5 Daily Habits That Can Help You Stay Out of ‘Autopilot Mode’

Coffee, journal, and pen on table outside at sunriseDo the sluggish days of winter have you feeling like you’re in “autopilot mode”? Perhaps you catch yourself living for the weekends, keeping them jam-packed and exciting—something to look forward to on the calendar. In contrast, on weekdays you may come home from work feeling uninspired and flattened, having barely seen daylight.

Here are five small changes that can impact your happiness and contentment on a day-to-day level, no matter the season.

1. Wake Up Mindfully

You may find yourself reaching for your phone first thing in the morning to silence the alarm, then autopiloting into checking email, apps, weather, and more. I challenge you to resist the urge to tune into something external to begin your day. Instead, begin from within.

The screen time might help shake your grogginess, but it also has the potential to jar you from your mindful calm into a more stressful state. Creating a morning ritual, such as a quiet cup of coffee, soft music, or journaling may help you tune into yourself before you step out into the chaotic world.

2. Set an Intention for the Day

Setting an intention could be as simple as, “Today I will schedule my time in a way such that I am not in too much of a hurry,” or, “Today I will be patient with myself.” Let the intention guide your actions throughout the day, thinking of it as a lighthouse to return to when things become stressful or trying.

Once you get into the habit of it, this simple practice can help you to live with more intention rather than going through the motions. Write your intention on a sticky note if that helps; it can be as short as a few words.

3. Take the Scenic Route

Embrace the unexpected. One of the ways in which we most often fall into “autopilot” is being too stuck in our routines. Driving an unusual route to work or taking a different train may add a few more minutes to your commute, but studies have shown that switching up the norm can have cognitive benefits, allowing you to problem-solve and utilize areas of your brain that may have otherwise gone dormant.

Enjoy the scenery! Life is about the journey, not the destination.

These five practices share some common themes—each allows you to shake up your norm, find inspiration in the simple rather than the complex, and find connection.

4. Connect with Others

Every seemingly mundane encounter is an opportunity for two people to connect; when we do it, it feels good! It could be as simple as chatting with the person who delivers your mail for a bit longer than usual, or as elaborate as calling an old friend on your lunch break rather than tackling a stack of work emails.

Connecting can also boost your intelligence: Researchers have found that conversing and considering others’ perspectives may improve executive brain function and cognitive abilities in the attention and memory centers. It’s good for both the heart and mind!

5. Connect with Nature

It may be tougher to find ways to connect with nature when the sky is colder and darker, but I challenge you to do so as you would in warmer weather—perhaps standing outside your car for a few minutes to look at the stars or bundling up to spend a few moments on your deck with a cup of tea. Nature allows for the unexpected and creative moments that you may not find on your couch. You may see animals, hear sounds, or simply relax into the moment.

Research has shown time and time again there are psychological benefits to being in nature: A study published by Stanford University had one group of participants take a 90-minute walk through a city, whereas the other group took a walk through the woods. The group who walked in the woods had reduced blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that causes ruminating and anxious thoughts.

These five practices share some common themes—each allows you to shake up your norm, find inspiration in the simple rather than the complex, and find connection. Defaulting to “autopilot mode” is often a result of loneliness or a lack of inspiration, and implementing mindfulness into your daily routine can be an antidote to both.

For more ideas, contact a licensed therapist in your area.


  1. Gilkey, R., & Kilts, C. (2007). Cognitive Fitness. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2007/11/cognitive-fitness
  2. Jordan, R. (2015, June 30). Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. Retrieved from https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/
  3. Sage Publications. (2008, February 19). Does Socializing Make Us Smarter? Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080215135707.htm

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Hayley

    February 27th, 2018 at 8:14 AM

    These are good tips, but personally I’m too groggy in the morning to journal, and if I took a different route to work, I suspect I would get lost, haha. What I like to do is light a scented candle while I drink my tea. A different smell makes the day feel different, even if I’m doing the same thing I always do.

  • Leticia

    December 14th, 2018 at 11:00 AM

    #2 setting intentions has made a BIG difference for me past year. I journal mine each week. It Will be in my new year resolution for 2019 too.

  • Mustapha

    December 6th, 2019 at 12:56 PM

    there are an other tips: * verbalize what are you doing.
    * you try to get that impression as you are doing it for the 1st time.

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