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Get Help From Your Automatic Pilot

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We spend a lot of our lives on automatic pilot. We act out of habit, without thinking about what we're doing.

That's not always a bad thing. If we had to think our way through everything we did, we couldn't get most of it done.

Suppose you're driving to work and another car abruptly cuts in front of you. You don't have time to think through the correct reaction. You just react to avoid a collision. Your automatic pilot knows what to do.

Sometimes, our automatic pilot even knows things that we don't know consciously.

This morning, I needed to say something in Spanish but couldn't remember how to say it. So I just started talking, and the right words automatically came out of my mouth. Then I remembered the idiom I'd forgotten -- because I heard myself saying it.

Our automatic pilot can also help us be better people.

Every time we act in a certain way, we strengthen our habit of acting that way: Honesty. Kindness. Forgiveness. Courage. Rationality. Optimism. Serenity.

We can even practice actions and attitudes just by thinking about them. That's an important benefit of religious observance, such as worship services, daily prayer, study, and meditation.

Olympic athletes supplement their physical exercises with "mental practice" that helps them improve their performance. We can do the same thing. Such practices remind us that there's more to life than what's in front of us at the moment.

Then, when a crisis arrives -- the moral equivalent of a dangerous traffic situation -- we don't need to think about what to do. We've already practiced it. Our automatic pilot can take over and guide us to safety.

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