At some point in the past several weeks, we have all felt overwhelmed with everything that is going on. Having kids learning remotely indefinitely, the uncertainty of what this year will bring, or worries that you can’t handle whatever is coming this year, can make us feel overloaded and untethered.
Our Brain’s Default – Autopilot
If you’re feeling very overwhelmed by this it’s because your brain is on autopilot!
Let me explain what this means. Something interesting actually happened in my home a few weeks ago that clarified for me how “autopilot” works: We have had our plastic disposable cups stored in the same spot in our kitchen for the past eight years. A few weeks ago, I decided to switch the cups to a different closet on the other side of the kitchen. I put them in the new spot because I thought it would be more convenient for us I and informed all our family members. But interestingly, for the next two weeks, every single one of us – our kids, my husband, and I – kept going to the old cabinet to get our cups, even though we knew where the new cup closet was. If a guest would come over and ask me where we keep our cups, I would think to myself for a moment and tell them about our new spot. So even though our brain knows something, our minds are on autopilot unless we think something intentional to make our mind go on manual override. We have all been conditioned to have our minds on autopilot, telling us very specific messages (this is called “habitual thinking”) for many years.
Human beings aren’t born with thoughts or any beliefs. We came into this world with the default settings of happiness, security, confidence, resilience, and warmth. Now, the only thing that takes us away from those natural settings are the thoughts or beliefs we have adopted.
Thinking, “I can’t live like this,” or “I need to know what tomorrow will bring in order to feel safe” are a result of our habitual thinking, of our “autopilot thoughts.” The good news is that with our adult minds, we have the ability to look at what our brains are doing and see if it’s taking us to the “right cup closet,” or if it’s taking us to the “wrong place.”
So, if your brain is telling you that you won’t be able to cope with this year and everything that’s going on or that maybe the challenges will be too big for you to handle – you want to recognize these are “unhelpful habitual thoughts.”
Once you’ve recognized you’re having an unhelpful thought, you get more peace around the discomfort. Recognize and be aware that it’s only an unhelpful thought. You don’t have to do anything to fight it in the moment. Just be aware that your mind is taking you to where the wrong cup closet; that’s okay. You know where the right cup closet is. You want to be aware that you’re having unhelpful thoughts. The more you become aware of your unhelpful thoughts, the more you are able to get back to your natural calm, clear, secure state.
Live Mindfully and Put Hashem in the Picture
Choose to live and think mindfully and intentionally. What does Hashem want us to think about all that’s going on? That He loves us more than we could ever imagine loving ourselves, and that the challenges are uniquely designed for each of us as tremendous opportunities for growth! I like to thank Hashem for the unhelpful thoughts as they, too, are a unique challenge wrapped with love, even when they do not feel like it. We can understand how we say no to children precisely because we love them, even though they don’t see it and are saddened by it.
Be aware of your unhelpful thoughts, respect your feelings of discomfort, and take each challenge one at a time. Remember, Hashem gave you everything that you need inside of you to deal with any challenge that comes your way!
Have you tried turning off autopilot? I would love to hear from you! E-mail me your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.