3 Simple Ways to Switch Out of Autopilot

Three mindfulness tips to interrupt mind wandering and re-wire the brain.

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When you’re not paying attention to anything in particular, what’s going on in the brain? Turns out, it continues quietly whirring away, re-charting old pathways. Our default mode doesn’t have to be suffering, replaying old narratives in our mind. With mindfulness, we can insert ourselves back into the present moment. And when we inevitably slide back into autopilot, our mindfulness practice can kick in, too. Research suggests that the brains of experienced meditators wander less—that the quality of their resting brains is actually different, “more present-centered.”

Here are three simple ways you can shift out of autopilot mode:

1) Gentle body scan: A relaxed body leads to a relaxed mind. Go through your body in search of any tension or holding that’s there and see if you can intentionally allow that to soften or adjust. Stretch your body in any areas you’re noticing a constriction.

2) Get your face out of your phone: If you’re like me, you know you’re a little too connected to this two-dimensional device. It’s the greatest force of distraction in this world, it’s the thief of our attention. See if you can set some boundaries around it.

  • Notice where you’re okay using your phone and where you’d like to use it less.
  • See if you can drop your phone during social occasions with friends, family, colleagues, etc.
  • Pick certain areas where you’d like not to use your phone (e.g. the dining room, the bedroom, walking to your car, maybe you’re already putting your phone down, setting the intention not to use it while you’re in the car itself.)

3) Play: Consider things that are unstructured or bring you joy whether it’s drawing or picking up the guitar or reading a book that you haven’t given yourself permission to read or jumping on a trampoline. It’s about engaging that kid inside. When we do that, it’s allows for an exhilaration and it’s almost as if we’re refreshing life itself.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is hosting an online course to help people fully integrate mindfulness into their lives in a deep way in order to realize more enduring change. The in-depth 6-month online course called A Course in Mindful Living runs in October 2018—the waitlist is now open.