Stop Living on Autopilot: 5 Ways to Live an Amazing Life

Happy Free Couple

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” ~ Stephen Covey

I used to be a zombie.

I don’t mean that I died and was brought back to life; I mean I used to live on autopilot. Diligently doing the right thing.

Following one opportunity to the next, onward and upward.

Until I found myself boxed into a cubicle, earning a six-figure income while my soul slowly died.

I didn’t even realize it. I just thought this was what people did.

Everyone around me was the same. They weren’t happy, but like me, they stayed because of the money and conditions. I didn’t grasp it at the time, but we were all taking the easy path. We were all bottling up our dreams, too scared to change.

We were all selling ourselves short and living our lives on autopilot.

Many of my previous colleagues still do. But not me.

For years, I’d ached to do something different. I envied those who made a living by helping others. But I thought that life hadn’t chosen me, that it wasn’t my path.

I didn’t comprehend that I was choosing my path every day. I didn’t realize that by not making a conscious choice to do something better, to be something better, I was following a path to unhappiness.

Every day you choose how you live your life, whether you’re conscious of it or not. And choosing to live an amazing life doesn’t have to be complicated.

Today I live more consciously. I’ve chosen a new path, and I’m working doggedly toward it.

I’m not there yet, but my life is already more amazing. I’m living out some of my dreams while working toward others.

I make choices that align with my values and goals, and I don’t settle for second best.

I’ve discovered five simple ways to make life more amazing.

1. Focus on connection, not perfection.

You have a lot of pressure on you to be perfect.

You try to live a perfectly healthy life, or be the perfect parent, the perfect employee, or the perfect partner.

I used to get up at 5:30 every morning so I could exercise, meditate, tidy up, and get to work early. I pushed aside quality time with my family so I could do it all.

All of that takes time and effort, and it doesn’t make you happier. It makes your life less enjoyable, and less amazing because it robs you of time you could have spent with the people you love.

I now sleep in a little, and I wake up when my kids climb into bed for a cuddle.

Life is more amazing when you focus less on perfection and more on connections. People and relationships bring us happiness and enrich our lives.

Stop listening to the little voice of should. The one that says you should be exercising or working more when you're already putting in a good effort.

You need to spend time with your favorite people because time is limited, and relationships are the most important thing in the world.

 2. Live by your values.

Do you ever feel like something is not quite right, but you can’t put your finger on what it is?

Maybe you’ve been for a job interview, and it seems good, but something is off. Or you’ve met someone new, and they seem nice, but something isn’t right. Something you can’t articulate.

Most of the time, that feeling is a flag that something is not in line with your values.

If you sit down and list your core values and then list the values of the person or thing that doesn’t seem to fit, you’ll see a mismatch.

That not quite right feeling is a signal that something needs to change. It’s a signal I didn’t listen to for a long time, and it led to problems.

When I took my high-paying job, I did so because the organization focused on helping people, and that’s what I wanted to do, too.

Over time, I realized that the way they helped people was not in line with my values. Writing and implementing policy did not satisfy me.

I want to write directly to people so I can inspire and motivate them.

I value connections with people, but the organization valued structure and governance. Had I realized this mismatch sooner, and acted on it, I would have been happier.

Living by your values gets you into flow. Everything becomes easier from there.

 3. Let fear be your motivator.

Some years ago, I read an article written by a senior executive retiring from a large organization.

He wrote something like, “I’ve worked hard here for over forty years. I’ve put in long hours and sacrificed time from my friends and family. And you know what? It wasn’t worth it.”

How sad. He’d lived his life on autopilot, and it was too late to change.

I keep his story in mind whenever I’m tempted to take the easy option. I question my motivation.

Am I slipping into autopilot, or is it what I want? If what I want is difficult and scary, what is the cost of not being courageous?

Let the fear of not trying, the fear of regret, and the fear of wasting your life be your motivator.

 4. Don’t believe in signs.

Do you ever ask yourself if something is a sign from the universe?

Here is the cold hard truth about signs from the universe. They don’t exist. The universe doesn’t send you signs.

