We are all born with the gift of an internal advanced autopilot system. It’s one of the most useful things because it helps us to learn to do things automatically, without much thought; like walking up the stairs or driving to work. It doesn’t require us to think much about how we’re doing it or what to do next.
Our internal autopilot system is calibrated to steer us away from trouble. For example, if you see a wild animal in the distance, your autopilot reflexes will kick in and you will start moving in the opposite direction. However, problems begin when our autopilot system gets us to move away not only from external threats, but also from our own inner discomfort.
As human intelligence evolved we began interacting with our internal thoughts, emotions and memories as if they were external objects — and physical threats. Unfortunately, running away from a thought or emotion only makes it more present and intense. When we recognize something is important to us, we begin to fear losing it or worry that we won’t achieve it. For example, if you recognize that you want love in your life, you may begin to worry that you might not find it, won’t be deserving of it if you do or lose it.
Your internal autopilot system will probably try to steer you away from those thoughts and chances are you will soon get trapped in a stuck loop.
What are stuck loops and how do they work?
The Matrix helps us discover our stuck loops as we sort our experiences and actions into four quadrants formed by two intersecting lines. To the left of the vertical line, are the things we try to move away from and the actions we take to do the moving away. To the right of the vertical line, we list the people and things that are important to us and the actions we take to move toward them.
Stuck loops happen on the left-hand side. Our internal autopilot system nudges us to move away from our difficult thoughts and feelings. These “ away-moves ” generally provide some sort of short-term relief, but difficult thoughts and feelings soon come back. Unfortunately, our autopilot is not able to compute that “ away – moves ” often lead us directly into stuck loops.
Here are seven steps to make sure you don’t get trapped in stuck loops for too long. I’ll illustrate them with my own struggles with writing. (Thanks to my friend Mark Webster for steps 6 and 7.)
- On a piece of paper start by drawing a matrix and write “ Toward ” to the right of the horizontal line and “ Away ” to the left.
- In the bottom left, write unpleasant thoughts or feelings that you regularly get hooked by. For example, I could write: “ irritation, lack of inspiration and not feeling like writing ”.
- Draw a semicircle towards the top left quadrant and write down what you could be seen doing (specific actions) to move away from the unpleasant thoughts or feelings. I could write: “ Go on Facebook ”.
- If the unpleasant inner stuff doesn’t disappear or soon comes back, circle back down to the bottom left quadrant and write what inner stuff shows up next. I could write: “ Shame, fatigue, anger, disappointment. ”
- Circle back up if you then engage in more “ away-moves ”, maybe they are the same as what you’ve already noticed or maybe they are different. I could write: “ Click on news sites and read about world politics. ”
- Once you’ve established the loop, see if you can give it a name. I have named mine my “procrastinating writing stuck loop.” Descriptive names are better than disparaging ones. I thought better of calling my loop the: “ Benji being a lazy bum stuck loop ”.
- Next, I point to the loop and say aloud: This is Benji caught in his ‘procrastinating writing stuck loop.’ Then I say aloud: “ This is Benji Schoendorff caught in his “procrastinating writing stuck loop.”
You’re probably not going to believe what comes next: I often get out of the loop and start writing. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes in the comments section.
Seeing our stuck loops can help us disengage from our autopilot system, especially when our autopilot makes us fly around in circles and loops. The process of noticing, naming and pointing to the loop helps us to press the pause button and disengage the autopilot. It then becomes easier to regain control of our chosen flight path.