Turn off the Autopilot

Have you found yourself running on autopilot lately?

Autopilot is a feature of commercial airplanes in which flight conditions, routes and destinations (among other things) are preprogrammed into the aircraft’s navigational system. The autopilot function literally controls flying the airplane while the human pilot sleeps, reads or whatever.

How many of you are moving through life on autopilot? Because there are tasks that you do day in and day out, you can easily get programmed to move through these tasks without really thinking.

You wake up, maybe do a quick devotional read, say a quick word of prayer or do a minute meditation.  Then you move through the routines of grooming, commuting and working. You may call yourself handling your business. In actuality, you are trying to handle your  “busyness”  while the “busyness” is really handling you.

We’re all guilty of doing this at times. On autopilot we scurry through life out of habit. We are less reflective because we really don’t have time. But then without the time for reflecting on what is going on in us and around us, we fall victim to our unconscious biases and unexamined assumptions. In essence, we begin to lead out of habit, by rote, and without intentionality.

Of course, this ability of our brains to use unconscious programming helps us to get through our day efficiently.  According to the folks at the NeuroLeadership Institute, this auto pilot process of our brains, “helps us use previous knowledge to inform new decisions, a kind of cognitive shorthand, as we do not have the cognitive resources to make every decision afresh.”

So we go on autopilot when we are brushing our teeth or showering in the morning. Some even get through the daily commute without really thinking about the people on the train next to them or the stop lights they habitually drive through. And I’ll be honest, I meet my fitness goals more effectively, if I go on auto pilot and get to the gym, first thing in the morning–before I think myself out of going!

However, moving through the day on autopilot also has negative effects.

  • It can blind us to new information.
  • It can hinder us from being able to consider options, because we get in the habit of choosing without thinking deeply about our choices.
  • It can cause us to miss the rich nuances of people and situations around us.
  • It can cause us to miss opportunities that suddenly appear as if out of nowhere.
  • It can cause us to miss the creative moments.
  • It can cause us to miss the authentic connecting moments with others.

Autopilot navigation is an approach we default to, as leaders, because of the time and task demands of our many roles and competing demands. Yet it is not the most effective approach to leading well.

Today, I challenge you to turn off the autopilot and look around.  Really notice the people around you.  Reread that email before you send it and reflect on whether it says what really needs to be said. Change up your routine for lunch.

Today is a good day to release the autopilot approach to living and leading and begin to live and lead with intention.

How do you start?


  • Start by slowing down for a moment and getting still.
  • Listen to the voice within.
  • Quiet the cacophony of competing demands in your head.
  • Ask yourself, “What am I hearing deep within?”
  • Create an intentional actions list—things I will do today on purpose.
  • Stay present with team members.
  • Focus on what is truly happening in your meetings, and not preparing for the next meeting in your head.
  • Follow the things that are really important for this day, that might otherwise get overlooked when you are moving on autopilot.

Today, turn off the autopilot and be intentional.


© 2018 Dr. Jeanne Porter King



  1. Zachary Williams

    Love it, one of my goals this year has been to be more intentional I’m my conversations and relationship with those around me. Thanks for the encouragement and reminder.

  2. Patrina

    Have also considered
    mindful thinking.
    Instead of old ideas etc.

  3. Tina Allen

    I thought retirement would slow me down. Instead, I have just boarded a different aircraft, still on autopilot. I needed this at this time. Thank you!

  4. Derek Walker II

    Great article on true Leadership! Thank you Dr. King, your article was timely and very relevant.

  5. Adrienne Sturdivant

    On Auto-Pilot or waking up Auto-Matically, that is the question. I know it depends on which side of the bed you wake up on in the morning. With that being said, there’s room for praise. The prefix is powerful here because somebody did not wake up this morning. Unfortunately, they ended up in an Auto-Mobile taking their last car ride to their final resting place. Thank you, Dr. King, for allowing me to reflect. I read Psalms 8:1-9.

  6. Adrienne Claxton

    Yes, intentionally paying attention..especially recognizing God’s presence as we make decisions and encounter others!! Thanks! Adrienne Claxton

  7. Rema Cole

    I am so guilty of being on autopilot, thinking about the task ahead and unable to truly enjoy the task at hand. Thanks for the reminders to enjoy my present.

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