When someone thinks there’s a sign that supports or discourages a certain path, it’s just meaning that they’ve added to a situation or event.

And you only wonder if it’s a sign when you’re already in self-doubt.

If you go to the grocery store to buy chicken for dinner, and they’re out of chicken, you don’t wonder if it’s a sign from the universe that you should give up eating.

You just change your plans and make something else for dinner. You stick with your goals and keep going.

If Edison had listened to signs, he would have given up years before, and we’d all be sitting here in the dark.

His teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs because of his lack of productivity.

His first 1,000 attempts at inventing the light bulb failed. One thousand!

His interpretation of the situation? The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.

Keep working toward your dreams. Even if they take 1,000 steps.

 5. Keep visiting the dream room.

Walt Disney used to have a series of rooms to help him and his team brainstorm their best ideas.

The first one was the Dream Room, where all ideas were possible, and no evaluation took place. Pure fantasy was encouraged, no matter how fantastic or absurd.

The second room was the Realist Room, where Walt and his team planned how to put the ideas into place.

Lastly, there was the Critic Room. This is where they’d look for problems and openly criticize. They’d think of what could go wrong, how they could prevent problems, and what the project might cost.

Walt’s system encouraged people to dream, but also to plan so they could achieve their wildest fantasy.

Can I be painfully honest with you? The I’m-shocked-anyone-would-say-that kind of honesty. The brutal truth. No holds barred (brace yourself).

Your problem is that you’re stuck in the Critic Room.

You get the flicker of a good idea, but before you can flesh it out and establish how it might work, you’ve shot it down in flames. It’s too hard, or too expensive, or too difficult. Or just too scary.

You jump straight into criticizing things you haven’t had the opportunity to plan. So you don’t dare to dream.

You feel the fear before you’ve started entertaining the reality of what might be.

You let all the criticisms you’ve ever heard in your life gang up on you and whisper, “You’re not good enough,” in your ear.

Here’s The Real Truth

The truth is that you’re just as good as anyone else.

You’re just as good as anyone who is living the dream life you wish was yours.

The only difference is determination. Because having an amazing life starts with dreaming up the life you want.

But that’s only the beginning. People who create an amazing life work to achieve it.

You can’t just sit around waiting for your dreams to happen. You must strive toward them. You must have determination.

So the real truth is that you have a choice.

You can choose to live an amazing life. Or you can choose to be a zombie, take the easy path, and sit there on autopilot. Which one will you choose?

Happy, free couple image via Shutterstock

About Cate Scolnik

Cate Scolnik is on a mission to help parents stop yelling and create families that listen to each other. She does this while imperfectly parenting two boisterous girls of her own, and occasionally hanging out on Facebook. Download her free Cheat Sheet to Get Your Kids from "No" to "Yes" in Three Simple Steps and reduce your yelling today.

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  • Lina

    Very nicely laid out!! I agree, and choose NOT to be a zombie, but always actively &mindfully choosing my path in life!

  • So happy you pointed this out, Cate. So many people are living on autopilot and they aren’t even aware of it. Thanks for attempting to wake people up!

  • Megan

    This really resonated with me – I’m definitely in zombie mode, combined with ongoing mild depression, and trying to find a way out. But it’s very hard to get motivated to make any sort of large change, especially when money and outside expectations are taken into account. It’s always good to hear others have successfully shaken up their lives and lived to tell about it!

  • Vince

    There are signs all around you. I think in that sense, you are mistaken.

  • I agree. I get them often, synchronicities that defy the ideas of space and time and surely have taken me on the best adventures. And one thing about my life is it never operates on autopilot, and those signs are part of the picture.

  • Great article!. I liked the part about signs. So many people watch for signs. They give their power to the God, the Universe, something that is above them. The truth is, nobody is above you. You are the Creator. So what every you say it is – IT IS! I had a friend who liked her married coworker, and asked the Universe to give her a sign should she break up his marriage and get into relationship with him. She told me of a story, that when her coworker’s wife (her classmate from high school) was marrying, my friend saw his picture and though “oh, I wish a had a husband like that.” So that coworker showed up, she saw the same picture, and though that it is a sign from the Universe, and Universe brought her not just “like that” husband, but actual THE guy. She broke up their marriage and now married with coworker. Taking care of his 3 kids. Me, personally don’t think it was a sign. I think people see what they want to see.

