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  • Writer's pictureRyan Wilson

The Dangers of Autopilot

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I was driving into work and I forgot where I was going. Then, as I remembered that I was indeed on my way to the office to finish a ton of paperwork, another funny thing happened. A question popped into my head.

 Why am I going to work?

The obvious answer came to mind: we need the money. Then I thought about it… “That can’t be true. I’m a graduate student. I don’t really make money. So that’s not it.” Back to the question, why am I going to work? “To finish my PhD. Aha, got it! Wait, why do I want to finish my PhD?”

And there it was, the anxiety provoking question that has entered my mind a thousand times. Do I even want to finish my PhD?!

There is a point, I think, to me sharing this rambling train of thought…

All too often I have found myself on autopilot, going through my days without thinking about why I might be doing what I am doing. To me it really highlights how important it is to have a plan, to have a purpose, and to continuously reflect on that purpose. I have to ask myself:

1) Does what I am doing today get me closer to reaching my goal?

2) What life value do my actions today serve?

3) Is my plan/goal still in line with my life values or is it time to make a change?

Continuously asking these questions serves to help me stay focused or refocus. It also helps me put up with the parts of work that I dislike (e.g., paperwork… I hate paperwork). Every job is going to have parts that I dislike, but if I have clear purpose as to why things need to be done, the parts I don’t like can be a lot easier to tolerate.


I was able to answer the above questions for myself.

Going into work to do paperwork puts me closer to finishing my PhD. I want to finish my PhD because I believe the training I am getting is valuable and will help me in my ultimate goal of being a meaningful contributor to my community through my work as a psychologist. Working as a psychologist is going to be a stepping-stone for me to find bigger ways to be of service to my community.

With these thoughts firmly rooted in my mind, I can focus, with contentment, in the present moment, even though its doing paper work because I have a purpose for my actions.

So, the next time you find yourself on autopilot, I wonder what would happen if you took a moment to ask yourself those same questions? Are you on target? Is it time to make a change? How will you know unless you look?


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