The conscious brain occupies 17 percent of total brain mass (about one-sixth of the brain’s weight), yet controls only 2 to 4 percent of actual perceptions or behavior. The nonconscious brain occupies 83 percent (about five-sixths) of total brain mass and controls 96 to 98 percent of perception and behavior. John Assaraf and Murray Smith, The Answer
Life on Automatic
The human brain evolved over time to give us every possible survival advantage. Because the nonconscious brain handles the overwhelming majority of what we perceive and do, most of us live a ground hog day life. We repeat the same thoughts, feelings, actions, and outcomes day after day, year after year.
This evolutionary survival feature must have been designed to keep us alive long enough to procreate. Most experts agree that humans have roamed the planet for about six million years, give or take, so it seems like its working.
Automaticity /ˌɔːtəməˈtɪsɪti/ is the ability to do things without occupying the mind with the low-level details required, allowing it to become an automatic response pattern or habit. It is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice. Wikipedia
If you like the life you have, then the automaticity of your life is working well for you. But if you don’t like the life you have, automaticity is a problem to solve.
If you would like your life to change, then the automatic patterns of your life will have to change. To change your automatic patterns, it will help to understand how an automatic life becomes automatic.
We’re blessed with the ability to connect the dots. When something good happens, we want to be able to repeat the experience. When something bad happens, we want to avoid it. In either case, success depends on accurately identifying the cause of what happens.
For example, if I got caught with my hand in the cookie jar when I was a kid, and was punished by my mother, I would want to avoid that experience in the future. I might make the experience mean…
- that I wasn’t sneaky enough,
- that women are punitive,
- that wanting what I want isn’t worth the risk of trying to get it, or any number of other explanations.
As a result of my dot connecting, I may refine my sneaking skills, avoid women, or decide to settle for cookie crumbs rather than pursuing what I really want.
While this is an oversimplified example, it illustrates how an automatic life happens. It also provides clues for how to exchange the automatic life you have for the automatic life you want.
If the story you made up to explain how that bad thing happened resulted in an automatic disempowering thought, feeling, or behavior, it’s possible to make up a better story. Replacing automatic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (habits) with new ones will change the trajectory of your life. How to change a habit can be found in Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit and James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. Both resources provide science-backed clarity about this.
Telling a better story may require a degree of conscious attention greater than what is available, however. Changing a habit by overriding your nonconscious brain with your conscious brain requires leveraging your conscious brain long enough for the habit to change. Remember, the conscious brain handles only 2 to 4 percent of your perception and behavior. This can be frustrating if life serves up a big heaping helping of fresh, steamy drama, that steals your conscious attention and stops you from sustaining your new story long enough to change the habit.
Habit 2 of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey is “Begin with the end in mind.” If you’re not happy with your automatic life, start to imagine the life you would rather be living. With an inspiring vision of your desired life, you can work backwards with clarity and purpose.
Just like building a house, the construction of the life you want starts with a blueprint. That’s what it means to start with the end in mind. A blueprint will save you a lot of mistakes. You wouldn’t want to build the roof before digging the hole for the foundation. It won’t work well to dig that hole before tapping into the utilities. It may cost you dearly to tap into the utilities before securing the correct zoning and building permits.
If you’re thinking about how to go about having the life you want, consider these steps.
Step 1 – Reset the automatic programming that is creating the life you already have.
Most of the beliefs (thought habits) that drive the feelings and behaviors for the life you already have were formed when you were young and dependent. In your naive and innocent mind, you made up stories to explain what hurt you and what scared you. These cause-and-effect stories enabled you to formulate strategies to protect yourself. If you hadn’t come up with strategies to comfort yourself, the helplessness may have overwhelmed you.
Of course, you are no longer dependent and vulnerable. But your nonconscious brain may not know that. Those parts of you that operate these outdated strategies live in your nonconscious brain and never got the memo that you’re now an independent adult, living a safe life and perfectly capable of taking care of yourself.
