written by LOU BLASER

A version of this essay first appeared in Midlife Cues, a weekly newsletter about intentional living in our middle years. Get it in your inbox; you're going to love it.


Most of any given day is spent on autopilot.

In this mode, we’re not consciously thinking about what we’re doing. We’re not deliberately thinking about whatever it is before we decide to do something about it. (Weird, right?)


If we want to change something in our lives, if we want to make a pivot, if we want to get better, be better… we have got to find a way to override that autopilot.

Running on autopilot means we are choosing and behaving the same way as we did yesterday and the day before.

This isn’t rocket science. We know this intuitively.

We just aren’t very good at following through.

It’s a tough thing — overriding the autopilot.

Not only was our personal version of autopilot years in the making. It’s actually like two levels of autopilots that we have to get through.

The first level is the autopilot to NOT THINK consciously about something.

The second is the autopilot to do the same thing as we’ve always done.

So, we really need an interrupter. A forcing function to break the pattern.

This is why I think, write and talk about intentional living all the time.

I find that the only way I can be the person I want to be in the second half of my life is by being intentional about my decisions, actions, relationships, etc.

Otherwise, I’m running on autopilot. And I already know where that leads me.

I suppose another way of looking at it is that I’m trying to break the existing pattern so that I can load an updated autopilot into the system. 😉


What parts of your life are running on autopilot right now? Does any of that need to change?

Alternatively, what in your life do you want to change? In that particular area, what’s running on autopilot?

Today’s issue is sponsored by Midlife Uprising. Founded and hosted by age agitator Yvonne Marchese, this community brings together women of all ages to reimagine what’s possible as they grow older and support each other as they rock their next chapters. Find out more and join the Midlife Uprising Community and continue to make waves as you age.

  • Taking a scientific view on this topic, our brain really has an autopilot mode. It’s called the “Default Mode Network”. Studies have shown it’s the region of our brains that lights up when we’re doing nothing at all… for instance, when we’re driving home (which, I know, isn’t nothing!) Here’s a brief colorful introduction to the Default Mode Network (YouTube)
  • Heuristics, those mental shortcuts our brains have naturally gathered over time, are one component of our autopilot. Heuristics are great. They reduce cognitive load. But in doing so, they also create cognitive biases, which make it harder for us to change. Heuristics, Explained: Our Brain’s Mental Shortcuts
  • Living on autopilot is leaning towards the most comfortable thinking mode. But we actually have two thinking modes (systems 1 and 2), and the key is to learn and master both. How to Stop Living Life on Autopilot


“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.” — Seneca

Not always, but most of the time, whatever annoys, triggers, or pushes our buttons will follow us wherever we go.

The only thing we can really control is our response to such triggers.


Meet Gen Jones’er Maria Leonard Olsen

An empty nester, Maria is trying to see as much of the world as she possibly can. Over the past year, she has lived in Medellín, Colombia; Antigua, Guatemala; and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She even traveled to Antarctica recently and camped on the ice!

One of the many interesting things about Maria is that at 54, she discovered that the father who raised her is not her biological father. She’s working on her next book about the legal ramifications of DNA test discoveries following her experience.

Read the rest of Maria’s profile.


Speaking of autopilot, I haven’t been on it for the podcast since December, when the podcast went on holiday break.

But I’m thrilled to report that it will soon go back to regularly scheduled programming. In this super brief bonus episode, I share my podcast goals and plans for 2023.

Here’s to an easeful week ahead.


A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Midlife Cues and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on exploring how to navigate, thrive, and turn midlife into the best phase in our life.