Default Mode

actions change default feelings habits thoughts Apr 14, 2023
electronic gadgets with Escape written on them and colorful lights

How often do you think you’re never going to change?

“This is just the way I am.”

That is THE biggest obstacle to change: thinking that you are your habits, your actions, your thoughts and feelings.

You are not.


Let me describe:

You are separate from everything that you think, feel and do. If you want to be. That’s not metaphysical or meta-universy. It’s the beautiful thing about the human brain: we CAN look at ourselves outside of ourselves, and use it for your advantage.

So let’s talk about default mode:

Default mode is what happens when there’s no thought, no introspection, just you, “in the wild.” It’s the product of many weeks, months and possibly years of just practicing as it is.

In the brain, the thoughts, feelings and actions or behaviors that we are talking about have become so practiced that they are on a quiet background loop deep in the brain - so routine that the subconscious is like, “Hey, I’ll take this over.” And it frees up your thinking brain for other activities.

Cool: energy-conservation. Efficient.

Argh. It’s actually where we think that we do things just because that’s the way it is.

No, it’s what has been practiced, un-examined, and continued. Default mode.

We have default modes in all aspects of our lives. We have default thoughts: consider what you think is healthy - maybe you adopted that thought from someone else, or you’ve just practiced it for a really long time.

We have default emotions: or rather, very practiced ones. We are quick to use them, like that tension that you feel in the back of the neck when that certain person is calling on the phone, or the frustration that you know very well at the end of a long day. Doesn’t frustration seem like it’s a default mode in certain places and times?

And there are default actions or behaviors. There’s a lot of things that just seem like they are on auto-pilot: hit the snooze bar a bunch of times, get up, get the coffee, grumble about tripping over the dog’s toys, again… and that’s just within the first hour.

I’d love to share a story about default actions that got me really cooking on this topic:

😊 Soccer. 😊

Yes, I am a 47 year old woman, and I am talking about ME playing soccer. Now.

There’s a local women’s soccer league and I finally signed up this year. I’m playing organized soccer for the first time in 32 years… yes, since the time when I got cut from the JV team and never returned (but that’s another story).

It’s amazing: grown women of all sorts of backgrounds playing and laughing and getting some great exercise.

Now, I played in the 30+ league over the winter and whew, that was keeping me honest. I swear some of these women could pass for 18! And this Spring, I decided to sign up fro that league again, as well as the 40+ “Low Impact” league. Interesting… this is new to me.

Low Impact means that there is no steam-rolling into people and it means that the person who has the ball is in control of the speed. So I can’t run up on someone who is walking with the ball.

Now, I swore off running a few years ago. It’s one of the levels of purgatory for me now, thinking about going out for a run. But… you put a soccer ball in front of me and I am SPRINTING to get there.

That is not consistent with the rules of this league. And that was REALLY hard for me the first 2 games. I didn’t want to be “that person” - what does “that” person do anyway? Oh, the one who runs around the players who had knee replacements, is being an ass, or getting the whistle all the time? OK…. agreed, I’m not going to do that.

I also didn’t want to be the person who felt like this was a let-down to be on a league where I will be walking with the ball. I signed up to have fun… how can I have fun?

I decided that running after the ball was just a default mode, and there were other options available to me.

How do I change?

First, you have to give yourself just a bit of distance and like my girlfriends on the soccer field, some loving compassion. I run after the ball when I see it, like a puppy. I’m the one catching myself. They don’t need to yell, argue or complain. They understand: they’ve been there. We are all learning.

I am unlearning.

That’s all this is. It’s standing back just a bit, not being all up-in-it in the moment, and becoming aware of the patterns that exist in the default mode.

They aren’t always easy to see. Because we think it’s just who we are. No, these are just patterns that we have practiced.

Second, get curious. What else is possible? How could I approach this? How else could I feel? What could help me notice when I’m going back to my default?

On the soccer field, I’ve started a few things:

1. Looking at the other players, and not just the ball. Now that may seem counter-intuitive, but… remember that I just chase the ball when I see it. When I look at the other players, I remind myself of Sunita’s recovery from injury, or how Mary had a knee replacement just 6 months ago, I see how Clair is practicing magical footwork skills in this paced-game just like I want to.

When I look at the other people, I remind myself of the WHY. Why I want to try differently. It helps me get out of my default run-like-a-Mack-truck and I have a moment.

 2. Pause…

There is a split-second pause, and it’s all that I need: what mode do I want to be in? That is the most magical moment, because it’s when I see the power in it all: I have a DECISION. Whether it’s a decision about a feeling (I want to be PISSED or I want to take a few more moments to keep the rage in my locality and not spill it everywhere else…), thought (do I find my perfectionistic tendencies helping or holding me back right now… turn them on/off), or am I working on speed or footwork tonight? I choose.

3. Unlearning. And learning.

4. What do you get out of it? I could be critical AF with myself: I have found myself running soooo much. Keep in mind: I HATE RUNNING. That’s the funny thing about the Default Mode: I won’t run if you ask me to. It hurts, my body has many other preferred ways of moving. But put a rolling soccer ball in front of me and it’s ON. As a part of the unlearning, I am looking at what I get out of the discomfort of finding myself, time and again, going back to my default mode. Why do I want to do this?


Because I get something out of it:

When I notice the perfectionism sneaking in, I know that I am working on my efficiency, I am working on making it take sooo much less time to get things done. I’m working on seeing what I do and how I do it as GOOD ENOUGH instead of NEVER ENOUGH. It’s a work in progress. I’m a work in progress. And that is a reminder to keep me practicing. 

Same thing goes on the soccer field: I could bitch and moan about how I’m in the wrong league, that I need to run. No. I am choosing to unlearn and to get something out of it, actually a lot of things:

  1. Compassion for my own body. Dude, these knees aren’t going to last forever. My own potential knee surgeries are in the back of my mind… compassion, still playing… see yourself still playing.
  2. Friendships. These women are amazing. I’m seeing how you don’t have to be fast to have mad soccer skills: booting the ball, directing it, and yes, control of the ball.
  3. Control of the ball: this is my chance to really practice. I’m specifically NOT running at break-neck speed, but keeping my hands behind my back (a cue to not run), and working on handling the ball. Foot work. Dribbling. Redirecting.

And messing up and trying again.

Practice makes practiced.

We get to choose what we want to become practiced.

What do you want to practice?


Calling all Healthcare Professionals: I'm so glad you're here, to benefit yourself, your family, and your patients. The CE experience for this Podcast is powered by CMEfy - click here to reflect and earn credits:

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