Step 2 – Design the life you want.
Maybe you aren’t as clear about the life you want as you are about the life you don’t want. That’s okay. Start there. Make a list of what you don’t want. Use that list to consider what an opposite life would look like. Then find the life you want somewhere between those two extremes.
Vision boards are great too. They can be created with poster board, using drawings, and magazine cutouts. Or build one virtually using processes that can be found online for free.
The most important reason for creating a vision board is to have a clear picture about the life you want. Clear doesn’t mean perfect. Just begin to imagine what your life would look like if you could have the life you want and dare to believe it might be possible.
As you take steps to complete the past and create the the future you want, your vision will evolve.
Step 3- Accumulate the materials, skills, and support required to build the life you want.
The beliefs that drive the life you already have were formed over a lifetime and are made up of a dynamic tapestry of experiences and assumptions. Each experience and the meanings that resulted are seamed together to create the life you have. A reorganization of this information and these experiences can be facilitated when viewed from a new, empowering perspective.
This perspective can be found in the wisdom of those outside your current sphere of influence. An experienced guide is an important element of your transformation. Gather a support team of fellow travelers, authors, speakers, therapists, support groups, coaches, and compassionate loved ones.
You may have to borrow the energy of your support group as you dig deep to do your work.
Step 4 – Begin building the life you want as you heal and let go of the life you already have.
This process is not especially linear. You will be taking many of these steps simultaneously. Building the life you want, however, does require some initial groundwork. When you have…
- gotten into the habit of resetting the beliefs that run the life you already have,
- designed the life you want, and
- created adequate support for your journey,
you will have reached a state of readiness and can start building the life you want.
Pulling out your blueprints, put your project manager hat on. What needs to happen first, next, and last? How will you know it’s time to move to the next phase of the project? What are the milestones that will mark your progress?
If you don’t like the automatic life you have now, you don’t have to settle for it anymore.
Before I transformed my life, there were giants who had already blazed the trail. Their experience and wisdom gave me know-how, support, confidence, and enough commitment to stick to the process long enough to arrive at my destination – the automatic life I want. I haven’t taken this journey alone and you don’t have to either. I’m standing on the shoulders of the giants who blazed the trail for me. Those shoulders are broad and there’s room for you too.
You have done a good job of surviving the life you’ve had. And when you’re ready, you can start building the life you want. May you have an exciting and rewarding journey!
I’ve borrowed, adapted, or created several tools, distinctions, and exercises to help my coaching clients with each of these steps. They include:
- The Personal Empowerment Exercise; to understand and leverage the impact of your conscious attention.
- Four Steps to a New Perspective; cleaning your lens to reclaim your power
- Climb the Ladder; quickly elevate your perspective to get the bigger picture.
- Outcome by Design; reverse engineering for the results you want.
- How Thoughts Create Results; understanding how it works behind the curtain of your psyche
- The Mindset Reset Coaching Curriculum; incorporating all these tools and more.
- True Self Leadership Coaching Curriculum; based on the Internal Family Systems therapy model to restore your innate power and wisdom.
- The Life Categories Self Evaluation; establish a baseline and measure your progress.
- 39 Vision Questions; to begin the process of creating a vison of the life you want.
- Take it On; to further your exploration of what you would change in your life if you could.
- Relationship Ratings; to help evaluate your level of satisfaction in relationships.
- Writing a One Year Vision; putting it all on paper. This is the blueprint.
- Project identification. What are the three to four most important projects to begin working on now? What will be accomplished? How will it be measured? When will it be completed?
- Project motivation. What is important about each project in building the life you want?
- Project milestones. How will you know you are making sufficient progress and moving in the direction of the life you want?
- Project strategies. What strategies will you employ to complete your projects?
- What’s Next, What’s Important. A project managers best friend for staying organized and efficient.
Are you ready to get started? Would you like some support? Schedule a free 30 minute discovery conversation today.Schedule a Free 30-Minute Discovery Conversation