Neurocircuitry may be neurocircuitry, but we don’t have to run on automatic. ~ Jill Bolte Taylor

Upset, stressed, triggered, anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, bored, stuck? You have the ability to step back and choose a more effective place to put your energy.

While most of us now drive cars with an automatic transmission, some of us grew up with a good old fashioned stick shift. The thing I loved about driving a car with a manual transmission is that I felt like I was really driving. I had to pay attention and feel what was going on in the engine to make sure that I was in the right gear. I loved it. Automatic transmissions might make driving easier, but they do not necessarily make driving more enjoyable or rewarding.

Life is kind of the same way. We have a brain that is totally capable of running on automatic. We engage in familiar habits all the time – at work, in our family, with friends. We brush our teeth with the same hand, we get triggered by the same people and situations, we get in the same arguments, we towel off the same way every time we get out of the shower.

Some of these habits work beautifully and make our life easier. Some of these habits don’t serve us particularly well, but they don’t create problems either. Some of these habits create havoc in our lives and our relationships, but we don’t feel like we have a choice – these habits feel like who we are.

Sensations show up inside us all the time. These urges are often connected to automatic behaviors. There is no stopping this barrage of impulses, but there is the opportunity to respond to them differently. This opportunity is where a tremendous amount of power and freedom resides in our lives.

Mindfulness is a tool for stepping back and observing these sensations. We can find some space between clinging to a feeling and avoiding the feeling. In this space, we can connect to what is most important and then re-engage more purposefully.

We are all capable of doing damage to a valued relationship due to some knee jerk reaction. We are all capable of getting trapped in a behavior that is not working. We are all capable of avoiding a change that could make a positive difference in our lives. This is all just part of being human.

The more we practice paying attention and accepting what is going on inside us, the more we are able to disengage long enough to shift gears if necessary. It is extremely rare that we do not have the time to take a breath and anchor ourselves in what we value most before taking the next action. And, like any other skill in life, we get better with practice.