Jun 20, 2013

Disabling Autopilot, Engaging Creativity

One morning on the way to work, I let my mind drift during the drive. When I arrived at the office, I thought to myself, Man, that drive went by fast. I tried to recall something about the journey that would have caused it go faster than usual. But I couldn’t remember a thing! Actually, the whole drive was a blur, essentially erased from my memory.

How many times have I made that daily drive to work? Hundreds, probably. I take the same path every day. I leave the house at almost the same minute every day. I can predict exactly what time I’ll arrive at my destination.

I could tell you everything that I thought about along the way, but I couldn’t tell you anything about the drive. I had gone into autopilot.

Suddenly, I started to think about every other task in my life that I can perform with no particular awareness. My whole morning routine, from getting out of bed after two snooze-button slaps, to brushing my teeth, to shaving, to showering, to getting dressed. All autopilot.

As it turns out, a growing collection of research inspired by the work of John Bargh of Yale University claims that we live up to 95% of our lives on autopilot. If you think about all of the habits and routines we fill our lives with, it’s really not that far-fetched, is it?

Autopilot can be a good thing. After all, it’s what makes us efficient and consistent. My whole morning routine gets me out of the door on time every day because nothing varies in it. It’s the same routine, and it always takes the same amount of time.

Autopilot can also kill your creativity, though. Routine is defined as, “regular, unvarying, habitual, unimaginative, or rote procedure.” (Imagine... this is the spot where writer’s block just hit me.) When we don’t have to think about what we’re doing, the creative juices aren’t required to flow.

With my drive to work, I know exactly when to turn, when to speed up, and when to slow down. However, when I take a different path to work, not only am I forced to actively think about which routes will connect me to my destination, but I’m also forced be more aware of what’s happening so that I can respond appropriately to new traffic patterns.

In Michele Serro’s FastCompany.com article called “3 Rules Every Entrepreneur Should Live By,” one of the three rules mentioned is to “disable auto-pilot.”

“The point is to forever question whether you are still on the best path,” Serro says.

In other words, we should avoid getting stuck in the routines that keep us from reinventing a better way of doing things.

Other research also suggests that the best way to break out of autopilot in big ways is to first break out of it in little ways. Something as simple as changing your morning routine (autopilot) can to boost your creativity.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a boost in creativity. I think I’ll set my alarm for fifteen minutes earlier than usual and get up after only one smack of the snooze button—let’s not get crazy and pretend I’ll not snooze at all. Then maybe I’ll take a different way to work, rearrange my office furniture, or find a different space to work in for the day. Maybe I’ll even go for a walk during lunch, rather than watching the news while I eat.

This is my prayer: Lord, help me see things in new ways. Help me see new things. Give me the creativity to reinvent how I approach my work, my family, my ministry.

Image by Toni Blay. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.Post by High Calling Social Media Editor, Dan King, author of The Unlikely Missionary.

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