Flying over familiar ground

Our conscious minds are like pilots of errant aircraft flying in the dark. We cannot get our planes to fly where we want to go. We cannot see where our planes are taking us. Our pilots are full of complaints about the contrary directions of flights we take:
  • "I want to learn this, but my mind goes blank, gets distracted or loses motivation when I begin to focus on this"
  • "I want to enjoy this but I keep experiencing fits of anger, bouts of depression or eruptions of envy when I act committed to this"
  • "I want to relate to these people, but every time I try, I start judging them, catastrophizing their conduct, or unconsciously distancing myself"
  • "I want to feel confident and competent here, but I consistently get haunted by insecurities, self-doubts, and fear of making mistakes"

In addition to our conscious reasoning, we fly by autopilot. We've developed hundreds of routines that work for us to some extent. These quasi-successful habits are launched by an urge to take action or a perceived need to avoid something. Making these moves without thinking saves us time and energy we need to survive. Our conscious minds are freed up to handle puzzling circumstances where our autopilot cannot stay on course routinely.

Below the level of our autopilot routines, we maintain unconscious flight plans. We're headed in directions we cannot think about or change by piloting our conscious reasoning. We don't know where our urges come from or how our actions affect those impulses. Our flight plans unconsciously steer us clear of familiar dangers by giving us an urge to act or the perceived need to avoid something. The effect of acting on these urges perpetuates the flight plan. We stay on an unthinkable course regardless of where the pilot is trying to steer the aircraft.

Below our unthinkable flight plans is the terrain we take for granted. We assume we're still flying over familiar ground. We know for certain what works for us, what always happens to us, and what trouble we get into if we don't watch out. We don't need to question the facts of life that we've learned "the hard way": by experience, feedback and consequences. We've made up our mind about how to limit our possibilities and confine our ambitions. We override the pilot's conscious reasoning that naively presumes to be capable and free to: learn this, enjoy this, relate to these people and to feel confident here.

Until we change the terrain, there is no changing those urges that "come from out of nowhere". We cannot go where we want to until we update our flight plans. We will continue to sabotage our intentions while we oppose what we know only too well.


  1. Tom;
    I don't think I want to change the "urges that come out of nowhere"...that's just me being a human being. I want to change how I deal with those urges:
    1. I want to be aware of them and not have them be so automatic that they are invisible.
    2. When I am aware, I want to deliberately choose what to do next. I can break an old pattern or decide that the old pattern might be most appropriate for this situation.
    3. I want to practice being deliberate about my new behavior because it will feel uncomfortable for a while and it will be easy to fall back to old "flight plans".
    4. I want a purpose bigger than myself to help sustain me on my new journey because it is taking me to new and unfamiliar terrain. I may want to turn back' but if I know that I am not just shortchanging myself; but my family, my school, my co-workers, or my students...I will keep on working for the larger good.

    love your post


  2. ".... change the terrain" - ok Tom can you elaborate on what you mean?

    My understanding of recent research is that our sense of free will is just that - a sense. It seems that our sense of decision is a rationalization that comes after the process is completed in an inaccessible terra incognita. (My apologies for not having the reference - i think I read it in a hard copy of New Scientist & I can't find which pile it's in :)

    So back at this terrain changing - please sir I'd like to know. It's those little sabotaging "urges" that I'd like to change neighbourhoods to avoid.


  3. Thanks for the comment and question. I've used the metaphor of "ground" before and these posts may help you capture what I'm referencing better than this post made possible: