Have you ever driven somewhere and quite suddenly realised that you’re at your destination and you don’t recall driving there or any of the details of how you got there?
What is it when our mind goes into Automatic thinking mode and manages to take charge of our safety, driving decisions and destination?
What were we doing while we were driving unaware – automatically?
Remember when you were first learning how to drive and how much you had to be completely focused on each stage of the process? Remember the “bunny hopping” stage, when you’re trying to depress the accelerator at the same time as you’re trying to release the clutch, and attempting to be in the correct driving gear, as well as looking in the rear vision mirrors making sure there are no cars in the oncoming traffic. It was incredibly difficult for me when I first began taking driving lessons. I thought it would be impossible to drive confidently and to easily operate a moving vehicle. How could I possibly master this.
Of course, all drivers know this experience, or a similar version of it and they all know that learning to drive eventually becomes quite automatic. We learn to drive to the point where we don’t have to think at all about looking in the rear vision mirror, changing gear, breaking at the right time, staying on the correct side of the road or staying within the speed limit. It’s automatic – and all drivers eventually move in to automatic thinking mode and the focus on each aspect of driving fades to a blur.
As a Life Coach I often think of the relationship between driving and how the process of automatic thinking links closely with the challenges my clients often face when they’re trying to make changes in their lives and their seems to be obstacles that continue to appear. Repeated behaviours that seem to prevent them from achieving their dreams.
We all experience the process of automatic thinking mode, not only when we’re driving but in much of our day to day living. Automatic thinking mode is best explained by considering how many times in a day you are aware of what you are doing – physically – and where your mind is at that time? Is it focused on what you are doing right in that moment?
Try and recall that first driving lesson and how focused you were on the task at hand both physically and mentally. Remember the sensation of holding the gear change, pressing your foot on the clutch, gently lifting your foot of the depressed pedal of the accelarator while looking in the rear vision mirror and holding the steering wheel in the correct direction. It’s usually quite a vivid memory that can be recalled clearly and easily without very much ‘blur’ at all. Why is the memory so easy to recall? It’s because you were completely present in the moment of now. You were fully connected to your body and the physical world around you. You were alert to everything that was happening right then. You were NOT thinking about the past or planning the future. Your mind was directly linked to your body and your awareness was fully engaged – acutely. We are normally NOT present in the moment, usually we are considering the past and thinking about the future and a lot of the time we’re not aware of what we’re thinking about. These are automatic thoughts and we all have them and most of us will not be aware of them.
When I ask my clients to consider what their Automatic thinking may be, it is a challenging process for most to try and stop being automatic in their thinking long enough so that they can ‘hear’ what they actually are thinking. Try it. For 10 seconds – best to time it – just note what your thoughts are. You don’t need to write them down, just ‘hear’ them.
Your thoughts may include:
- This is ridiculous;
- I can’t actually ‘hear’ my thoughts;
- I don’t have any thoughts – I’m not thinking;
- Has it been 10 seconds yet.
Don’t worry what the thoughts are, it doesn’t matter, the point of this exercise is simply to illustrate the level of Automatic thinking we experience and to help you know a little about what you actually think about when you’re not ‘listening’ and how little time we are present in the current moment – rather than in the past or the future.
Life happens in the moment.
When we’re not ‘listening’ to our automatic thinking, in other words – when we’re in the past or the future and not in the present moment – we risk missing out on important messaging that we’re sending ourselves about ourselves and the world we live in. (Please note it’s sometimes very difficult to hear the messaging if you haven’t been ‘listening’ for a long time.)
It’s a challenge to tune into our Automatic thinking, because it’s so automatic. Quite like when you’re driivng your car automatically without any awareness whatsoever of where you’ve driven to or how you got there. Automatic Thinking generally is exactly the same. We can easily experience Automatic Thinking throughout all of our life – that’s a long time – without ‘listening’ to what we’re thinking or the messaging we’re getting. By tuning in though, we can start knowing more of what we think of ourselves and what we believe about who we are.
So the question begs, how do I tune in to my Automatic thinking? How do I listen to it? And the answer quite simply is this: We need to stop, be still, and listen. It takes a moment to pause and tune in to what is going on in our mind at that very moment. Some people may call it mindfullness or even mediation, but I’m calling it awareness.
Awareness feels just like when you first learned to drive, a total attention to every thing that is going on in that moment. You will be able to hear some of your automatic thinking, sporadically mixed with other chatterings. The point is you’re aware and listening and tuned in to you, right in the moment. Rather than being somewhere else in your automatic thinking mode with no awareness and a dialogue of thinking that may not be true.
As a coach, my clients are asked to tune in to their automatic thinking because as Louise Hay says, “When we change our thinking, we change our lives”.
Tuning in to our automatic thinking is the beginning of learning how to use our thoughts to serve us rather than control us. It helps us be in the drivers seat, fully aware of where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.