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  • SuePattonThoele

Differences Between Mindful and Automatic Living



All of us shift into automatic pilot occasionally. I know I do. But I didn’t know how much I did until I decided it would be fun to take an inventory of my own mindful vs. automatic living quotient. During one particular day, I curiously jotted down the times I noticed either mindful

or mechanical actions or conversations. I was definitely wrong about the exercise being fun! Noticing how often I did or said things by rote—while knowing that I probably

missed about a million mindless examples—brought me up short and helped cement my commitment to living more mindfully one little step at a time. As a result of my experiment, I realized that automatic living is essentially the opposite of mindfulness.


Because of the demands on our time and attention, many of us shift into overdrive in the morning and speed through the hours simply trying to get everything done that is expected of us or we expect of ourselves. At the end of such a day, it’s easy to wonder where the hours went, what we accomplished during them, and more importantly, whether we feel it was a day wasted or well spent.


Sometimes just listing a few of the differences between mindful and automatic living gives us a clearer realization of the Mindful/Automatic ratio in our own daily lives. The following examples barely scratch the surface of the differences between mindfulness and un-awakened automation, but I imagine you can fill in the blanks with your own personal favorites.


Mindful Living is Automatic Living is


Conscious Unconscious

Creative Habitual

Calm Restless

Simple Complex

Purposeful Chaotic

Responsible Blaming

Mature Immature

Grateful Complaining

Empowered Controlling

Openhearted Fearful, protective

Relaxed Rushed

Focused Scattered

Whole Fragmented


The antithesis of mindfulness is apparent in driving. My son once referred to driving as “down time,” but given the number of accidents and injuries happening every day, that’s probably not the best way to approach it. Many of us use driving time to multitask and divide our time between the road, the phone, lunch, scolding kids, and mind-wandering. Police officers are now routinely asking drivers if they were on their cell phones at the time of an accident or infraction. Just the other day, I realized my inner autopilot had driven a few miles without me being aware of the road at all. Ironically, I was thinking about the topic of mindfulness so diligently at the time that I became my own bad example.


Mindful living promotes peace and awareness, while a mind automatically overflowing with a million attention-grabbing thoughts and worries often creates anxiety, depression, and disappointment. When we’re stretched to the limit and distracted by inner and outer demands, it’s impossible to see anything clearly. Given the superhuman pace at which we often run, is it any wonder life seems to pass in a blur? On the other hand, mindfully moving through our days can bring a great sense of calm, balance, and joy. Even though I’m forever failing to remain mindful, simply holding an intention toward mindfulness and continuing to practice, practice, practice makes me feel good. Sir Winston Churchill’s statement “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” seems appropriate for the practice of mindfulness. We will fail to be mindful each moment—everyone does. But we can remain enthusiastic and glean benefits from our practice no matter how perfect or imperfect it is.

Excerpted from The Mindful Woman by Sue Patton Thoele. Available on Mango and Amazon.

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