The Human Brain

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The Enigma of the Human Brain: Operating on Autopilot Hindering “Life by Design”

By Sunita Punjabi, PhD



The Intricacies of the Brain’s Autopilot Function

The human brain, a marvel of evolution, often operates on autopilot mode, seamlessly carrying out routine tasks without conscious effort. This autopilot function is essential for efficiency in daily activities, such as driving a familiar route or tying shoelaces. However, this automatic processing can also hinder the creation of new results. The “life by design” concept involves making choices about the life you want and engaging in behaviors that can take you in your desired direction. Without conscious choices and intentional thinking, we cannot have new results or engage in new behaviors or actions; our lives are just reactions to past programs.

Our brain is doomed to do what it has always done, felt, and acted. Most of us must realize that our current awareness can only give us what we already have. And that is okay if your life is exactly how you want it to be. If you love everything about your life, then the instructions in this series should be shared with a friend and may not be for you. But if there is any part of your life that you would like to see a change, then keep reading. So, we have thoughts and feelings, as we always have, and nothing changes because our mental patterns (our mental highways, the neuronal superhighways the brain travels) work without our awareness. Now what?


The Limitations of Autopilot in Human Interaction

Many people tell me that there are changes they would like to see in their lives, but no matter what they do, they keep getting the same results. That is because our current level of thinking is insufficient to give us something new; otherwise, we would already have the results we desire. The brain’s default mode network, responsible for mind-wandering and daydreaming, may override the creation of authentic reactions, causing individuals to operate on pre-programmed responses rather than formulating genuine thoughts. These automatic responses are limiting your ability to make choices. The understanding of choice is fundamental. How many choices do we make in a day? Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that the average person spends 47 percent of their time on autopilot. This means that half our lives are spent reacting to the circumstances. Responses that require engaging choice and prefrontal cortex activity can only happen in half our lives!

Past programs come from past experiences. Our mindset, our view of the options available for action, is limited by our view of the situation because our view of the situation comes from our past.


The Impact on Living a Life That You Love

Designing your life will require new choices, which the brain’s autopilot mode may stifle. In moments that require unique perspectives or heartfelt reactions, the brain’s tendency to default to familiar patterns can impede the generation of novel ideas and genuine emotions. It simply will not let us “choose” new responses because it does not allow us to choose our “view” of the situation. For our journey, let us distinguish between reaction and response or reaction versus a choice. A reaction does not involve choice. It is automatic; it does not take conscious or intentional effort. A choice requires engaging your values and knowing what matters to you and why it matters. With this type of awareness, not only are you able to make choices, but you’re able to stay more resilient and decisive. When you know what you want and “why” you want it, there is power and emotion available in the actions that you can take.

World View Feeling and Thoughts Options for  Action Action we TakeResults We Experience in Our Lives.


Breaking Free from Autopilot Constraints

Individuals can actively challenge their brain’s autopilot mode to foster genuine responses and enhance creativity. Engaging in activities that promote mindfulness, such as meditation or creative expression, and activities we will engage in during this series can help disrupt habitual thought patterns and encourage authentic responses.


Embracing the Complexity of the Human Brain

While the brain’s autopilot function is vital in everyday tasks, understanding its limitations is crucial for unlocking genuine responses and nurturing creativity. By cultivating awareness of our cognitive processes and embracing moments of conscious presence, we can transcend autopilot constraints and tap into the boundless potential of the human mind.

In conclusion, the enigmatic nature of the human brain operating on autopilot presents challenges and opportunities for creating your life by design, by choice rather than reaction. By acknowledging the intricacies of our cognitive functions and actively cultivating mindfulness, we can harness the power of conscious awareness to inspire authentic interactions and foster innovation or life by design.

For further engagement, visit this article on for activities provided to begin your journey to a more present and engaging life. The activities are created to give you a current snapshot of different areas of your life, which will begin a mindful journey. They are also designed to help you identify your values and why they matter.




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