Krawczak: Leave auto-pilot to technology

On a talk radio show recently, the hosts were discussing the 2014 Consumer Electronics Association Show that happens in Las Vegas this time of year. Their conversation moved from the show in general to discussing specific products. One of the products they spent some time debating was passenger vehicles that drive themselves. Auto-pilot or self-driving vehicle prototypes and concepts are nothing new, but they are becoming closer to reality for use by the everyday citizen as a passenger vehicle.

If you think about it, there is actually a lot of automatic piloting going on in our lives. There is a level of auto-pilot in our very own vehicles (ever use cruise control?), in airplanes (the very place where the automatic pilot concept originated), and in plenty of agricultural and manufacturing machinery (a few years ago I visited the John Deere Museum in Iowa talk about impressive auto-pilot usage). But unfortunately, auto-pilot has crept out of the technology aspect of our lives and into other areas of our lives.

Considering auto-pilot advances for machinery, vehicles and airplanes is exciting and appropriate. But living your life in auto-pilot is not so exciting. Yet so many people choose to live their lives that way.

After hearing all about auto-pilot vehicles on the radio show, I started thinking about my own life. Are there areas that are on auto-pilot? I can identify a few areas. To take it a step further, I asked myself if I wanted to get more value out of the areas of my life that are currently on auto-pilot. And sure enough, two of the areas were things in which I longed for more satisfaction. But I had set myself to auto-pilot in those particular areas.

Auto-pilot is like status quo. It may get you by, but it isn’t ideal. As time goes by it becomes less satisfying. Like a vehicle on auto-pilot, it is no longer engaging. It no longer stimulates and energizes.

Then I remembered an article I had read once in Self Magazine. (I’ve since searched for the article and found it in a 2012 issue of Self. The article is titled, “Energy! Grit! Love!” and was authored by Beth Janes. Look it up – there is a lot more to it than what I’m writing about.) The article is about eight traits that, when achieved to greater degrees, lead to a happier self.

One of the traits listed is curiosity. The article said that people who are intentionally curious report greater life satisfaction and a deeper sense of meaning. But when people become used to something, good at something, or routine with something and start to operate on auto-pilot, they become less curious, therefore less satisfied.

Less satisfaction? A decrease in curiosity? What fun is that? Can you turn off auto-pilot in any areas of your life you wish to be more engaged? I know I’d like to.

For me, for starters, I want to stop using an auto-pilot response to the question, “How are you?” My auto-pilot response of, “good” certainly isn’t going to open the door for engaging dialogue. Are there areas you can be a better employee by being more curious and more engaged? Are there ways you could be a better parent, community member, spouse, or friend by taking yourself off of auto-pilot? I think now is a great time to evaluate our own lives to see where we could make adjustments.

You know me; I believe that when we have healthy, happy, engaged citizens, we have a healthier community. Turning off auto-pilot in your life is one way you can become more engaged and a more effective contributor. It reminds me of the saying “work smarter, not harder.”

If we engage more effectively and operate less on auto-pilot we will see greater results. Let’s leave auto-pilot for technology advances where it is a much more appropriate and out of our own personalities.

Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.