How to stop living life on autopilot

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Feb 6, 2024

How to stop living life on autopilot

Do you ever find yourself doing things without much thought or feeling? If you feel like you’re stuck – or moving without purpose – it could be a sign that you’re living life on autopilot

Have you ever stopped, taken a look at your life, and asked yourself: how did I get here? Sometimes, we can lose track of time – and lose sight of the bigger picture. We may find ourselves passing time without ever really stopping to think about what we are doing, where want to be, or how we are going to get there. 

Whether you are experiencing a repetitive routine, feel like you are stuck in a rut, or are worried that life is passing you by without feeling like you have the time, energy, or power to take control, realising that you have been living life on autopilot can feel scary. But how do you know when you are running on autopilot? And is there an easy way to take back control?

What does living on autopilot mean?

Living on autopilot refers to the act of going through the motions of day-to-day life, without being engaged or aware in the moment. Being on autopilot essentially means you are doing things without actively thinking about it. 

We all experience small moments of being on autopilot through our daily routines: brushing your teeth, taking a shower, making a cup of tea. It’s normal to not remember every single moment. But when the days and the weeks start blending together, it can be a sign that there may be something bigger affecting you, and your ability to engage and feel present in the moment.

What are the signs I am living life on autopilot?

There are many different signs that you may be living life on autopilot that you can look out for. While not everyone will experience all of the signs, things to watch out for can include: 

  • Having little memory of how you got to where you are, as though you weren’t present or aware during the journey. For example, being unaware during your daily commute, switching off during your weekly grocery shop, or even regarding bigger life events like being unsure how you have got to where you are in your career, with friendships, or in life in general.  
  • Feeling numb, distracted or distant from your feelings in the moment, or in life in general. You may feel like you aren’t making any progress in life as a whole, or with things you are trying to achieve right now. 
  • Experiencing difficulty stopping and savouring the moment.
  • You wake up dreading the day as you know what to expect and there is nothing you are looking forward to, excited or inspired by. 
  • It feels like your day-to-day routine is stale, predictable, and takes little (or no) thought to complete. 
  • You have trouble putting your phone down. This could mean doom scrolling, closing and reopening apps or your emails, or just losing time on your phone. 
  • You have difficulty remembering the little things.
  • It feels like you’re not making any meaningful progress in life, be that professionally or personally (in relationships, with big life goals like travelling, paying off debts, finding a relationship, or buying a house. 

Why do I feel like I'm living life on autopilot?

Counselling Directory member, counsellor and psychotherapist Oksana Leitane explains more about why we feel like we are living on autopilot. “Most people live most of their lives on autopilot, set up by someone, sometime, somehow. It leads in some direction. Generally, people feel whether they are moving towards something good or bad, but there is often a lack of precise perception of their goals and life path. 

“The journey of self-discovery is intricate, and understanding our desires involves navigating life’s uncertainties. Embracing responsibilities and uncertainties can lead to a more authentic self-understanding.”

Feeling disconnected from life can be a sign that you are struggling to find and focus on what you really want, but can also be a sign of something else. When we feel busy, overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, switching to autopilot can be one way that we try to cope. 

If you have been experiencing high levels of stress, your fight, flight, or freeze response may kick in. While you may recognise that in the moment of a specific stressful situation, it can also lead you to feel stuck and unable to move forward or do other things until your stress levels can go back down.

If you are worried that you may be experiencing anxiety, depression, or high levels of stress, speaking with your GP can be a good first step. Your GP should be able to offer advice and guidance to help you access local resources, as well as to gain a diagnosis and rule out any other potential issues you may be experiencing. 

How do I stop living my life on autopilot? 

If it feels like you’re struggling to switch out of autopilot and start taking control of your life, there are a number of different things you can try to help you get back on track.

Start practising self-care. Self-care is all about prioritising your mental, physical, and emotional wellness. Good self-care can help to improve your overall well-being, manage symptoms of mental illness, and even help you to feel more able to tackle life’s day-to-day challenges. Ensuring you get enough sleep, are eating the right foods for self-care, exercising, and spending time doing the things that you love can all be a big help. 

Find your purpose. Identifying what it is you want to do in life can be a good first step towards figuring out the changes you will need to make those dreams a reality. As Life Coach Directory member, life coach, and NLP Practitioner (ICF & ANLP accredited) Sophaila Sophia explains, finding our purpose can be tough. 

“Purpose has become a bit of a buzzword. People can spend years going around in circles trying to figure out what their purpose is. We want to live with more meaning, and have things that drive and satisfy us. Sometimes we can find it hard to know what our purpose is. It starts with curiosity, which leads to interest, which forms our passion - our purpose.” 

Life coach Lucy Seifert suggests MOT’ing your life to help you figure out where you stand now. “The first step is to take an MOT of your life, a self-assessment of where you are now. It will show you where life is positive, and what’s missing.” Based on this, you can look at which areas you need to prioritise, set goals, and start to move forward.

Use the present to change your future. Coach Laurence Knott explains that, in our need for certainty, sometimes, we may forget to focus on personal growth. 

“For many people, they have been living life on ‘autopilot’ - the same job, the same routines, the same old same old. And for many, that is an extremely comfortable place to be. Why rock the boat? We become accustomed to predictability, to certainty. But that can limit our potential. If we have been going through our lives avoiding risk, not pursuing what we really want, perhaps always putting other people before us, maybe we have been living a life of avoidance. A fear of uncertainty is often manifested as a life based on predictability and routine. It can take courage. When we are willing to face our deeper fears, we open up a world of possibility.”

Embrace single-mindedness. Life can be overwhelming. With so much to do and so little free time, it’s no wonder getting started can feel like too much. By embracing single-mindedness and allowing ourselves to focus on a single goal fully, we can set ourselves up for a better chance of success.

Identify your core values. We’ve all heard of having a purpose and setting life goals. But do you know, understand, and live according to your core values? Identifying your core values can help you to guide your choices, focus on your priorities, and discover what is most important to you. 

5 minutes to...identify your values

Avoid doomscrolling (and other unhealthy, unhelpful habits). When we feel overwhelmed, it can be comforting to return to familiar activities - like scrolling on social media. We know it isn’t good for us, but the alternative - spending time and energy we may not feel we have, figuring out what else to do - can feel like too much. If you fall into unhelpful habits, identifying and creating a list of alternative, healthier habits can help. 

Consider working with a professional. Working with a life coach can help you across many different areas in your life. Different coaches can help you to focus on personal development, motivation, stress management, how to find success, and even how to focus on happiness. Find out more about coaching, how it works, and how it could help you. 

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