Make Lasting Change By Turning Off Autopilot

Lately I've been sneaking in plenty of downtime with my favorite pal, Netflix, and I've been on a documentary bender!

One of the docs that Jas and I recently watched together was the Tony Robbins documentary, I Am Not Your Guru. Have you seen it?

Tony Robbins is one of those guys that I have had mixed perceptions about. On one hand, I trust that his heart is in the right place and he wants to help as many people as possible in this world and that he is uniquely gifted to do so. But, on the other hand, whenever I think of his work and approach, I can’t help but be skeptical of his “seminar” style, big-ballrooms-full-of-people, multiple-thousands-of-dollars-for-admission business model.

Given my fascination with him, I was definitely intrigued by the idea of this documentary, which promised unprecedented access to one of Tony’s live events.

I won’t go into every detail of the film, but my final impression is that even though there are some tactics that Tony uses at his events that make me feel uncomfortable (side note: I think that’s the point), there is one big takeaway from his teaching that I think is applicable to anyone who wants to live a more vibrant life (regardless of your level of skepticism) and it’s this:

It’s impossible to make lasting change when we’re operating on autopilot. 

It’s impossible to make lasting change when we’re operating on autopilot.

Throughout the film (and in THIS awesome interview where he sits down with Marie Forleo to talk about the documentary), Tony talks about breaking patterns in people.


Whether it’s something as small as a habit that we want to get rid of, an old limiting belief that we need to confront, or even something much more dire like depression or suicidal thoughts (something that a handful of people at any given one of his events is struggling with), our patterns act like an endless cycle of emotional cement that keeps us stuck where we are.

In order to break free of that cement, we have to break those patterns. In order to break those patterns, Tony talks about the need to "change someone’s state."

In other words, he has to create some sort of shock or altered environment or unexpected disruption to snap them out of the autopilot mode they've been running on. Once out of their hypnotic groove, that’s when someone can awaken to a new way of thinking or experience a breakthrough.

The more I listened to this theory, the more it made so much sense to me.

How many times have you experienced a perspective shift because of a trip you took or an immersive experience you had? The time away from the comfort of your patterns and routines can facilitate that.

I started thinking about just how many aspects of life can sometimes start to feel like they’re on autopilot.

  • Relationships. It can be so easy to fall into certain roles in any relationship which can create mental patterns that have you replaying the same conflicts over and over again. Does one person always do X and the other always does Y? Why not switch up the roles for a while in order to break the pattern.
  • Health. Unhealthy habits are probably one of the hardest things to break once they’re on autopilot. When I was working my old job at an ad agency, I would have a Diet Coke every day at 3pm just to pump up my energy and make it through to the end of the day. Most days I didn’t even want it or need it but it became a part of my daily work routine and so I was convinced I could never give up soda. (That is until I no longer worked at that office with a vending machine, and now I no longer drink soda of any kind.)
  • Work. Do you find yourself having the same feelings week after week when it comes to your work -- Sunday night dread, Monday morning drag, Friday afternoon freedom? Do you feel like you complete the same basic tasks over and over? Do you listen to the same music, work from the same desk, answer emails at the same time, etc.? If so, it’s possible that you’re starting to feel numb when it comes to your work and may not be enjoying it as much as you could. How could you snap out of this habitual groove and bring new life to your work?

Don’t get me wrong, habits and routines are immensely helpful when they make a positive impact on our daily lives. We can use our mind’s autopilot function to our benefit by programming it to do all sorts of helpful things (work out, meditate, tidy up, etc.)

BUT we also need to be aware of which automated behaviors are keeping us stuck in our ways and preventing us from evolving into better, brighter versions of ourselves.

I love what Tony says in his interview with Marie about breaking patterns:

“I don’t hypnotize anyone, I DE-hypnotize them. We’ve been hypnotized by our culture to settle for things. We’ve been hypnotized by our past to think of ourselves as being limited when we’re not.”

I love this idea because it illuminates the fact that our autopilot culture is actually where we need to place our skepticism. We need to question WHY we settle for certain things or why we accept certain stories that we tell ourselves.

We need to snap ourselves out of the way things have always been so that we can awaken ourselves to the way things COULD be.

So this week, I challenge you to turn off autopilot.

Pick three aspects of your life that you are feeling numb to or limited by, and then find a way to break the normal cycle of your routine.

It could be relationships, work, health, finances, hobbies, parenting, spirituality, your home, etc.

Let’s break whatever patterns are holding us back and start living life fully in control. Let’s de-hypnotize ourselves and wake up to possibility.

That's it. I hope you have an awesome week!