Are you on autopilot? To avoid repercussions, here are some tips.

Woman looking away from a meeting with a co-worker

This Op-ed was originally published by The Globe and Mail on June 25, 2019. It is written by The Conference Board of Canada’s Dr. Bill Howatt.

If we begin our day without a lot of conscious thought or consideration about the routine we’ll jump into, the routine can become automatic to the point we operate almost on autopilot. When we’re in this state and not self-aware, days begin to blend, and one seems to run into another.

Being on autopilot increases the risk for developing poor health and social habits that can lead to negative consequences that can impact our workplace experience and mental health.

This micro skill focuses on how we can become more self-aware and reduce our risk for going on autopilot and developing ineffective lifestyle and social habits.


Self-awareness can be defined as the degree we’re consciously aware of our motivation, thoughts and feelings. Psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund developed the theory of self-awareness and suggested that it’s critical to have, as it’s directly related to self-control.

How we manage our emotions in the workplace influences how people interact with us. Self-awareness is a key element for emotional intelligence (EQ), described as the ability to recognize and manage emotions, socialize, collaborate and empathize with others. To obtain a quick baseline of your EQ, complete the EQ Quick Survey.

Five categories influence and define our EQ:

  • Empathy—ability to recognize and positively respond to others’ feelings.
  • Social skills—ability to develop healthy interpersonal skills.
  • Motivation—desire to achieve a goal with a positive mindset.
  • Self-regulation—ability to manage emotions.
  • Self-awareness—ability to tune in to emotions as they occur and confidence in capabilities and self-worth.

Becoming more self-aware is a practical place to start to mature our EQ.


One key element to becoming the person, parent or leader we want to be is to accept that we can’t control everything that happens in life. All we have control over are our actions. Though we may want people we care about to behave in a certain way, we all have free will and are ultimately responsible for our decisions and actions.

As we become more self-aware of this, we are able to focus on what’s within our control and to take responsibility for how we react and the choices we make.

As we mature our self-awareness we become more in tune with our strengths and gaps. The next step is to be open to the possibility to coping better with life. There may be value in taking professional development that can help develop skills that support self-awareness and EQ.

The risk for not becoming more self-aware is learning to accept or just ignore how we’re truly feeling, which over time can negatively impact our workplace experiences and our mental and physical health.


Following are a few examples of ways to develop self-awareness:

  • Complete a personality test—Personality tests can help increase awareness of some natural tendencies that influence how we interact with others. They can also assist us to become aware of potential blind spots that may not have been considered. One common personality test is Factor Five. Click on Fast Big Five to complete a free, online version.
  • Keep a daily journal—Take five minutes at the end the day to write out how your day was and acknowledge what was good and what you’d like to do differently tomorrow. This allows you to process each day, increase your self-awareness of the choices made, and to decrease your chances of going on autopilot. Journaling has been found to be a positive way to move past negative experiences and promote mental health.
  • Ask for feedback from others on how you’re doing—One activity that promotes self-awareness is being interested in what others think, as well as asking for feedback. 360 In Vivo is a process created for leaders but can be adapted by employees. A self-directed 360 process, it has two parts: one asking others for feedback and one for evaluating how well you’re able to accept feedback.
  • Practice daily self-reflection—Consider beginning each day with a focus that clearly defines the one or two goals you want to achieve by the end of the day. This focus can help promote your self-awareness and control over your micro decisions and actions.

Dr. Bill Howatt

Chief of Research, Workforce Productivity

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