Upgrade Your Auto-Pilot System

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In a previous post, I wrote about how it is necessary to integrate your resolutions within your life’s auto-pilot system. In this context, this system includes all the habits you’ve acquired over the years. The interesting thing is that as we grow older and shoulder more responsibilities, we forget to take a moment to upgrade this auto-pilot system. Let’s take an iphone example from my own phone. All the notifications in the photo below are because I haven’t updated the apps AND the iOS software (the solitary notification on the settings).

88 things to update!
88 things to update!

Likewise, we tend to walk into new roles with the old habits, and that’s part of the reason why you might find fresh graduates entering the workplace with ‘a student mentality’ (never a compliment, trust me!), or husbands entering a marriage with a ‘bachelor’s mentality’. So in order  to upgrade, take note of the following:

1) Write down your current roles and responsibilities, and list down all the habits that are connected to each role. You don’t have to do this on your own. Sometimes you can’t actually, because we tend to be blind to our habits. So it may help to work with a close family member or a friend as they can point out habits ‘we do without consciously thinking about’.

2) Dissect. When it comes to our habits, it helps to understand why some habits exist in the first place. As previously mentioned, many bad habits that are in our lives exist because we get some sort of payoff out of them. Once we assess the payoff and it becomes clear that the payoff is not worth the drawback that comes with the habit, then it would be easier to get rid of it. And sometimes we may realize that we don’t really need to get rid of it, because the payoff is actually important for us, so we can stop being guilty about it.

3) Habit replacement. In Charles Duhigg’s book, ‘The Power of Habit’, he writes about the habit loop shown in the figure below. The habit loop is given in generic terms, and consists of the habit trigger (cue), the habit itself and the reward. So one of the  methods to change a habit is to experiment with rewards, understand what drives the habit (what the true payoff is), and replace the habit with something that would result in a similar reward.


4) Repeat the behavior consistently until it becomes a habit. Some people claim it takes 20 to 30 days to make a new habit, but there’s no clear cut rule for that. One thing that could drive you to keep a daily new habit even when you don’t feel motivated is the “Calender method”. A blogger on Lifehacker.com wrote about how Seinfield used it to write jokes everyday. The blogger, Brad Isaac, wrote, “[Seinfield] told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. ‘After a few days you’ll have a chain. You’ll like seeing that chain. Your only job next is to not break the chain.'”

Having an optimized auto-pilot system helps because it contains habits that move us forward regardless of how motivated (or not) we feel on that day. The thing to remember is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and take a step everyday so in a month we can look back and see that we’re 30 steps ahead (or 28…depends on the month :-P).

Feel free to leave your comment below and share with your friends.

5 thoughts on “Upgrade Your Auto-Pilot System

    Bliss said:
    February 10, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    You always sound so wise in your posts that I’m sometimes tempted to ask how old you are, lol, on a serious note though, I wish I could write as well as you do, but back to the post, I’ve heard about that 21 days to form a habit thing, and I don’t believe it. If it were that simple, how would we explain addicts who stay clean for months, years even, then have a relapse? Someone very close to me is battling with alcoholism, how would you suggest they be helped?

    Yacoob said:
    February 12, 2014 at 7:49 am

    JazakAllah. Is this from the Productive Muslim ‘Productive Habits’ seminar? (sounds very familiar…)

      AH responded:
      February 12, 2014 at 8:01 am

      I didn’t attend the seminar but there are a lot of books in the field

    Avoid Falling Back into Old Habits | A Heart's Echoes said:
    February 22, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    […] habits were easy, those habits would already be in our lives. Sometimes it’s really hard to reprogram our auto-pilot systems and replace them with new habits. Willpower alone doesn’t always work, so if you’re […]

    […] This post appeared first in my main blog https://ahechoes.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/upgrade-your-auto-pilot-system/ […]

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