The Surprising Way Autopilot Can Make You a Better Parent

aircraft-465723_1280Being on autopilot has gotten a bad rap. Mindless, unconscious, not thinking, a cognitive state in which you act without self-awareness.

Here’s why, as a parent, I love it. (Maybe you’ll relate, too?)

Autopilot can help you live with a focus on what really matters to you — without all the effort.

When you get into parent mode and forget to do the things you love (and even the things you don’t but simply need to do — like go to the doctor!), autopilot comes in handy. If you’re one of those who goes weeks or even months before you remember to do something for yourself, or who’s just plain forgotten what it is you love (besides your kids) you need more autopilot.

Autopilot – a navigational device that automatically keeps ships or planes or spacecraft on a steady course.

Think of yourself as a whole person (the entire spacecraft if you will!) – parent, spouse, leader, singer, creator, lover, grower, cooker, collaborator, teacher, hugger….

As a whole person, you have many different courses that need to be followed on a daily basis — not the least of which are courses that help you take care of you.

Here’s how I’ve consciously used autopilot to experience more joy in my life… on a consistent basis.

When my first son was born, none of my friends had children. I was the first. In some ways it was wonderful because initially, friends offered to sit for him while my husband and I grabbed a bite to eat or took a walk. Our baby boy was a novelty who delighted and surprised.

However, after a few months, I noticed I wasn’t seeing friends. I was exhausted and it took too much energy to organize socializing. While I felt fried by the physical demands of parenting, I deeply missed my connection with my friends.

I decided to form what came to be known as “dinner group.” With 3 other couples that I knew from social work school, we’d gather every Thursday evening at one of our homes for a meal. We had a rule that host duties rotated and to keep it simple the host did all the work — no stepping in to help clean up, and it was okay if you to arrive late.

Dinner group endured for 15 years. Autopilot worked like magic. We attended each other’s weddings and births and even put together a cookbook of our favorite recipes. That deep, continuous connection that I craved was achieved without the daily nagging feeling, “I should invite friends over.”

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I also love live theatre, but feel completely overwhelmed by the Pink Section  (the San Francisco Chronicle’s arts section). I find it stressful to make future plans and, frankly, to commit. I weigh the cost of a show and wonder if it’s really worth it. And then I end up not doing anything.

However, a fews years back my husband surprised me with season tickets to the Berkeley Rep for my birthday. The gift of theater and not having to decide and follow through has been huge. I’ve renewed the tickets every year since… why? Autopilot.

Just yesterday I put dates for six shows in my calendar from September through June. I look forward to and plan around these dates. I invite a friend or my husband and we make an evening of it with dinner and lots of time to chat and connect.

It’s an absolute luxury. A treat. What makes it doubly delicious is that I don’t have to go to the effort of researching, weighing, purchasing and planning. Sure, some shows are better than others but the surprise and ease is a large part of the fun.

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Reconnect with JoyWhat do you love that you’re not doing because you’ve got kids and it feels like too much effort to set plans in motion? What doesn’t feel worth the hassle right now, but you know at the end of the year (or the end of your life!) you’ll feel a deep pang because you didn’t ________?

Your list might include going to the theatre, having dinner with friends on a regular basis, Monday dog walks with your BFF or keeping up with your Positive Discipline practice.

If it’s the latter, and you’ve already taken at least 12 hours of PD instruction, get yourself on autopilot by signing up for the on-going Roots series.

It’s once a month (September – May) — don’t torture yourself by having to consider it every month. Just sign up and be done with it. If you make it, great, if not, chalk it up to making an intention that you really care about.

Once you’ve got the Roots meeting on your calendar in ink you’ll be more likely to attend — the first step in making a change is bringing your mental focus to what you want to change.

***

I just learned that Frances McDormand is playing Lady Macbeth in a production in the upcoming season at the Berkeley Rep. Don’t ask me where my seats are, what they cost, or even what month I’m going. It’s on the calendar and I’m thrilled!

When I’m engaged in my life, doing things I love (outside of parenting), I’m lighter, happier and more consistently grounded and present with the kids and everything else in my life.

Ask yourself: What do I want more of? What am I craving that I just don’t make time for anymore? What will help me stay steady and on course with more joy?

Next, consider how you can put this activity on autopilot; and finally, set the wheels in motion by calling your BFF to see about that Monday morning walk (scheduled on auto repeat in your calendar).

Lastly, send me an email or share in the comments about your autopilot activity. I’d love more ideas for pressing autopilot.

3 Responses to The Surprising Way Autopilot Can Make You a Better Parent

  1. Victoria September 8, 2015 at 9:56 pm #

    Love this concept, Lisa!!!! I never thought about it as “autopilot” but am do find scheduling things very comforting and once it’s in the calendar, I find it easy to commit on a regular basis. You have a great way of boiling down concepts into easy to remember ideas- genius!

    • Lisa Fuller September 15, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

      Thank you Victoria – it’s great to know you’re flying!

  2. Marcilie September 9, 2015 at 4:27 pm #

    Love this concept, Lisa!

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