Mindfulness and the Dangers of “Autopilot”

By Rahul Nachnani | Blogger | SQ Online (2013-14)

As college students (especially pre-med students), we have a lot on our plates. We have our classes to worry about, our social life, our families and friends back home, and any extracurriculars or jobs we might be taking on. We try to juggle all of these activities while getting a good night’s sleep. If there’s a party tonight and you have three classes to go to and four hours of work before that party, it is easy to let your mind wander during those seven hours of commitment. You may be wondering about who you are going with, what you are going to wear, who you could possibly meet, and (hopefully) how you are going to get back. How can you think about all these things when you have seven hours of responsibility to attend to as well? Well, many people fall into the trap of using their hours of responsibility to think about or do work for another responsibility. They let their minds wander, and forget the task at hand (no matter how simple or complicated it may be).

There is a problem with this.

A big problem.

The more we sacrifice mental capacity to think about other things we are worried about, the more we must sacrifice later making up for the things we missed when we were daydreaming or thinking about other things. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of another upcoming event or get bored by the simplicity of what we are doing currently. We let our bodies go on “autopilot” as we think about other things. Unfortunately, there is little we can do after the fact that we did not pay attention for hours on end, but there is a solution to prevent this from happening again.

Mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something” and is one of the hardest things that I have had to deal with in my life. It is a difficult skill to acquire, but those who do have the ability to use it well have an immense advantage in their day-to-day lives. To be mindful at many (if not all) stages of our day is how we can combat the “autopilot” that our mind finds so comforting. To battle against our autopilot is not an easy task, but is necessary for our success.

Therefore, I challenge you this: For seven days (Wednesday to Wednesday), during your classes, work, activities, etc, think about what you are doing. Think about how you are learning. Think about what is working for you and what is not working for you in terms of style and performance. Think about how what you are doing affects you, changes you, and how you can use it for other classes, work, extra-curricular activities, etc.This consciousness and mindfulness in your daily actions will help tremendously to understand how you think, how you feel, and how you can be more prepared for later feats.

PREMEDS: While you are doing this, write it all down. Why? Because that will help you prepare for my next post: “Pre-writing Your Personal Statement.”

Helpful reading:

A better definition for mindfulness:

Great article on mindfulness:


UCSD’s own center for mindfulness: http://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/mindfulness/Pages/default.aspx