Monday, 8 May 2017

Learning to go automatic

I was staying in a friend’s house for a few weeks recently (getting away from builders!) and I noticed how, for the first couple of days, I had to really think about lots of things I normally do automatically: like reaching to the right cupboard for teabags. I realised again how much of our lives are run on automatic pilot, and how brilliant our brain is at putting things into automatic mode. This is great news for our ability to learn to be healthy and happy automatically.

Our brain does this because, research shows, our conscious mind can only focus on about 7 things at once. Ever tried to remember your shopping list if you have forgotten to take it to the shop? You might remember it all if there are only 5 things, less likely if there are 20! So our brain is very keen to put things into autopilot, because your unconscious mind can handle far far more than your conscious mind. Your automatic (unconscious) brain deals with things when you are not consciously focused on them: like breathing, driving or walking.

It is amazing how quickly you can learn to do something automatically. By the time I had been in that house 3 days, I had acquired hundreds of new automatic patterns, and my body knew where the teabags, sink and kettle were without needing to involve my conscious brain at all!

My mind and body learned these new automatic patterns because it made sense and seemed a helpful thing to learn. In the same way, when we decide to learn new ways to be healthy and happy, after a little bit of practise our brain gets the idea and carries on with them on autopilot.

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