You find yourself sitting at your desk at work–in a brain fog, on autopilot mode, and unaware of the time that is passing you by. Our brains were not meant to operate on a 9-5 timeline, and this in fact can lead to cognitive decline. This “daily grind” that everyone speaks about is a common ritual in our society, however it is definitely not the most productive one. Studies have shown that working hours do not have any significant associations with work productivity. Research has also shown that during an 8 hour work day, employees are actually productive for only about 3 hours. Where does the rest of those 5 hours go? They go to activities such as reading news websites, checking social media, searching for new jobs, and discussing non-work related things with co-workers, to name a few. You’ll notice that some of the most successful people in the world didn’t adhere to this 9-5 routine, so why are you?
Research has shown that a sedentary lifestyle routine contributes to cognitive decline, making the “default American lifestyle” unhealthy. This default is not necessarily in the old sense of a failure to perform a task, but rather a default in the newer sense of an option, assigned automatically by an operating system that remains in effect unless canceled or override by the operator. People are the operators. Unfortunately, routine often leads to complacency, which poses a great danger to one’s motivation, or purpose. Complacency leads to autopilot mode, in which the person is incapable of focusing on one specific task. However, complacency does not allow for your mind to wander as it should. Instead, it becomes constrained by the narrow-mindedness of the simple day-to-day tasks you have at hand. This mentality trains your mind to be hardwired to complacency in order to make the time go quicker and to get the job at hand done with, which in turn gives you less time to focus on new ideas, better alternatives, and even life plans.
The autopilot mode is run by a set of brain structures called the default mode network, which was discovered in the 1990s, when researchers noticed that people lying in brain scanners show patterns of activity even when they aren’t doing anything. This was the first evidence that suggested our brains are active even when people aren’t consciously putting their minds to work. The default mode network is also involved in assessing past events, planning for the future, and overall self-awareness. This is often the reason why meditation has been found to improve focus, as it is able to reduce default mode activity. Furthermore, the more strongly a person’s default mode network is linked up, the more effective their autopilot mode, which also leads to cognitive decline. People are able to train themselves, (even inadvertently) to have a better autopilot mode, which stifles the brain’s ability to focus, be productive, and think deeply. This is also why after several weeks at a job, people find themselves trying to make the time pass more quickly, literally living for those 2 days we call the weekend. Being on autopilot mode also entails a loss of the sense of time, leading to a life of merely existence, not truly living.
How do you break free?
Make your mission in life to not merely survive, but to thrive, and to do so with passion. Write down your goals, and actually look at them each day. This will not only reinforce them into your subconscious, but help against cognitive decline as you’re providing your brain with mental imagery. Challenge yourself – ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. If it’s to make enough money that will enable you to pay off your student loans or put a down-payment on your first real estate investment, then understand that what you’re doing now is helping you achieve that goal, even if it seems soul-sucking each day. There’s an old saying that says sometimes you have to do what you don’t like to get to where you want to be. This isn’t an argument by any means to stay where you aren’t happy, but more of an encouragement to change your perspective on where you’re at.
I often find myself anxious with thoughts on “all of the things I could be doing that I’m not” and the “hours I’m at work that I could be spending with my family.” I’ve realized that the best way to counter these thoughts is to practice an attitude of gratitude. Don’t just look at where you are, but look at how far you’ve come, and more importantly where you are going. Our brains are hardwired to focus on negativity, however you’re not incapable of changing that. Thanks to the recent research in the concept of neuroplasticity, we’re finding that it is in fact possible to re-train your brain and eliminate old biases. As Steve Jobs said, “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”
The biochemistry of belief is a very real thing – our thoughts create our reality. Research findings have repeatedly pointed that the emotional brain is no longer confined to the classical locales of the hippocampus, amygdala and hypothalamus. In fact, the sensory inputs we receive reach the higher processing frontal lobes, and enter our conscious awareness. The receptors on our cell membranes are capable of altering sensitivity and conformation, (e.g. when we feel stuck emotionally, there’s always a biochemical potential for growth and change). When a person chooses to change their thoughts, they become open and receptive to other pieces of sensory information that is blocked by their beliefs. So, when you change your thinking, you change your beliefs. When you change your beliefs, you change your behavior.
Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. Do your own thinking, be your own creator, be your own boss, and be the the writer of your story.