Turn off Your Autopilot and Tune into Your Wake-Up Moment

by Alli Polin on June 20, 2017

When I moved to Australia, not only did I need to learn to drive on the opposite side of the road, but with the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car. Yes, I drove over more than my share of curbs initially, and parking took me an eternity, but those were not my biggest adjustments. 

The hardest thing to remember when driving here was that my windshield wipers and turn signal were flipped around. Inevitably, whenever I wanted to make a turn in those early days of driving in Australia, I would turn on my wipers. I’d silently moan to myself, turn them off, and flick on the turn signal. Over the course of the first year, I mixed up the two less and less. Eventually, I got it right 100% of the time. 

Of course, early on, I was driving mindfully – alert and focused on my task at hand AND the world around me. Once I mastered the car and the side of the road, slowly but surely autopilot began to creep into my driving experience.  

I’m willing to bet that for most drivers (hello, I’m talking to you) there are times when you’re driving around your neighborhood or the path you drive to work daily, and you’re completely on autopilot. You leave your starting point, get to your destination, and everything in between is lost – a blur at best. It also applies to walking familiar paths too. You don’t need to be behind the wheel to be in the autopilot zone.

Last week, lost in my thoughts, I unconsciously went on autopilot and did something I had not done in years. I turned on the windshield wipers. No harm done, but it was an important wake-up call. It was time to wake-up to the world around me. 

Things that show up in one part of your life often show up in another. 

Constant nitpicking. 






If I was driving on autopilot, where else was I leading my life on autopilot? 

It was more than a safety issue (good news, driving on autopilot isn’t as bad as you think). I want to create, lead and live a full life, not one I can hardly remember. Autopilot serves a purpose but also keeps you and I stuck. Enough of that.


Now Is the Time to Turn Off the Autopilot and Tune Into Your Wake-Up Moment

Living on autopilot means you’re blind to the opportunities in front of you and the obstacles too (even though you may successfully get around them)

Autopilot keeps you in your head instead of consciously making connections with other people or possibilities.  

Leading on autopilot accepts a repeatable good outcome instead of going for great.  

Yes, autopilot may keep you safe and comfortable but it’s missing a sense of aliveness. That positive tension that you can feel in your gut. Creating the life you want only works if you’re willing to wake-up and risk being vulnerable, present, and exposed.

My turn signal/wiper mix up was a reminder – my wake-up moment. What reminder do you need to open your heart, mind, and spirit to create a life of meaning instead of one that’s simply full to the brim? What’s your wake-up moment?


In one of my favorite studies, Amy Krouse Rosenthal hung 100 one dollar bills from a tree and hypothesized what would happen. She envisioned people swarming around the tree with smiles, wonder, and laughter. Each one taking a dollar and having a remarkable moment in their day. The results of her experiment may surprise you.

How is autopilot stopping you from seeing, experiencing, leading and loving the wonder in your life?

If you’re ready to wake-up and lead your life with more passion and purpose, let’s talk.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Gary Gruber June 20, 2017 at 7:05 am

Such the good metaphor for so many who are not thinking consciously about what they’re doing, where they are, where they’re going or why. Being fully present in the moment with conscious intention has kept me from running into more doors and furniture and that only came after I ran into a few. The awareness sometimes lasted a whole week. Then I had to reboot.
I know what you mean about learning to drive as we had that very same experience when we moved to London. I had the hardest time initially with making a right turn and often ended up in the wrong lane.
Even the autopilot on the hot water heater has to be relighted from time to time so as much as we might like to depend on autopilot, it’s there for what, convenience and efficiency? I am not yet a fan of self-driving cars but that’s another story for another time. I loved your post because it’s so personal, valid and useful. I trust others will also see great value in what you’re doing, who you are and what you have to offer. Muchas gracias, mi amiga!


Alli Polin June 20, 2017 at 7:29 am

I know that the autopilot wasn’t only happening in my driving. However, like you mentioned… the awareness doesn’t last forever. We fall into old habits quickly. Plus, I always seem to be mulling over something 🙂

My move overseas been eye-opening in so many ways. I’m finding it hard to believe that it’s already been five years. Hard doesn’t even begin to come close. Been forever and a heartbeat. I want to be AWAKE and creating my experience while I’m here instead of letting the time pass on autopilot. Time moves forward either way…

As for the self-driving cars? You and me both.

Grateful, Gary. Thanks.


Jon Mertz June 20, 2017 at 7:17 am

Getting out of autopilot is essential. I am in the process of doing this right now, leaving my comfortable life and diving into something brand new. We need to shake things up in positive ways from time-to-time and brush off the way we sleepwalk through day-to-day activities.



