A Coaching Power Tool Created by Cristina Morpurgo
(Business & Executive Coach, ITALY)
Every day we wake up and start our day as usual. We have our habits, some old, some new, and our routines. During our day, we flow between moments of full awareness of what is going on, and moments in which we are not there, not focused on what we are doing and on what we want to do and be. In these situations, we let things happen and it’s like we are on Autopilot mode.
Are we aware when we are in an Autopilot mode? And for how long do we live in this mode? Seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, or years? And how do we feel when we are not driving our life? Maybe we don’t know how we do feel, as we don’t pay attention to what is happening. Life events are fast, we are often required to work fast, at home, in our day-to-day activities. Things around us are moving and changing quickly, and often we need to maintain this momentum. At some point, we can end up putting on the Autopilot, at the beginning just for simple activities, then also for decisions and important things. At a certain stage, we may even not have an awareness that we are operating on Autopilot. We can keep doing to the detriment of being. This means we can at times forget how we experience life, and we can forget what is really important for us.
A Pilot is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, as “a person who flies or is qualified to fly an aircraft or spacecraft”. It is also defined as “a person who steers or guides a ship into and out of a port or in dangerous waters”. Synonyms for pilot are guide and leader.
This power tool refers to an aircraft pilot.
An Autopilot is defined in the Dictionary of Aviation, as “a system which automatically stabilises an aircraft about its three axes, restores the original flight path following an upset and, in some systems, causes the aircraft to follow a preselected airspeed, altitude or heading.”
The adjective Automatic is defined as “done without the need of thinking”. [Dictionary of Aviation]
The Autopilot term is also referred to human beings, as “a cognitive state in which you act without self-awareness”, as well as “a state of mind where one no longer thinks about doing his actions, he just does them seemingly as a second nature”.
What life looks like when you are the Pilot of your life
No one is in control of your happiness but you; therefore, you have the power to change anything about yourself or your life that you want to change. [Barbara de Angelis]
Being the Pilot in your life means that you are the driver in your life journey. You are in control and moving towards where you want to be. You are respons-able for your decisions and actions.
Pause for a moment, and think of a time when you have been the Pilot in your life, when you had to make an important decision. Can you remember how you made that decision? Which elements did you consider? And after having made that decision, what happened? How were you feeling when you were in action to reach your goal? Can you label the emotions you were experiencing? Where these positive? And what was your energy level like, during this time?
As a Pilot, you deliberately pay attention to your control panel, which are all the pieces of information you can get looking inward, being at the same time aware of the signals around you. Your control panel is made up of your thoughts as well as your emotions and gut feelings. When you want or have to make an important decision, evaluating these sources of information is critical to move in the direction you want to go.
Acknowledging, labelling and understanding these emotions and what triggered them can reveal a lot in regards to you in relation to the alignment to your values.
Having the ability to balance both your rational and emotional sides will help you make the right decisions. This balance is critical especially when the Pilot in you is experiencing that metaphorical bad weather or storm. It is easy to be a good Pilot when the weather is fine, but what happens when the weather conditions change? In bad weather, do you prefer to Pilot yourself, or would you rather put on the Autopilot?
A good pilot knows her skills, has confidence in the machine she is flying, and is aware of what actions are required in case of a hurricane, or in case the wings ice over. Therefore she is confident in her ability to cope with whatever weather conditions may arise—not because she will force the plane to obey her will, but because she will be the instrument for matching the properties of the plane to the conditions of the air.[Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi]
To become a good Pilot you need good practice. The more you know yourself and the more you are present in the moment, the more you will develop the Pilot within you. It’s a continuous learning process and a way of being. It takes focus and energy to be in Pilot mode. It requires your attention and effort. When you are the driver in your life journey, you are in connection with yourself and you are free to be the person you want to be. You experience life on your terms.
In your opinion, what is it worth to you to be the Pilot in your own life?
What life on Autopilot looks like?
We are in an Autopilot mode when we perform our daily activities in an automatic way, without the need for thinking too much about what they are. We know exactly what we need to do as we perform the same things many times over (such us driving from home to work, for instance). In these situations, we tend to not be there, our mind starts thinking something else, our attention is not directed to what we are currently doing but is rather wandering around. We can be in this state during conversations with our friends or at work. We may appear to be there, but in reality we are not present.
