Have you ever caught yourself daydreaming while still doing an activity, only to then realise you don’t remember anything that happened for a while.
A classic example is that people have no idea what happened while they were travelling or commuting. You arrive at your destination and then realise you have no idea what was happening around you during the entire journey.
This may be because when your brain noticed it was doing the same thing it has done frequently before, it literally went on autopilot.
Your brain has evolved to be extremely efficient with the way it uses energy. If it has the choice, it will always choose activities which require the minimum amount of energy to get the desired result. And so if you perform the same activity over and over again, and form memories of exactly how something should work, eventually these brain networks and memories wire together more efficiently and actually use less energy.
As a result, your brain will prefer to use memories instead of processing new information each time it is received.
In fact, some experiments even show that if your brain notices that the input coming from its senses is the same as what it previously recognises, and there is no immediate need to pay attention to this sensory input, it might just completely ignore the senses.
Don’t believe me?
For the past hour, did you notice the sound of the air conditioning or air around you?
Or, did you outline of your nose in front of you, even though the light was definitely hitting your eyes?
One of my personal favourite examples of going on autopilot came when I was still working in London. I would commute to the office every day using a specific underground train line. I knew exactly which way to turn when I entered the station to get to the part of the platform where the doors opened, there were usually the least people and I was most likely to get a seat. It worked like clockwork. However, one weekend I wanted to meet up with my friends in another part of London. It was only after about 15 minutes that I realised I was on the wrong train, because once I approached the train station, my autopilot took over, I was daydreaming, but my body walked me to the same platform and doors I took every day, without me thinking.
It is just as easy to fall into the trap of autopilot when it comes to your work. New ideas require a lot more energy than just relying on memories. So most of the time, your brain will prefer to go on autopilot and feel comfortable with what it has memories for, which work.
If you want truly new, creative ideas, you need to shake yourself out of your autopilot, and be willing to notice what is going on around you for a while.
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