Alli Polin June 20, 2017 at 7:48 am

Love where you’re headed, Jon. We can either sleep through our lives or create them. We can either make an impact with intention or hope for the best. It’s a constant struggle for me. Push forward, zzzz, decide it’s time to move, to change and grow, zzzz. Glad to know that in saying no to the sleepwalking I’m in good company.




Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ June 20, 2017 at 7:26 am

Great post Alli! Love the “autopilot” imagery and how it can cause trouble. You know, autopilot sounds so kool and so harmless yet if we change that phrase from autopilot to sleepwalking, it screams trouble.

Your always create the best images to wake everyone up! I will share this post on my others streams.



Alli Polin June 20, 2017 at 7:49 am

Always appreciate your support, Kate. You’re right, sleepwalking hits hard. Years ago I wrote a piece about being a zombie. For too many, they never choose to wake up.

Many thanks, Kate!



LaRae Quy June 20, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Loved this post, Alli. Missing out on opportunities especially resonated with me…I have done this so many times! Many times at conferences or get-togethers, my mind is on auto-pilot. Even though I’m there to ostensibly network and meet people, I find I’m so focused on finding people who fit into my narrow niche that I totally miss out on how to expand that niche. I’ve met several people who could have helped me find ways to expand my brand in totally unexpected ways—but auto-pilot kept me from seeing the possibilities….


Alli Polin June 20, 2017 at 11:05 pm

Can relate, LaRae. Some of my best contacts have not been ones of sought out with precision. I also think a lot of business owners are on autopilot when it comes to running their business…. even when it stops serving them. I know I’ve fallen into that trap.



John Bennett June 20, 2017 at 12:49 pm

BROKEN RECORD ALERT: I’ve often referred to the late Stephen Covey’s “Four Needs.” One of them I believe he called Spiritual; in discussions with students, I used ‘Internal’ to avoid any unintended link to religion – which it really isn’t. It’s the regular self-assessment of how your life is going and how it might go better. My efforts on Sunday mornings keep me off autopilot…

Interestingly, for me is Considering autopilot as compared to habits. My take on the biggest difference: Autopilot is responding as always have; habits are approaches to doing something – BUT wanting to do it in the optimum way, meaning you regularly self-assess, reflect, and refine the way to be better.

Love these two quotes:
“Autopilot keeps you in your head instead of consciously making connections with other people or possibilities.” –> Emphasis on ‘consciously’ and ‘people’ for me at least.

“Leading on autopilot accepts a repeatable good outcome instead of going for great.” How does the cliche go? Something like ‘If you’re not changing for the better, you’re actually getting worse.’


Alli Polin June 20, 2017 at 11:34 pm

Always appreciate your thoughtful comments!

I think autopilot is a little like a dog who needs to wear a cone. You’re looking but not seeing and missing the full picture. Habits that you’ve described are good habits. I probably have a handful of habits that do not serve me, I know that they don’t, and I still haven’t made a change. I’m aware of them, see them, not on autopilot but not choosing a new path either. Sad, huh? Choosing change starts with awareness but takes a whole heck of a lot more than that as I know you well know.

I appreciate the insight into your Sunday habit too. Knowing what you need to do to stay out of the autopilot zone and doing it – that’s personal leadership in motion.

Many thanks, John!



Terri Klass June 20, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Love this post Alli! I am guilty at times of just keeping along the same path and not looking up to see that I am stagnating. The part that I especially connected with is: “autopilot may keep you safe and comfortable but it’s missing a sense of aliveness”.

I have felt unexcited at different points in my life and career. But what I try to do now when I get those feelings is acknowledge them and begin a journey inwards. I know it means it is time to pay attention and regroup.

Thanks for another wonderful and inspiring post, Alli! Will share today!


Alli Polin June 20, 2017 at 11:36 pm

Love how you use those feelings as a cue for change instead of ignoring them, Terri. Sometimes, people’s autopilot can be so strong that they explain away those feelings of discontent or push them down so far that they never see the light of day. The way forward is absolutely through doing the inner work. Outer shifts without the inner work are often temporary at best.




Kaylene Marhews June 20, 2017 at 9:06 pm

Great post Alli- too many people living this way and you’re right- it’s absolutely no way to live. Love your examples!


Alli Polin June 20, 2017 at 11:37 pm

Many thanks, Kaylene! It’s not a great way to live… but many do.




Carla Frechette June 23, 2017 at 10:57 pm

This is something I struggled with until I started practicing mindfulness. I have arrived before at work and thought, ‘geez did I just drive here? I don’t even recall the ride’
Always need to be reminded to stay present when it counts!!
Great article and what an interesting experiment and outcome. Loved the video!


Alli Polin June 24, 2017 at 10:44 pm

Thanks so much, Carla! It’s fascinating how much of our lives we live in our own heads and create blinders to the world around us. Glad to know I’m not alone with the driving. Here’s to continuing to mindfully be present in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Grateful for your insight and connection!



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