  • Peace Within

    I agree Vince, the way she is describing them isn’t how people interpret signs. Every person has their own belief system though.

  • Adam

    Regarding autopilot, I believe I should already have my pilot’s license after so much time spent on it, especially in college. In college I ran away from what life was calling me to do and even though I graduated with a degree as I went through school, I just wanted to finish and go find a job……..what everyone else thinks or mentality. I graduated in late 2011 and you know what, the Mayans were right, 2012 was the end of the world. Losing that one family member you don’t expect on a day where in the morning you drive onto the highway and you find yourself in the middle of a funeral procession. As well receiving other signs from them in the following years. To make a long story short, I have spent the last three years re evaluating/improving myself and I’m back to chasing my dream/passion and VERY GLAD that I did not end up becoming like everyone else after school where you travel during the week into the city working in insurance/banking 9-5 lifestyle. Return back to your apartment, hang out with friends and start the next stage of life on auto pilot, affecting your life/relationships, etc.

  • Vince, I think it’s a question of whether or not you want to see them, and what you want to do with that information. It’s important not to abandon your dreams, and stop working towards what you want, just because you interpret your circumstances as giving you signs. The main thing is that you are the master of your life, and can work towards achieving anything you want.

  • Tyler, it’s wonderful that you’ve had such positive experiences, so long as you don’t give up on your dreams, and you’re living consciously. Congratulations!

  • Adam, I’m sorry to hear that 2012 was so devastating for you, but it’s wonderful to hear you’re chasing your dreams. Never give up on those!

  • You’re right, everyone has their own belief system. I just think it’s a shame when people abandon their dreams because of the way they interpret circumstances. Regardless of what the universe might seem to be telling us, we can still keep trying to reach our goals, no matter how hard things might seem at times.

  • Lolita, I agree. We can interpret circumstances as signs, and think they’re telling us all sorts of things. But, at the end of the day, we’re have the power to create our own lives.

  • Megan, you sound like you’re doing it tough (depression is no easy gig), and I’m not saying it’s easy. I haven’t found it entirely easy to change my life, but I’m glad that I’m taking responsibility for my actions, and striving to keep reaching my goals and dreams. I’ve had days where I’ve curled up on the floor and cried, and felt like a failure. The important thing is to never give up! Others may seem to get their faster or easier than me, but it’s not a race. You’ll get there too.

  • Martina, I’m glad you liked the article. I hope I’ve encouraged people to live consciously and strive for their dreams.

  • Lina, glad you’re living your life so mindfully. Well done.

  • Rebecca

    I think ditching the job you hate is all fine and good; if you have been making that six figure salary and actually have savings that will allow you to do things like eat while you are chasing your dream. Right now I am the only person in my family working. I don’t want to be on a phone all day (I would rather get paid to write my blog) but I need to eat, pay for medication that makes my autoimmune condition just a little bit more bearable and keep a roof over my head. I don’t want to live on auto pilot, I hate the fact that chasing my dreams is just a little to far out of my reach right now. I also hate being sick and not being able to afford the kind of doctor I know can help me feel better so that I could actually focus on living my best life. This is great advice, and am so happy that you have the support that allows you to live your dreams. I’m not stuck in the critic room, I’m stuck in the reality room.

  • Ann Davis

    Great article Cate.
    Thanks for reminding me that, if I don’t pursue my dreams nobody else will do it. I will be stuck on Auto pilot.

  • Love this Cate! Especially number 4. Our attention tends to be drawn more to negative than positive stuff because of our biology, so if we always look for signs we can look to the negative more than the positive. Great post!

  • 🙂 Thanks! And if it’s one thing about me… Its perseverance. 😉 Mindfulness is key.

