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Living on Auto-Pilot

Image of dried out sunflower. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, Living on Auto Pilot, Katherine Broadway

We all have templates by which we live. A template is a way of looking at our experiences through which we give meaning to our lives. When you ponder the meaning of an event or something someone said to you, life’s templates emerge. These templates are largely hidden from ourselves. Like the title of the TV show “Hidden in Plain Sight,” they operate in our daily lives without our noticing.

Templates Play an Important Role

First, they tell us how to behave. There is not enough time to decide how to act in every moment of our lives. We adapt by living much of life on auto-pilot. We start developing the settings on our templates at birth, and learn from our parents in our formative years.

Children whose needs are not adequately met are more likely to develop a harsh or strict view of the world. In families where a child’s basic needs are met adequately, they have an opportunity to explore the middle ground. Their templates will be less rigid and less harsh.


The second purpose of a template is self-preservation. Children in all types of families need to learn at a very early age that life can be dangerous. It is important to be able to take action to take care of ourselves. Unfortunately, some children grow up in families that are dangerous or neglectful. They develop templates that lean toward a more extreme view that the world is never safe.

When templates are used too quickly, many times the meaning that is assigned to an event or interaction does not fit the current situation.

Same Event, Different Meanings

For example: two men walk into a party together. One has a template that says, “I am here to meet people. The people here are friendly, they want to meet me and I want to meet them.” If that person is not successful at striking up one conversation, his template tells him to try again with another party-goer. Person A will soon find himself engaging in interesting conversation.

The other man who enters the party – we’ll call him Person B - has a template that says people are not safe. If he is not successful at striking up a conversation, he will assume that it is personal and that he is not wanted at this party. His experience of the party will be painful and unpleasant.

The Impact of Templates

These men exhibit two very different views of the world and have two very different templates by which they make sense of their experiences. These men will be drawn to different kinds of people and experiences.

This is only one example of the many ways we can see the influence of templates in our lives. We often have multiple layers of templates operating simultaneously, and can actually prevent you from reaching your goals. The next blog post will take a closer look at how these templates work together, and how you can change your auto-pilot.

Did you feel like Person A or Person B? If you want to change the way you perceive a party, call Katherine @ (919) 881-2001.

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