The Difference Between Mindfulness and Auto-Pilot

Discover the difference between Mindfulness and auto-pilot, the problems with auto-pilot and how mindfulness helps create change in your life.
Difference Between Mindfullness and Auto-Pilot

The Difference Between Mindfulness and Auto-Pilot

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If you have read our article, What Is Mindfulness?, then you will know that Mindfulness is the conscious directing of awareness towards the present moment. This is referred to as conscious awareness.

Auto-pilot is a mode of activity in which we are only sub-consciously aware.

But what exactly does that mean?

What is the difference between conscious awareness (Mindfulness) and sub-conscious awareness (auto-pilot)?

In the following article we discuss the differences and how they relate to us wanting to create meaningful change in our lives.

First Of All, Let’s Recap On Mindfulness

So, Mindfulness involves a conscious awareness of the present moment.

We cover more about what that actually means in, Levels Of Awareness.

But basically, it means that our awareness and subject of attention is held within the present moment – we are consciously paying attention to what is happening right now; in front of us, with in us, around us, to us and from us.

And Now For A Look At Auto-Pilot

Auto-pilot is a form of sub-conscious awareness. It occurs when our attention is only partially aware.

When we operate on autopilot, there is only a vague awareness of what is happening in the present moment at hand – what is occurring around us (sounds, sights, smells, etc.) and what is occurring within us (physical, mental and emotional sensations).

The larger proportion of our attention is wrapped up in our thoughts – either wandering aimlessly between various unstructured thoughts, or jumping frantically from one to the next with great effort and force.

Auto-pilot therefore, is when a greater portion of our awareness is taken up by an internal dialogue of thoughts and projections, leaving only a partial and sub-conscious awareness of what is going on around us and within us.

And this is the case when we are frantically stressing or worrying about what will happen, what has happened, what we want to happen, what we don’t want to happen – it is also the case when we are daydreaming, lost in our own internal world of make believe.

Why Do We Cruise On Auto-Pilot?

There are 2 main reasons:


Quite simply, many of us are in the habit of running on auto-pilot. We are taught to multi-task and forge ahead; to plan, prepare, stress and project.

Rather than allowing our full conscious attention to embrace the present moment fully, we hit the auto pilot and direct our minds to other ‘more important’ matters.


This is another common one; we judge certain tasks, routines and moments in our day as being void of interest or importance, or simply void of pleasure.

So we try to avoid the banality and boredom by escaping into a projected world of make-believe, allowing our thoughts to wander through imaginary inner worlds.

And this is what many of us do for the majority of our day.

In fact, Dr. Bruce Lipton, a leading scientist on how the mind is able to affect the physical body, gives us an incredible piece of information:

That the average modern human being is consciously aware (of their surroundings, body, thoughts and feelings) for only 5% of their waking time.

This means that for 95% of the time in which we are awake, the majority of us are running on autopilot.

But, is that really that bad?

Compass Quiz

Well, simply put, if you are trying to create changes in your life, then yes – it is that bad!

Why Sub-Conscious Awareness Hinders Change

When we run on auto pilot, it means that we are reacting and responding from a place of habitual pattern and pre-programmed responses.

It means that we are reacting to our environment, the people next to us and to our own physical, mental and emotional messages from within, from a place of habit.

And obviously, if we want to create a change in our life and the way we approach it, we need to stop reacting to situations in the same habitual way.

Also, when we are switched on to auto pilot, we are not using our full creative potential in responding to the situations in front of us.

Instead, we respond through habit and pre-programmed ideas and reactions, many of which we have inherited from our culture, our parents, our beliefs, and our past experiences.

The Problem With Auto-Pilot

There are few situations in our life where it is truly beneficial to respond out of blind habit rather than responding consciously, in real-time based on the actual situation which is occurring right now.

Because, no matter how similar a particular routine in your life may be, it will never be exactly the same any two times.

For Example:

Let's say you make yourself a cup of tea every morning.

On the surface it may seem like the same ritual - every day, the same actions are required to make your cup of tea.

However certain things will vary day to day:

You may be feeling more tired one day than the next; you may be feeling stressed, anxious, excited or relaxed; it may be raining or it may be sunny; you may have a full bottle of milk or an empty bottle; you may be thinking about an upsetting conversation with a friend the day before, or thinking about the party you have planned this evening; or you still have the remnants of a half-forgotten dream on your mind.

Although all of these things may seem unimportant and rather irrelevant to the process of making a cup of tea, each of them will subtlety affect events in your morning or throughout your day.

They do this by affecting the thoughts and emotions arising within us; and these in turn have an effect on the events and situations which we will experience that day, as well as affecting the physiology and health of our body.

The Benefit Of Being Mindful

By being mindful of these variations and their subtle effects on our days and our self, we become able and empowered to respond consciously instead of reacting blindly and habitually.

It gives us the window of opportunity in which we are able to consciously re-direct our thoughts, emotions and energies in new and more beneficial ways if we choose to do so.

So, rather than carrying on throughout our day unconscious of the subtle effects occurring within us and around us, and therefore responding to them habitually, we are Mindful of them and the effects they have on us.

And this gives us the opportunity to consciously CHOOSE how we want to respond to situations.

It allows us to choose whether we want to stay stuck in that rut, acting out the same actions and reactions as always; or whether we want to try something new and choose a new way of responding to the small and large experiences which life brings us.

How To Switch From Auto-Pilot To Mindfulness?

Have a listen to our Mindfulness in a Minute video clip over in our Life Tools Wisdom Pod for a quick and simple exercise which you can use throughout your day to help gently bring your awareness back into the present.

And if you haven’t already done so, like our Facebook page, Awakened Source, to stay tuned to our new articles and videos as we upload them.

Kitt Keawwantha

Christina works as an Energy Intuitive and Holistic Life Guide in Phuket, Thailand. Originally from Scotland, she has spent the past 14 years travelling, studying, living and working across Asia.

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