  • Lynnie

    The quote that sent a shiver up my spine was this… [He wrote something like, “I’ve worked hard here for over forty years. I’ve put in long hours and sacrificed time from my friends and family. And you know what? It wasn’t worth it.”] – hits so many home truths! Thank you for this inspiring article! 🙂

  • Thanks Ellen, I’m glad you liked it.

  • Lynnie, I was so moved when I read it the first time. Amazing, isn’t it, that someone can take 40 years to learn they’re living their life all wrong? Wrong by their own standards, that is. Very sad.

  • Thanks Ann – keep striving to reach your dreams!

  • Rebecca, you certainly need to the reality room. I didn’t say it was easy, or that everyone should quit their jobs. It hasn’t been easy. I struggle emotionally and financially (I didn’t have savings – just huge financial commitments), but inside I’m much happier. Like you I’m juggling. I’m chasing my dreams, and determined to achieve them, but I’m not able to do that full time (yet). You are living consciously, as I am, because you are reaching for the stars while keeping your feet on the ground. You and I, we’ll both make it. Maybe not as fast or as easily as other people, but we’ll get there if we keep working at it. We’re not stuck, we’re following the yellow brick road, and we’ll make it to Oz!

  • Rebecca

    I’m so sorry how negative I sounded here. I read this post after having to work the weekend again and I got jealous. No excuse. I will make it, there will be tough decisions to make, but I will make it. Thank you for reminding me.

  • Vee

    Hi Cate,
    That’s a great post! I heard similar comment from a co-worker like you had mentioned in your post.

    He wrote something like, “I’ve worked hard here for over forty years. I’ve put in long hours and sacrificed time from my friends and family. And you know what? It wasn’t worth it.”

  • This post makes me smile! I really resonated with feeling stuck in a cubicle, everyone around me hiding their true selves.

    Well, really, the whole post resonates with me! I too suffer from perfectionism and the “critical voice” inside my head. It took a lot of work for me to become friends with these aspects of myself, whereas before I had despised them (which didn’t help).

    Appreciated the anecdotes about Edison and Disney, too. I love historical tidbits that are relevant to our lives today.

  • Awesome 🙂

  • Changing Outcomes

    Brilliant article …… I couldn’t agree more

  • You’re right, Aaron, it is up to us what we make of it. Don’t let anyone, or anything, stop you from reaching for the stars!

  • So glad you liked the post, Aaron, and that it spoke to you on so many levels 🙂

  • Vee, we have the opportunity to learn from other people’s mistakes, and live a better, richer, fuller life.

  • Glad you’re feeling more optimistic now, Rebecca. You have my greatest respect because you continue to strive to reach your dreams, despite the hard road. Keep on keeping on!

  • Sometimes changing it up could be a good thing because people can get too caught up in the basics all of the time

  • Pam

    There is meaning in this article for everyone. Five years ago I lost my sister who died suddenly at the age of 46. On the anniversary of her death, I sent letters to the folks who attended her service the year before – saying that the best way to honor her life is to not live as you say on “auto-pilot”… only I called it living life by default….accepting whatever shows up. With determination and a commitment to being in the driver’s seat for our life, our life will have meaning to us, our families and our community.

  • Candace

    This is exactly what I needed to hear…going after your dream of writing directly to people and helping them, we’ll I’d say you nailed it! 🙂 thank you for these words that you’ve expressed . Life changing I’ll tell you 🙂

  • Guest


  • Candace – you made my day. Thank you! If I’ve helped you in any way, I’m over the moon. 🙂

  • Pam, I couldn’t agree more. I’m sorry to hear about your loss (particularly as I’m about to turn 46!), but it sounds like you have at least taken a positive message from the experience, and you’re encouraging other people to live life to the full, too. Take care of yourself.

  • Yep, I totally agree. 🙂

  • Glad you liked it!