In a broader sense, we can function easily enough in Autopilot mode. We can go about our day-to-day routines without paying much attention to what we feel in the moment. We do not ask ourselves if what we are doing is what we want to do or not. We do not think how we want to be or how we are in any particular moment.
Living in Autopilot mode on the surface can appear to be comfortable. It requires little conscious thinking, and minimal work. This is where things can happen to you. You might sense what is going on around you, but in most cases you are not present. You react to what happens to you as you follow your daily routine, and thinking patterns.
When we are tired or stressed, we are more likely to turn to our standard operating procedures, as these require less energy and effort.
In stressful situations, our thinking becomes restricted as feelings get the better of us. If we allow these situations to rule our thought process, then we can relapse into conditioned behaviour even if it is ineffective or harmful for us. [Granville D’Souza]
When you are not in your driving seat, you might be tempted to think that you have no responsibility for what is happening to you. This doesn’t require courage, as someone is taking care of your life. You are letting someone else decide for you. However, this apparent comfort may be questioned in those bad weather conditions and unexpected and unpleasant life events. You entered such a situation likely without even realising it. For some kind of reason or awareness you woke up to it. This awareness introduces choice: keep the Autopilot on, or step up in your life and be the Pilot. When Autopilot is activated, you are not actively in control. This means it can take you where you don’t necessary want to consciously land.
You will have to leave the city of your comfort to go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you will discover will be wonderful. What you will discover will be yourself. [Alan Alda]
All of us experience moments in which we live, being the Pilot of our life (i.e. situations in which we are the driver in our life journey, making conscious decisions in alignment with our values, beliefs, dreams and passions, and taking responsibility for our decisions and consequent actions). We also experience moments in which we are merely existing, operating on Autopilot.
Brown and Ryan (2003) designed the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) to access a core characteristic of dispositional mindfulness, namely, open or receptive awareness of and attention to what is taking place in the present. The MAAS is reported below, and, as you can see, it is focused on day-to-day experiences.
Mindful Attention Awareness Scale
Instructions: Below is a collection of statements about your everyday experience. Using the 1–6 scale below, please indicate how frequently or infrequently you currently have each experience. Please answer according to what really reflects your experience rather than what you think your experience should be.
Scale: 1 (almost always), 2 (very frequently), 3 (somewhat frequently), 4 (somewhat infrequently), 5 (very infrequently), and 6 (almost never).
|I could be experiencing some emotion and not be conscious of it until some time later.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I break or spill things because of careless, not paying attention, or thinking of something else.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I tend to walk quickly to get where I’m going without paying attention to what I experience along the way.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I tend not to notice feelings of physical tension or discomfort until they really grab my attention.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I forget a person’s name almost as soon as I’ve been told it for the first time.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|It seems I am “running on automatic”, without much awareness of what I am doing.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I rush through activities without being really attentive to them.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I get so focused on the goal I want to achieve that I lose touch with what I’m doing right now to get there.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I do jobs or tasks automatically, without being aware of what I’m doing.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I find myself listening to someone with one ear, doing something else at the same time.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I drive places on “automatic pilot” and then wonder why I went there.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I find myself preoccupied with the future or the past.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I find myself doing things without paying attention.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|I snack without being aware of what I’m eating.||1||2||3||4||5||6|
Source: Brown & Ryan (2003)
Scoring information: To score the scale, simply compute a mean of the 15 items. Higher scores reflect higher levels of dispositional mindfulness.
- What is your scale?
- Would you like to increase this scale?
- How could you increase this scale?
- List the characteristics you admire in a Pilot.
Tom is a hard working professional in his forties. He finished school and started to work immediately after graduating. He was offered his first job in a medium size company in his town. During his career, he has been promoted several times and continued to work long hours.
He was constantly visiting clients and potential clients around the town, and always connected with his mobile phone. In the meantime, he got married to Mary. She was a lovely lady, waiting for him at home in the evening, when finally he arrived home, exhausted. Every second weekend, he was working too. Tom used to arrive home very tired, he would eat his dinner quickly and then fall asleep on the sofa. The next morning, he would wake up, have no breakfast to rush to the office and start the routine all over again. Everything appeared to be very comfortable to Tom, every day was the same: wake up, no breakfast, quick drive to the office, update of the list of the clients to visit during the day, drive to visit the first client, the second one, the third and so on. Continuous phone calls with notes to write on the agenda, a quick lunch when time would allow, and then more appointments, each time having to take the car and find a car park. When his wife was asking him what he had for lunch, he couldn’t remember, he simply had no idea. The few times he did remember, he couldn’t remember enjoying the food. Everything was such a rush.
