Humans Have Built-in Autopilot

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Staying Objective

The concept of "self" is one of the most critical, and yet potentially anxiety inducing aspects of existence. It allows the wonderful and awful experiences that makes us, "us", but it also makes objective self-analysis a real challenge.

It's important to remember that there are countless subconscious decisions and mechanisms influencing what you do and how you feel, ALL THE TIME. Have you ever wanted to go to the gym and you couldn't muster up the energy or willpower? Doesn't it feel crappy to not do things YOU want, because of chemicals being released in your brain that you seemingly can't control?

Habit Formation, the Human Autopilot


It's easy to forget that your brain isn't magic. It obeys rules and patterns, and those patterns and rules can be taken advantage of, and even hijacked.

The specific mechanism I want to discuss, is the brains ability to form habits. Wiki says the following about habit formation:

Habit formation is the process by which a behavior, through regular repetition, becomes automatic or habitual.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of nonsense around this subject, but if you look in the right places there's some real science too. This article gives a good outlook on forming a new habit, the key takeaway is below.

On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally's study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

This isn't the mythical "3 week habit cycle", but the time it takes is less important. More importantly, we have empirical proof that given enough time, you can make yourself do things automatically.

So what's the catch, why isn't everyone doing this?

It's hard, really hard. Your conscious likes to feel "in control". So the notion that you can be trained like a monkey, isn't pleasant. But that's not the objective outlook, so why should it be your outlook? If you stop viewing yourself as "you", and instead as a meat container that can be trained to do things automatically, the possibilities are infinite.

Activating Autopilot

I hate running. But I know it's objectively one of the most time efficient ways of staying healthy, and it's always practical (no gear, or equipment needed). So for the past few weeks, I've forced myself to run every day. Even though I've forced myself to adopt a lot of habits already, starting a new one is never easy. Every part of you will want to stop, but that's when you have to override your biology with logic. Just remember that n days from that exact moment, you'll be on autopilot reaping the benefits of that behavior without the stress you currently feel.

maxwidth Pic Source: Great article on habit forming

You'll also be surprised by how fast the behavior can become enjoyable. With running, I didn't factor in the fact that the act itself would make me feel better, thus increasing my enjoyment of running and making the habit easier to form. You can use this for other aspects of your health such as eating right, and drinking enough water. Even if you start out struggling, the benefit of the activity might make you healthier and therefore make the next day easier.


Remember, you can force yourself to do anything you want. It may not be instant or enjoyable at first, but that's your subconscious brain naively putting the short term ahead of the long term. And eventually, if you can build up enough good habits, adding new ones should be quite a bit easier.

If you want to learn more about habit formation, I highly recommend the book, "The Power of Habit" which covers this topic in depth.