Ms ZiYou AutoPilot

Evaluating your autopilot settings

We’ve all got our own set of autopilot routines, tasks we just do without thinking. As we don’t need to wake our conscious brain to make these decisions that valuable brain energy is saved for more important tasks. But how much of your life have you left to autopilot? Have you evaluated your autopilot settings recently?

What do you do on autopilot?

Now thinking about myself, there is a helluva lot of my life on autopilot. From the moment I get up, snooze two times to making coffee, my morning routine is just that – routine and done automatically. While I’ve not yet got to the Steve Jobs level of uniform, I’m not far off with a small section of my wardrobe for in the office dresses. I automatically brush my teeth and scrape my hair back – taming my natural hair into something acceptable to be seen in public.

Going to the office I always walk the same way and get on the same carriage to optimise my exit from the train. Next, I walk the same way to the office, without giving much thought to my directions. When I arrive I say hello to anyone already in and claim a hot desk – hopefully “my” desk (ok my timeshare desk really) by the window with the fabulous view of the grey building next door. I then log in, make coffee and process my emails and check the batch logs.

Other hobbies can also become automatic. I love running hence have many running routes from my house – a 3 miler, 4 miler, 5 miler, 6.5 miler, 9 miler, 15 miler etc. If the training plan has 9 miles on it, I do my usual 9 miler route. On these routes, I know the way, and I can quite accurately do the traffic by sound making it an easy suburban pavement run.

My money is also mostly automated. Mortgage, utilities and other bills are paid by direct debits. As are my credit cards and investments each month. I review the numbers each month but rarely tinker or manually money around.

Do you understand why?

How much do we understand the rationale why we process these tasks this way? My thinking on autopilot has changed over the years. Initially, I just thought it was much quicker and more efficient, and the type A in me absolutely loves that. I thought routines and habits were the way to just automatically do things – the simplest way.

However, after reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow my opinion has changed. I’ve come to believe that these life optimisations are more to preserve brain power for the items that matter to you personally. Subtly different from the efficient argument, this is more holistic and takes into the opportunity costs of brainpower – i.e. what other tasks we could alternatively use the brain power for.

Ms ZiYou Choices

Not seeing options

By running parts of our lives on autopilot – I want to propose that we are deliberately avoiding choices. You’d turn right as that is what you always do, without considering the alternatives. You know they exist but are choosing to screen them out and treat them as they do not exist.  Henceforth, those options are not available to you. Your subconscious mind has filled them away as not worthy of your attention today.

Willing to shake things up?

If we are treating so many options as not there, how do we know we are still making the best decisions? Moreover, as we evolve as people, how do we know that yesterday’s choices are the same ones you would make consciously today? I know my worldview and preferences are always evolving, but are my routines? Hence I decided to evaluate some of my autopilot choices.

#1: Taking a different running route

As I mentioned above I have some tried and tested running routes that I tend to stick to. Since I know the way, the traffic and the exact mileage it makes running much easier. However, I realised that while there are many roads I know well, there are an equal number of roads that are a mystery to me.

So I’ve been experimenting with taking new routes, and have been pleasantly surprised. I have found a lovely semi riverside route, a new (much nicer) access route to a path I run often and only got lost a few times. As a result, I need to make the conscious effort to mix up my routes more and try new locations, especially as my training plan gets longer.

Result: Autopilot settings failed

# 2: Alternative diet – eating clean

I’m sure you’ll not have missed the trend for eating clean –  everyone is singing the praises of eating a more natural diet. I’ve always been sceptical of this sort of diet but thought I’d give it a go for a few weeks and try and eat fewer cakes. Overall I found the restrictions too hard –  I like the theory of avoiding processed food but in reality, I like eating it more. And as veggie it wasn’t working for me.

So this was a good example of re-affirming my autopilot settings – eating faddy diets does not work for me. I need to get some of my nutrients in more processed forms and as a runner it works well for me.

Result: Autopilot settings still correct

#3: Trying to Cycle

Another item I’ve been pondering is getting over my barriers to cycling. As you may know, I now own a bike and am absolutely loving it. While I’ve not realised any cash benefits yet, it’s great cross-training for my running. And I am building up my confidence to attempt the 14-mile ride to work. In London rush hour traffic.

This is a perfect example of the mental barriers that my autopilot told me were acceptable – that I’d never become a cyclist and to stop thinking about that idea. Yet when I took a more conscious approach and really examined them – they were easily overcome.

Result: Autopilot settings failed

# 4: Money & Investments

The majority of my personal money and investments are automated – in fact they have been automated for years. I don’t check my bank balance that often as I don’t need to. My asset allocation is reasonably steady and I don’t trade on a regular basis – I’m in the buy and hold camp.

I’ve recently wanted to check these assumptions – for someone that blogs about money, I don’t spend that much time managing it. The most time I spend is at the end of the month doing my net worth updates for the blog – and I spend more time writing than making investment decisions or doing analysis by a long shot.

