How easy it is to live on autopilot.

It’s usually when someone dies that appreciation comes pouring out for them.

None of that while they lived.

It’s more than just being ‘taken for granted’ – taking things for granted is a symptom of something.

It’s a symptom of functioning on autopilot – ‘existing’, rather than ‘living’.


The difference between the two, the factor that takes you from existing to living, is consciousness.

To be conscious, to be aware, is to be ‘alive’ rather than ‘exist’.

With time, consciousness fades.

There’s more to consciousness than prescriptions or hacks to ‘live in the present’.

Such techniques only yank you back ‘to the moment’ for a few seconds – you pull on a leash, drag yourself, and soon drift off again and repeat the cycle.

When someone talks of awareness, as I have here, it pulls you back, but for how long? A minute, an hour if you’re lucky, but then you’re back to where you were.

When someone ‘motivates’, sells a story, fires you up – you feel good, you feel inspired and driven, but for how long? It fizzles out and next day you’re back where you were.


To merely exist is to function on autopilot.

Autopilot is very evident in the majority of organizations and individuals, and as I see too often, in myself.

Routine sets in, you fall in the rut, and days go by, simply in existing.

Movements, actions, work – everything becomes unconscious, routine and mundane.

It becomes only about existence, completing the usual chores and tasks.

Anything beyond that, anything not to do with day-to-day functioning, and especially anything requiring reflection, considered thought and exertion, anything with an uncertain payoff in the future, is pushed to the background.


There’s more to autopilot than familiarity.

When you’re faced with something unfamiliar, the mind exerts itself because it has no idea of what to expect, nothing to tell it what’s coming.

And when there is familiarity, there’s no longer a need for exertion by the mind because the body can take over and go through the motions it’s already familiar with.

Hours, days, and perhaps even a lifetime can go by, without consciousness of it.

But that’s not a sufficient explanation.

Familiarity is inevitable – you don’t do completely new stuff everyday. And familiarity, putting in effort over time – is essential to become good at anything.

Functioning unconsciously is not about ‘routine’.

Autopilot is about inertia.

A body at rest or moving with a constant velocity in a straight line will continue to do so unless acted upon by an external force.

Mere movement doesn’t give evidence of consciousness; an organism can be very busy and yet unconscious – and far too many seem to be.

In fact, perhaps the busier you think you are, the more you appear to yourself to be doing, the more the chances that you are functioning on autopilot.

Someone at rest, doing nothing at all, will probably be aware of it, given that he has nothing else to occupy him. Whether he decides to remain at rest is his prerogative – there’s nothing ‘wrong’ if he chooses to.

But the one always running about, apparently up to the neck in work, with a jam-packed schedule, may never consider what the value of the ‘work’ he drowns himself in really is.

Rest or motion is not the test of ‘existing without living’.

The test of mere existence is inertia.

Functioning on Autopilot

It’s easy to see this at play.

How a hobby, a sport or a craft, becomes a habit, becomes something done on autopilot.

Going through the process of reading/studying or exercising unconsciously out of habit with the mind elsewhere – getting little more out of it than the comfort of repeating the same motions everyday.

Not that it’s ‘wrong’ – there’s no ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ about any of this.

It’s just worth thinking if this is all there is, or if you want more for yourself.

It is there at the workplace too.

How work can be reduced to firefighting, dealing with day-to-day tasks.

Limited to whatever is already going on, or the bare minimum you are directed to do but no more.

Or, only too easily, not what is useful, but what would please the boss.

Unable to see the forest for the trees, lost in picayune duties, far removed from anything of value.

The gap between what you had thought you would do, and what you actually find yourself doing.

How easy to be unaware of this, or even more easy to be aware and make peace with it, without even an attempt to reinvent yourself.

With time, there’s a chance that there’s less and less consciousness, as ‘habit’ begins to take over. Eventually here too it might become about executing the movements.

And just the same can happen with people.

They might even be appreciated and not taken for granted, but still be dealt with unconsciously. Appreciation, like anything, can become a habit.

Relationships and people get automated too, as we become used to them.

Interacting unconsciously, with the mind somewhere else, not even aware of the person in front, repeating the same actions on a loop.

How rare to give undivided attention, to interact absolutely and fully, to respond naturally, neither perfunctorily focused on something else, nor from preconceptions of the person instead of the real thing before you.

Unawareness puts the person in the background, like a processor executing a task while being busy with something else. The existence of a human is reduced to a mere detail, the human itself only a simplified abstraction.

Autopilot is not the same as ‘taking things for granted’, or devaluing things. Nor does it mean losing interest or not working hard – you might be working harder than ever.

You might still retain your joy and passion for something even as you function on autopilot.

When something is taken away one realizes its value – but until then, if there’s no awareness of that value, what is its worth?

A Constant Renewal

To live and not merely exist, to retain agency rather than function on autopilot, is to undergo a constant renewal at nearly every moment.

To die to the past, so that you don’t carry it over to the present and make a pattern out of it, fitting what is before you into the pattern, rather than dealing with it for what it is, on its merits.

And yet, have something durable enough that sustains and carries on, otherwise you join those who sway to one tune today and another tomorrow.

To not live in the future, or you risk forcing a pattern out of what you hope for, and fitting the present into that artificial creation.

Nor to live for the future, or you drag yourself through torture, pinning your hopes on a utopian dream one day.

And yet, have something that can go beyond upcoming necessities and deadlines, something that can transcend the bare minimum that is good enough for most.

And how does this happen?

Like anything of any worth, definitely not through prescriptions and How-tos – so there’s no reason to bother with them.

When you understand what you are, when you really see, and the realization is genuine – you become something else, without even trying to.