  • Michelle

    your line about living the critic room is so spot on I actually paused for a while to re-count the amount of times I’ve shut myself down…not cool. time to explore the dream room without side-stepping the realist room in the process 🙂

  • Rachel

    Hey great post. I love the three rooms Disney had I think I am going to keep that and tweak it so that I can use it as my own. Of course I wont have the rooms, but those steps are what I will take – thank you. As for signs, I disagree about signs. When our consciousness opens to an idea – we may not gets signs but because that subject matter has been awakened in us – signs might add to the subject or give the idea a different angle. When I think about a subject matter that I am about write on, it is only a matter of time before I start seeing say, a bus ad that has nothing to do with my subject but it gives me a new angle, or it creates a new line of thought. I am always open to the signs. They are never to change the path only to enhance it. Changing the path then leads to what your wrote about in the fear. And now all I ever do with fear, is make a date with it. I refuse to be shaken by the what, if’s or buts. I am going to look fear in the eye and use it like play dough, kneed it, reshape it and create something with it.

  • Go for it, Michelle. Dream big, make plans, and take action!

  • Wow Rachel. I can feel the power in your words from here! I love the idea of using fear like play dough – that’s fantastic.

  • Suzanne

    This is totally where I’m at in my life…stuck in a cubical l hate which is in an office l hate with people l dont really want to be around all the while aware my creative soul is dying. So finally lve got a solid plan to change all that. My goal is to be boss free by age 50 (lm 48).

  • I love this, especially number 4. I have spoken to a few people who use waiting for signs or ‘waiting for the universe to play it’s part’ as an excuse not to take action. Before I became a life coach, I found myself doing this as well, when I came across an obstacle along the way, I would question whether it was a sign that I was on the wrong path. It’s important to stick to your goals and keep pressing forward in face of obstacles. 🙂

  • Amelia, that’s so true! We really see what we’re looking for, so if we’re in self-doubt, we see ‘signs’ that we should change, but if we’re confident or determined, we’ll see ‘signs’ we’re on the right path. Just stick to living out your dreams, I say.

  • Suzanne, go for it! You’ve given yourself a decent time line, you’ve a great goal, and you have real motivation each day you go to work – you won’t be there much longer. I’m so pleased for you!

  • Rachel

    Hey Cate, thanks for your reply, I have been thinking about you. In a couple of weeks my blog will be up and running. My second blog is about writing and I was wondering if I could quote the Disney idea and link to your write up? I have been so taken by the idea. I await your response.

  • Hi Rachel, I’m happy for you to quote the Disney idea and link to this post (assuming that Lori is Ok with it). Thanks for thinking of me! And best wishes for your blog launch. 🙂

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  • Michael Fortin

    The last suggestion is my favorite, can’t believe I didn’t think of that earlier! The 3 rooms make so much sense to everyone. Doubt is the killer of all dreams no doubt and I know so many people who are stuck in the critic room because the people around them are also stuck there. It’s like the classic psychological phenomena of group think. It is so hard for some people to shake that mindset since that is all they see in their life, anytime they go to someone with an idea it gets shot down and it hurts the person from trying again. I think that is a good lesson for parents and creators as well!

    On another note are there any references you have for more information on those rooms? I would love to read more into it

    Mental Vault

  • Hi Michael, I’m glad you liked the post, and that the three rooms theory resonated with you. I don’t have any direct links to further references. Disney’s rooms are mentioned around the web (some say three rooms, some say more). I suggest doing the usual: Google it!

    Thanks again for your comment. 🙂

  • Thanks, Cate, for reminding us that life is full of choice. Right now, I’m in that zombie-like state of mind with the inner me desperately seeking to become human again. We all have our own road to follow and it’s never easy, even though we want it to be. I’m slowly accepting that I definitely want the easy road, even though I know it’ll get harder if I want the life outside the cubicle. What would I choose? I choose gradual change to an amazing life 🙂

  • Hey Lily,
    I’m glad you’re awakening gradually. Any change takes courage and commitment, but you should be proud of yourself for making the choice, taking the steps, and moving at your own pace. Good luck with your future life!

  • Those financial commitments are game changers aren’t they. But hey time heals all wounds and that also pertains to our financial life

  • Sofia Walker

    Lovely post 🙂 Good reminder that life is a choice and that you can make a choice to live life how you want to. Also that it does require determination, that things dont just happen on their own. I guess that determination and taking steps towards what you want is the beauty of the journey 🙂