The Broken Autopilot

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Let me know if this sounds familiar:

You’ve been actively doing something — work, a chore, making dinner — and now you’re done. For a moment, the drive of your mind peters out like a small plane engine that has just stalled. The momentum of that task, much like a spinning propeller in front of your face, suddenly flutters and stops with a clunk. What once was the sound of a some-odd-stroke engine buzzing through the skies has been replaced with whistling wind as you begin to feel the loss of altitude in your guts. 

Left with nothing that needs to be immediately done, the need to be mentally stimulated begins to bounce around inside your head like ballpoint pens and paper coffee cups in a now-dropping cockpit. Rather than clutching the headliner of the cockpit in anticipation of impact, you’ve remembered that you have a default safety mechanism for aimless thought — a shining screen.

As soon as you’ve booted up that screen — whether it’s a phone screen, tablet, or television — you can feel your pulse begin to normalize and your palms begin to dry. The engine of your attention turns back over, the propeller sputters to life, and you begin to regain lost altitude. Whoa, that was close. 

After a time, though you’re relieved that you’re not likely to plummet to the earth, you wake up from behind the controls. The auto-pilot had taken over and you’re now headed in the opposite direction. You’ve been down the rabbit hole of social media vanity metrics, social comparison, paparazzi voyeurism, and sensationalist news for a while and are now even further from your destination. Due to your original panic, you left control of your attention to the auto-pilot. Once control was happily handed off, it took you further away from your destination of contentment than had you made an emergency landing once you lost engine power. 

Here’s the interesting thing about where the airplane analogy differs from your attention: there’s not actually any ground below. You could kill the engine, prop your feet up on the instrument panel, and lean back with your fingers gently interlocked behind your closed eyes, and never actually hit anything. The Cessna of your attention span will simply continue to fall toward…nothing — like a flight simulator whose developers forgot to write the code for mountains, oceans, trees, or even firm land.

The plane of our focus will stall out every day, likely hundreds of times a day. And that’s ok. Why? Because there’s no ground beneath that plane.

But if there’s no ground, what’s down there? 

The present moment — that’s all. And it’s really quite nice. And it’s especially nicer than an auto-pilot that is specifically designed to take us away from actually living.


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Let’s Stop Forcing Things

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This post is the first among my Short & Simple category—short realizations I’m come to almost always while journaling my own problems. 

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Rarely in life is force a necessity. Most executions of force eventually backfire.

Force within a relationship strains trust.

Force in the body often leads to injury.

Force within the mind saps the spirit of self-compassion.

What is the alternative remedy? A dismantling of the motivations for what was deemed necessary force. Assessing the reasoning for the failure of an intended outcome should always take precedence over force.

Why isn’t this relationship going the way you want it to?
Maybe it’s not supposed to happen in the way you want.
Maybe there is a lack of trust somewhere that needs to be addressed.

Why am I not losing weight or becoming free of a current ailment?
Maybe your force in this scenario is not in alignment with the long-term health and systemic balance within your body.

Why can’t I focus on the things that matter most in life enough to make time for them? Maybe your default modes of how you spend time have strayed from their optimal positions to sub-optimal behaviors with frictionless gratification.

Forcing any of these will rarely result in anything more than mental, social, or physical hemorrhoids.

Don’t Abandon the Tools You Forged in 2020

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Take a look before you close the book. 

Though we’d all love to shelf 2020 (or run it through the shredder), there’s no denying that we all learned a lot about ourselves throughout this year. It would be a shame to call 2020 an absolute waste—especially since it had so many lessons to impart. Yes, most of these lessons are how not to do certain things, but also how to lean into the storm of life to keep it from completely knocking us down. 

For some, the lessons they learned and skills developed were how to cope with physical obstacles—lost jobs, lost homes, lost connections, lost bodily health, and even sadly, the loss of loved ones. For others, the obstacles were more mental and emotional—anxiety, depression, isolation, a lack of motivation. The list is endless.

Despite these obstacles, when carefully studied, we can recall the strategies, remedies, and mindsets we used to endure. 

If the tools and emotional armor we developed worked as well as they did when we squared off directly with the travails of 2020, how much more effective could these approaches prove for positive growth and maintenance during times less fraught with adversity? 

Let’s say you were forced to become more frugal with your finances because a member of your family lost their job. Maybe you can take these newfound budgeting skills beyond when money is coming in to save toward your goals. 

Maybe, to better cope with the anxiety and depression of being away from friends and loved ones, you were forced to seek and cultivate new practices to maintain your mental health. These methods could have included meditation, exercise, therapy, spirituality, or new interests. Though developed under immense pressure, these beneficial coping methods should be treated like precious gems you can continue to keep with you.

Before you close the book on 2020 and abandon it entirely—writing it off as a painful memory— remember the tools you forged to help you make it through the storm. These tools can prove to be invaluable companions that will serve you for the rest of your life.