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Auto Pilot vs. Fighter Pilot

Many times during the day or week we oscillate between auto pilot and fighter pilot, but most of us spend the day in auto pilot. However, it's crucial for us to intentionally tap into fighter pilot mode rather than rely on a circumstance to put us there (being pro-active about it vs. re-active). For example, most people commute to work or school in auto pilot mode since they have done it hundreds of times. It doesn't require us to think about it. However, if someone comes into our lane unexpectedly or someone slams on the brakes in front of us, then we quickly have to switch to fighter pilot in order to avoid a crash. So how can we drive through more of our day in fighter pilot mode and intentionally drive the course of our day and life?



Clear your mind of any pre-occupations, and focus on where you are


Auto pilot can be useful if you are trying to do two things at once, like walk your dog and think through the logistics of everything you need to do the next day. However, by spending too much time multi-tasking with your thoughts and activities, you miss the opportunities right in front of you. By clearing your head and focusing on what you are doing in the moment, it allows you to take stock of the environment around you and be where you are. Take notice of each of your senses and express gratitude for the moment you have to be where we are. It's fine if your mind wants to get back to work and re-direct to something 'more productive', but you have to intentionally and gently bring your attention back to your surroundings. Sometimes audibly saying something to yourself about something you see or hear or smell can help bring you back to what's in front of you.



Focus on being intense in the moment but not tense


Being intense in the moment allows your muscles and mind to be ready to respond, but it's important to allow yourself to be loose and relaxed without tension. One trick I teach athletes and salespeople is to try and touch your middle finger and your thumb as lightly as you can. Or try and hold a pen or object in your hand as lightly as you can without dropping it. This simple hack loosens your muscles and allows your body (and more importantly your brain) to relax.



In an intense situation, have a particular phrase ready in order to prepare your mind and body


I will keep with the dog walking analogy as this scenario I'm about to describe actually happens quite frequently. We have a one year old and very active Vizsla. I keep her on a waist leash about 4-5 feet long because when she jerks in a certain direction it could rip my arm off if it weren't around my waist. When we go for our walks, we sometimes pass other dog walkers that think their dog is so well-behaved that it doesn't require a leash. However, a dog is a dog and instincts are instincts. My dog is not aggressive, but when she is strapped to me she feels insecure, and the other dog senses her fear. So when I see a dog quickly approaching without a leash, I could say an expletive and then 'I knew this was going to happen.' However, that energy is never good to bring into a situation especially with animals that can sense fear. So I calmly will say to myself, 'I've been here before, so I know what to do' or 'No big deal, I am cool, calm, collected.' Having those prepared phrases helps keep my mind and body prepared to handle the moment with ease and grace. Sometimes it requires more of me to use a loud voice to break through to the other dog or to use my leg as a buffer, but the phrase I tell myself helps prepare me for whatever I need to do next. I might save the expletive for under my breath when the person finally collects their dog and walks off, but hey, at least in the moment I can be prepared!


I encourage you this week to take stock of one of your auto-pilot-type activities and try and be intentional about switching over to fighter pilot mode, if only even for a few minutes. The more we can prepare our mind and body for fighter pilot without being forced into that mode, then the more comfortable we will be when it is required of us.


Have a great week!




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