At a certain point a friend of Mary became a coach. Mary was curious and intrigued by this and asked her to coach her. After a couple of coaching sessions Mary adopted some changes in the house, a few things she always wanted but never put into practice. When Tom went home that evening he was surprised by the changes that he saw. He could see that Mary was happy and that there was a lot of positive energy around the house. As Tom was naturally resistant to change, he was quite sceptical about what was happening around him. According to Tom, there was no need to change anything after all. Why spending time thinking if something was to be changed? In his routine everything was fast, he knew exactly what he was supposed to do during the day, day after day. After a few weeks Tom was starting to see some real changes in Mary and their relationship. He started asking her what coaching was about. His wife explained coaching in her own words and organised an informal dinner with the friend coach and her husband. They had a funny and relaxing dinner and after a few weeks Tom decided to take up the offer of a discovery session. Tom really opened up and acknowledged that he had been working for years like a robot and he realised that he wasn’t making conscious choices about his own life. He was offered a job he didn’t choose, he didn’t question himself if this was what he really wanted, and he didn’t know what to do with his spare time, as he didn’t know his passions. He took several coaching sessions and this was a challenging personal journey for Tom. Admitting all this to him was not easy. Throughout the coaching process his coach acknowledged his progress. For the first time Tom was looking inwards, becoming more aware of his thoughts and emotions. It was this process that moved Tom closer to his passions and the life he wanted to live. Tom was connecting more with his life and the things that were really important to him. He started to have more time to enjoy his life and even taste the food he was eating!
It can be difficult for a client to admit to himself and to the coach that he has been operating on an Autopilot. It is so important to create a safe and supportive space for the client to explore these issues, without fear of judgement.
The coach listens to what is said and not said by the client. The coach perceives the emotional shifts when the client describes what their experience is of being on Autopilot. The coach understands when it is the right time to move into a different space, a space of possibilities and freedom. This is where the client can take control of his life.
In supporting the client towards clarity, the coach can ask the following questions:
- What does it mean for you to be on Autopilot?
- How long do you usually stay on Autopilot? This period of time depends on what?
- When does Autopilot support you?
- When does Autopilot not support you?
- How do you become aware that you are in Autopilot mode?
- How do you feel when you are in Autopilot mode?
Once the client has clarified this, the coach can propose the following questions, to open the client to the possibility of a shift in perspective. If the client is coming from a situation like the case of Tom, it might be useful to start with questions like:
- How would your life look like if you were the Pilot?
- What would you feel like if you could decide for yourself what you wanted to do and who you wanted to be?
- Which are the characteristics you admire most in a Pilot?
To them move on with the following questions:
- On which occasions have you demonstrated these characteristics?
- Can you say that when you demonstrated these characteristics, you where the Pilot?
- How did you feel in these occasions? How was your energy level?
- Which triggers supported you to be in the Pilot mode?
- When is life most satisfying, in the Pilot mode or in the Autopilot mode?
- If you were the Pilot, what would you like to do? What kind of person would you like to be?
- Can you recall a time in which you were the Pilot? What did it feel like? Did you enjoy?
- Which are the characteristics of the Pilot that you admire? Can you name these? Do you have these characteristics yourself?
- Do you consciously decide to shift from the Autopilot to the Pilot mode? If yes, how do you do this?
- How can you shift from one mode the other one, when you want?
- What roles do your thoughts and emotions play in your decision process?
- Are you able to balance your thoughts and emotions, to keep your path in tough times, being in control of your life?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being out of control, 10 being in control, where would you put your self on that scale?
- What mode or modes do you coach in?
Darren Smith, 2003, “Aviation Acronyms, Contractions and Mnemonics – PocketLearning”, ATP, CFII/MEI Editor
David Crocker, “Dictionary of Aviation”, second edition, A & C Black, London
Granville D’Souza, 2012, “EQ, From The Inside Out. Breakthrough Tools and Ideas For Living a Fulfilling Life”, DBA, Six Seconds
Brown, K.W. & Ryan, R.M., 2003, “The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.