How much of your life is on autopilot? According to a study of people who were asked to keep daily diaries, up to 45% reported that their activities were habits they performed almost daily and usually in the same location. In other words, almost half of their lives occurred without them thinking about it.

Habits are necessary and often useful. Morning routines – like the route we take to the grocery store, or the procedures needed to drive a car – make us more efficient and let us use our energy for other activities. Veterans know that the U.S. military is the best habit-forming organization the world has ever seen, drilling service members to the point that even highly complex tasks can be done quickly and without thinking. Having the right habits in place can improve – and even save – lives.

However, we also easily fall into bad habits. A cigarette with the morning coffee, picking up fast food on the way home, or spending hours on the sofa channel-surfing. These activities don’t require much thought or energy, but they’re probably not choices we would make if we took ourselves off autopilot and thought about our health and wellness goals.

An important aspect of Whole Health is “mindful awareness,” often defined as paying attention on purpose to the present moment without judgement. Paying attention in this way lets us decide what actions we want to make and how we choose to live our lives. As we practice being in the present moment, we learn to  choose our actions purposefully and mindfully. Choosing how we want to act in any situation can be freeing.

You can begin practicing mindful awareness in this 22-minute breathing meditation led by Reverend Tim Burnett:

Do you want to practice mindfulness but don’t know where to start? Check out the Mindfulness Coach. This app leads the user through steps to learn how to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means grounding yourself in the present moment. It has been shown to be helpful for reducing stress and helping people cope with unpleasant thoughts and emotions.

By Marc Castellani, Ph.D., NBC-HWC, is the Whole Health clinical education coordinator for the VHA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation

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Published on Nov. 8, 2021

Estimated reading time is 1.7 min.

Views to date: 335

One Comment

  1. Darrell Austin November 9, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    Some of the examples are misleading . meaning painting with a broad brush about alot of less then health on lazy behavior about the subjet here being veterans. The texture of of this picture may be unavoidable ill give the author some grace.

    The content about mindfullness however is spot on and i learnd that alone time ago not easy to distinguish patterns can feel right but leave one empty-handed .
    New language here’s is autopilot i do like that visualización it will be great to use that image in the wilderness of RL…..

    Thanks for AntiVice :)

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