungry, tired (both physical and mentally) and slow. When you arrive home you are made aware of last minute dinner plans with your parents and your cooking! You have weighed the pros and cons of canceling and it is decided that you are unable to cancel, so you go to your room take 20 mins for a shower and some mindful breathing. Viola! You are now ready to engage autopilot to get the meal cooked and get through the visit and into bed. When you awake in the morning you can digest your therapy and whatever else was needed to be dealt with from work or what-have-you. 

See autopilot got you through the evening, you were able to go through the motions without thinking about it all. If you had stopped and thought about what it all would have entailed, you probably would have had a panic attack and curled up on your bedroom floor rocking back and forth. Praise yourself while you are doing it, it gives you more steam to truck through. This is a lot like a "worry shelf/corner/box" except it is not the worry thought you put in the box and revisit later, it is the entire experience. 

Another key for this to work is you must pamper yourself in a big way when you have effectively used this autopilot. Treat yourself to a bubble bath, pedicure, or whatever strikes you as a "treat"; I am not suggesting that you go out and blow a few hundred dollars to celebrate. But make it something that says, "Good job self! You got through this!" So that the next time will be more likely to be a success too! 

My autopilot is still one in training, when disengaging it at times I have come in for a rough landing and have crashed. But with practice, practice and more practice of my mindfulness skills I have seen a drastic change in the effect it has on me for the long haul. 

I would love to hear from anyone that has an experience with their autopilot, please share! 

MJ