How to Make Better Use of Your Life While You Are on Autopilot

Bill Abbate

Photo by Westwind Air Service on Unsplash

Making better use of your life day in and day out

Have you noticed how much of life just happens with little input from us? We go through the day, week, month, and year wondering at the end of it where the time went. It's no wonder life seems to go by faster each year when we miss so much of it.

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." Robert Frost

What does it mean to be on autopilot?

How much of your life do you spend on autopilot? When you go through the motions, mostly out of habit, not thinking about what you are doing, you are on autopilot. Why should thought be required when it is only another routine?

An article in Psychology Today reports on a study that shows we spend about half of our time on autopilot (which I believe is a very conservative estimate based on experience.) Another way to say this is we go through about half of our lives with little thought, just doing, doing, doing, repeatedly. We are barely aware or involved in this half of our life. It's no wonder life flies by!

You can look at the whole of life in this way:

  • We sleep away a third of our life.
  • Of the two-thirds of life that remains, half of that, or a third of the total, is on autopilot.
  • What remains is about a third of our life to be intentional and deliberate in what we do.

If this is true for all human beings, the total amount of time spent on autopilot for humanity is almost incomprehensible!

But not all of that autopilot time needs to be wasted. We can put much of it to good use.

Looking back at the years makes me realize how much of my life was on autopilot, how much I wasted, and how I made good use of some of it. Could I have used my time better? Sure. I can't change what is past, but I can take lessons from my past to improve today and tomorrow.

How would I have handled my life differently if I knew what I know now? For example, my first taxable earnings, according to the IRS, were in 1970. From that time forward, I worked every day, day in and day out, at least 10 hours a day, for more than 40 years!

If I were young again, knowing I would work so much for so long, it would have appeared daunting, to say the least!

Yet, I enjoyed working for most of my career, primarily because of my love for learning. That love for learning has never stopped and continues to bring great joy to my life.

Some of the time I spent on autopilot proved fruitful. For decades I exercised each weekday, showered, read the Bible, and part of a book with some coffee. Then I ate breakfast, drove to the office or out of the hotel I was in, and worked all day, many times into the evening. Afterward, I headed home or out to dinner and a hotel. This routine started all over again the next day. Can you imagine doing that for more than 40 years? It is how many of us go through life.

Then we retire. Then we die. Hopefully, the death part is after many years of living a wonderful life in retirement!

Making use of your time on Autopilot

One thing I did to make use of some of my autopilot time was learn. I spent an enormous sum of money on books, motivational, inspirational, and educational cassettes and CDs. Actually, I didn't spend the money; I invested it in a way that paid huge dividends over my career. This investment continues to pay me back to this day!

I used much of my autopilot time in the car to learn. This was especially true when I was on the road driving more than 50,000 miles a year. That's more than 4 hours of driving a day, which I put to good use for a long time.

Another thing I have done for years is to use my workout time to listen and learn. Occasionally I enjoy music as well, but once mp3's became available on small devices, I converted much of my audio library and jumped on board to take advantage of them. This added to my learning time while I exercised on autopilot. Today I often listen to podcasts and YouTube while exercising, each of which has countless hours of great material to which you can listen and learn.

If the internet had been available, with such inexpensive and ubiquitous access as we have today, who knows how my life would have turned out!

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle

Final words

When you can one day look back at your life and think, "Did I actually do that for all of those years?" "I can't believe I survived intact!" "If I had known the toll it would take, would I have done it all?" So many questions from which to learn.

Back to the question I raised earlier. How could I have handled my life differently, knowing what I know now?

If I could go back and do it over again, I would have made better use of my time. Not just when I was on autopilot, but all of it.

"Life is not a journey you want to make on autopilot." Paula Rinehart

I would have invested more time in relationships. I would have stopped more often to smell the roses and be grateful for what life was giving me. I would have taken more time off, more vacation time, of which I sacrificed too much. I would have enjoyed more time with my family and appreciated them far more.

The best advice I can give you about using your time on autopilot is to seek a way to make better use of some portion of it. When you seek it, you will find a way. If you are a learner like me, you will find many options. If something else gives you joy, see if you can find a way to incorporate it, so it adds to your life. The bottom line is, get creative. Find uses for this routine part of your life and live your life to the full!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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