How I Escaped “Autopilot” Living

How I Escaped Autopilot Living


Have you ever been driving down the road and couldn’t recall how you got to your destination? Perhaps you leave your house in the morning to start your workday and are so distracted by inner monologues or your dread of going into work that you weren’t fully cognizant of your journey from Point A to Point B.

This happens when we go into autopilot mode.

When we tune everything out around us. I think it’s normal to mentally check out every now and then. Our minds need a break from whatever it we’re dealing with at the moment and we allow ourselves to drift off, daydream, etc.

But when we stay in autopilot mode for an extended period of time, that’s when we tread on very dangerous ground. Not being fully present in our lives can cause us to be unhappy, unfulfilled, irritable towards others, and a host of other effects.

Enter intentional living.

When we live life with intention, we switch from autopilot to manual and take an active role in our lives.

Intentional living looks differently for every person. It’s important to figure out what you want your life to look like, feel like, and be like – while carefully avoiding the trap of comparison.

For me, intentional living boils down to these things:

  • Healthy lifestyle
  • Fulfilling relationships
  • Professional success
  • Minimalistic living
  • Creative living

To me, a healthy lifestyle looks like regular exercising and making better eating and general lifestyle choices everyday (sleeping enough, having down time for rest, financial peace, etc).

This used to not be a priority to me until recently and it evolves all the time. I had to first realize that my lifestyle at the time wasn’t working for me and wasn’t making me happy. Then I had to take a good, hard look at the adjustments necessary for getting me to the place I wanted to be.

Fulfilling relationships are all about healthy friendships and solid connections with my family. This also means meaningful connections with those in my industry.

Professional success means making a living off of my own businesses, setting my own work hours, having financial freedom and freedom of mobility.

This also looks like me accomplishing the goals I’ve set for myself and creating meaningful work that also impacts the lives of others.

Minimalistic living means keeping my collection of “things” to what I need and very few of what I want. In doing so, I make room for the important things in my life and am able to be free of mental and physical clutter.

Creative living is probably pretty self-explanatory – I’m a creative who needs to create. When I don’t create for an extended period of time, I feel out of balance or like something is missing. Creating keeps me plugged in and in harmony with what makes me me.

What does an intentional life look like to you?

If you’re not sure, think about the things you value – and not just the tangible things.

Do you value having plenty of time every evening to recalibrate from your day? Do you enjoy cooking your own meals to stay in budget? Do you love volunteering your time or a portion of your finances to your favorite charity?

The awakening

While I don’t remember the exact moment I realized I wasn’t living with intention, I do remember snapping out of the haze I’d allowed myself to be in for so long. I remember realizing that I was definitely not doing myself any favors by all the self-imposed limits I’d created.

“What do you mean by limits?” you might be asking.

You might be thinking that not living with intention isn’t even a limit at all – but I beg to differ. By not living intentionally, I was limiting myself through omission and fear.

Let’s look deeper at how I was doing just that:

  • Constantly waiting for things to happen in my life (rather than making them happen for myself)
  • Not giving myself the permission I needed to move forward.
    • By virtue of waiting for things, I wasn’t giving myself permission to take charge and act. I had to learn that whether I had the validation from others or not was not a good enough guide to making necessary moves. I’m not saying go it alone or avoid the heeding of people you trust. On the contrary, learn to discern when to wait for good advice and when to take the leap and jump into open waters.
  • The myth of “arriving.”
    • I admit that I’ve fallen into this trap more often than I’d like to ‘fess up to. The crippling idea that there is this magical place that we all eventually arrive to had me thinking that I was so far behind the curve that I would never in a million years be able to catch up. This, in turn, had me waiting to live (and love) my life.

Intentional living doesn’t just happen

By the very virtue of the phrase “intentional living,” you might think that making this lifestyle choice is a no-brainer. The thing is, there’s a very distinct difference between wanting to live a certain way and actually living that way.

Just as there is a difference between dreaming of running a marathon and actually putting in the time to train for it for months beforehand, so it is with making the conscious decision to live with intention.

Even after deciding to turn off the autopilot, intentional living doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a lifestyle change! Depending on where you’re coming from, you could be making some major changes that will absolutely take some adjustment time.

Your turn

Getting into an nice, easy coast is effortless to fall into if you’re not vigilant. We as humans love stability, some sort of routine in our lives. But this can often backfire when we become too comfortable and let the autopilot take over.

Does this resonate with you? Have you been operating on autopilot for too long?

If so, I’ve got some steps to help you finally start living that intentional life you were meant to. These were the steps I took (and often revisit when I’m feeling “off”) to escape autopilot living:

  1. Recognize that you’ve been coasting. If you’ve read this far into the post, hopefully recognition has already started to spark within you. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s easy to start coasting and not even realize for awhile that it’s happening. This is why it’s so important to constantly check in with yourself to make sure you are still on track.
  2. Identify the things that are important to you. Don’t overdo it here or think too hard. What are the things that make you genuinely, truly happy? Write them down in a place where you have easy access to and can review regularly for those times that you forget.
  3. Be present. “Living in the moment” or “being present” are terms that have really been resonating with me – and both fit beautifully with this idea of intentional living. When our minds are constantly thinking of what happened in the past (which we cannot change) or worried about something in the future (which we cannot predict) we risk never really living fully in the moment. Barring learning from our actions and experiences in the past and preparing as best we can for the best future possible, the only time we can have active participation in is the present. So let’s act like it.
  4. Rinse, repeat. The process is a simple one. The challenge is executing it on a regular basis that keeps you focused and on track.


It’s been one of the greatest decisions I’ve made for my life and I know I’ll never look back. Will you be joining me on this adventure in intentional living?



  1. September 21, 2016 / 8:56 am

    Good word. It has taken me awhile to get to the place where I really know what I want out of life. One of the ways I did that was to journal every morning, before I was good and awake, I would just brain dump on the pages anything that came to mind. Now, you need to understand, I am not one of those people who have stacks of notebooks from when I was a kid. I decided as an adult that I needed to figure out what I, Lisa, was all about. So I took a lesson page from my writing (novels/short stories) books. Whenever I need to figure out why a character does what they do in a story I jot it all down to get a “character sheet”. I took myself as the subject, and just started writing. What are my motivations, What makes me sad, What makes me get up in the morning, Who do I love, Who loves me, and Why….before you knew it I was energized by getting up an hour early to drink my coffee and journal. After a year of doing this steadily I know I’ll never go back. I have narrowed my life down to 2 main overarching goal, and everything I want or desire to do falls under those headings.

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