Consciously evaluating these made me realise I’m not made out for the quant life – too many ways of analysing the data and graphs galore do not appeal to me. And truth be told, they don’t add value to me personally at this stage of my journey. So I’m happy that I just complete my spreadsheet on autopilot each month.

Result: Autopilot settings still correct

Benefits of Checking your assumptions

While I believe running parts of your life on autopilot is ideal – toothbrushing isn’t changing anytime soon – some of our autopilot assumptions need to be checked.

Life is nuanced and people grow – does what worked well for you 5 years ago still work as well today? Are you holding yourself back in ways you can’t see clearly?

Over to you

  • What are your thoughts?
  • How much of your life runs on autopilot?
  • Have you ever challenged the processes yo do automatically?

Thank you for reading – please leave a comment below and join in the conversation. You can also connect on Twitter or contact me privately.



13 comments on “Evaluating your autopilot settings

  1. Gosh, this one’s a deep one and made me think, which was obviously your intention. I have many routines to streamline my thinking, my decisions and my day:- work wardrobe, shower routine, same lunch daily, same cup for tea at work, same way of making tea at work combining it with a visit to the ladies. For ease, for routine, because I’m lazy? I’m not great with spontaneity, takes me a little time to adjust. Perhaps when I feel I have more time I will shake things up a bit. You’ve definitely got me thinking!

  2. My whole morning routine is on auto-pilot as I’m probably only half awake! Everything has to be sorted the night before so I can just ‘shower and go’!

    Walk the same way in to work, get on the same tram carriage, switch from reading to listening to music at the same stop because I know it gets too crowded to read comfortably, cross the roads at the same places and eat the same breakfast (depending on what’s available).

    I do the same gym classes every week but the class routines change quarterly and I do like to vary my weight training.

    All my bills are paid by DD and I have an automatic amount going into my investment accounts. However I have quite detailed spreadsheets which I enjoy tinkering with so not quite autopilot there.

    Kahneman’s book is what I’m currently struggling with – so interesting yet sooooooo tedious to read! But I agree, I don’t think it’s just speed and efficiency as I’m certainly not doing things in the quickest way, just in a way which I don’t have to really think!

    I guess I have tried to challenge things – recently noticed that I was buying the same groceries every week (automatically going up the same aisles and picking the same food haha!) so now try to make a point of putting at least 2 things I didn’t buy the previous week into my trolley!

    1. That is a fabulous response Weenie – I love how you have that morning routine optimised down to when to put the book down.

      And I agree his book is just far too academic an intellectual to be easy reading- it’s really hard to read and I had it for years before I actually committed to struggling through it all.

      And that is a fabulous grocery shake-up adding two new things. I tend to have a core of groceries and then go through phases depending on what’s on offer and what catches my fancy. As Aldi has good exotic fruit, it’s smoothies this week.

  3. since you are an avid runner you can have way more leeway with food. the new route you found along the river sounds lovely…

    My whole morning is on auto pilot. When I introduce something new I often miss a crucial step (forgot to bring lunch… left key in car, spilled coffee all over myself… you get the idea hehehe …)

    this is a good post, more self inspection coming…

    1. Hi Coco – I’m sensing we all have morning on autopilot here! Indeed I also get that spidey sense that something feels odd when I add something new to the routine.

      And yes, more new running routes are in my future. As is more cake.

  4. As someone who was up before 4am this morning to catch a flight to London – I would say that habits, rituals, patterns are very useful- but it’s good to break them just as much as it is to make them.
    Doing new things is one of the ways to ensure a longer happier healthier life.

  5. I like having a routine too. It makes life a lot easier. This summer, I’m spending time with my son and we don’t really have a fixed schedule. We just figure out what to do each day. This is okay for a while, but I’m ready to get back to my routine once school starts. It’s really hard to get into the mindset to blog with the summer schedule. I’m not productive at all. We had fun, though. 🙂
    Eating – I’m going to try the intermittent fasting thing once school starts. I’ll just have coffee in the morning and be hungry until lunch. We’ll see how that goes…

    1. I agree routine is awesome for the simpler stuff we need to do everyday.

      Your summer must be really different to the rest of the year with JuniorRB40 around to keep you on your toes.

      I like a bit of intermittent fasting – it’s all in the mind in my experience – I can do 2 days now with no adverse effects.

  6. Our investments were on auto-pilot for years and I got way to complacent with the asset allocation and fees associated with our investments. Because things were automated for so long, it was difficult to initially break that up and re-evaluate. After learning about FI/RE last year, I finally started making changes to our investments, moving them to lower cost index funds. I feel so much better by what I have done and no longer fear doing something different.

    1. Hi thedragonsonfire – great to see you here. And that’s great news that you have moved your investments to lower cost index funds – definitely the right move.

What do you think?