I remember turning 16 and learning how to drive for the first time. My mom took me to the quiet part of a mall parking lot where I was far less likely to be a danger to those around me. Fair enough, I suppose. Having only been exposed to driving in a video game, it took me a little while to get used to pedal feel and more precise turning. It’s not like I could go full throttle and randomly crash up against a guardrail.

After a couple sessions like this, she asked if I was ready to drive on the actual road. My overly enthusiastic teenage brain certainly thought I was. It was a very exciting time for me, but it was also overwhelming and nerve-wracking. There are literally a lot of moving parts. You’ve got to steer this thing, manage the gas and the brake, be mindful of using your turn signals (a skill apparently still lost on many “experienced” drivers), and remember to shoulder check too, all while paying attention to everything happening around the vehicle.

The point of this story is that after driving for nearly 20 years, the actual mechanics of the process are largely automatic. Assuming I’m driving a route I’ve driven dozens of times before, I can effectively go into autopilot. I don’t have to remember to turn left on this street, shoulder check before changing lanes, or adjust the gas as to keep a safe distance from the car in front of me. I do all of that without really thinking.

Making Conscious Decisions

Going on autopilot can be beneficial in the context of driving. I’m far less anxious behind the wheel and part of my attention is freed to think about my next vlog… I mean, to focus on the cars around me. But what about everything else we do in life? Are you simply reacting to what’s happening around you or are you taking a more proactive approach?

More often than I care to admit, I find myself simply going through the motions without having any real sense of progress. It’s like a hamster in a wheel or like running on a treadmill. I do the things that I do either because it’s what I’ve always done or because it’s what others expect me to do. These decisions become automatic. I react when I get an email. I react when I know have a post to write for a client.

Every time I catch myself doing that, I try to snap myself out of it. I want to make more conscious decisions about what I’m actually doing. For instance, I’ve had to make the conscious decision to adjust my blogging schedule here on Beyond the Rhetoric. There’s a new post four times a week. I decided what days to keep and what days to drop.

Setting New Priorities

You may remember that my three guiding words for 2017 are acceptance, prioritization and completion. You might also remember when I said that lack of time isn’t the real issue; it’s the inability to prioritize. When life gets busy, it’s far too easy to fall into the autopilot trap.

No. I want to be more deliberate in my choices. That’s why, for better or for worse, I didn’t really watch any football or hockey all season, even though I used to follow both sports religiously. I don’t watch nearly as much TV and I don’t play nearly as many video games either.

Instead, I’ve shifted my focus to other areas in my life. I’ve consciously decided that I want to vlog once a week and to participate in the 365 day Instagram challenge. I want to enjoy my family time without guilt. I want to focus on my health and fitness far more than I have.

You can never have it all, so you have to decide what it is you want the most.

Taking Manual Control

Automatic settings can be infinitely useful. I use P-mode on my camera all the time. I schedule my blog posts so I don’t have to be here to hit publish at just the right time. I love how my phone automatically synchronizes my photos, calendar, contacts and everything else without any extra effort on my part.

But autopilot in life can also be dangerous. Are you just going through the motions without thinking? Or are you consciously deciding what you’re doing and, more importantly, why you’re doing it?