This Is Your Brain on Autopilot: Zoning Out by Personality Type
Do you remember brushing your teeth this morning? How about your commute to work or school? According to researchers, we operate on autopilot nearly half of the time, leaving our minds free to wander. But are some personality types more prone than others to mentally checking out?
To delve into this issue, we went to our community and asked who agreed with the statement, “Your mind is often on an ‘autopilot,’ not fully involved in what you are doing in that moment.” Overall, 56% agreed. Here are the results by personality type.
Let’s take a moment to think about why our minds go on autopilot. In general, we’re hoping to find something more interesting to think about than whatever is before us – whether that’s a sink full of dirty dishes or a cumbersome work project. We might also start “future tripping”: imagining future events, envisioning big changes, or worrying about to-do items that we can’t tackle in that moment.
So who’s most likely to check out? Unsurprisingly, the people who reported spending the most time on autopilot are those whose personality traits predispose them to hypothetical and abstract thought, spontaneity, and – alas – worry.
Let’s take a moment to turn off autopilot and dig into these findings.
Sentinels (33% agreeing)
Sentinel personality types were by far the least likely to report spending time on autopilot. Their Observant trait roots them in the present moment, while their Judging trait helps them narrow their focus. As a result, even detail-oriented, repetitive tasks can hold Sentinels’ attention. In fact, Sentinels often find this type of work rewarding and fulfilling.
Because Sentinels are so attuned to sensory input, they tend to find more interest in the here and now than types with the Intuitive trait. “Why would you dream up things that don’t exist,” a Sentinel personality might ask, “rather than notice what’s right in front of you?” Sentinels are also relatively happy with the status quo, which makes them less likely to spend their mental energy on what-ifs.
Consuls (ESFJ) were the personality type least likely to report slipping into autopilot (with a mere 25% agreeing). Outgoing and attentive, Consuls are acutely aware of the world around them, which helps them to pick up on interpersonal dynamics and social cues. Although they thrive in teams, Consuls will stay focused in order to do the job right, even when they’re working alone.
Just over half of Explorers agreed that they spend a good chunk of their time on autopilot. The Prospecting trait leads people in this Role to seek new opportunities and pursue diverse options. Although it is often unconscious, this constant exploration means that Explorer personality types aren’t always focused on the task at hand.
That said, Explorers can also immerse themselves in the present moment, thanks to their Observant trait. Just like Sentinel personalities, Explorers prefer experiencing the world around them to speculating about it. As a result, their trademark spontaneity is balanced by an ability to fully inhabit the here and now, which keeps their minds from constantly drifting.
Diplomats and Analysts (66% and 69%)
Diplomats and Analysts share the Intuitive personality trait, which grants them rich inner lives – and a tendency to lose themselves in thought. Drawn to ideas and abstractions, people within these Roles can spend hours speculating about the future and fantasizing about the unknown. As a result, they may end up feeling slightly detached from the concrete world.
These personality types might drive past their destination without realizing it, shampoo their hair twice because they can’t remember if they already did it, or stare out the window during a lecture. This doesn’t mean that they can’t pay attention, only that their thoughts may take on a life of their own and become more compelling than the present moment.
Logicians (INTP) were the most likely personality type to admit spending time on autopilot (with 83% agreeing). The wheels are always turning in Logicians’ heads, which is exactly why they excel at thinking up new and exciting ideas. Of course, these brilliant ideas sometimes prevent Logicians from being able to recall exactly where they put their keys.
People Mastery (40% agreeing)
Members of the People Mastery Strategy were the least likely to agree with our statement, which makes sense given their Assertive Extravert traits. People Masters are unlikely to fret as much as people with the Turbulent personality trait, and so they don’t spend large swathes of time regretting the past or worrying about the future. As Extraverts, People Masters also don’t feel a need to tune out strong stimuli, such as loud noises or crowded environments. In other words, they are secure enough to stay present in the moment.
Confident Individualism (51%)
As Assertive Introverts, personality types within the Confident Individualism Strategy aren’t huge worriers, but they are somewhat more likely than their Extraverted counterparts to live in their heads. Sensitive to external stimuli, Confident Individualists occasionally feel compelled to escape into the safety of their thoughts and ideas. It’s important for these Introverted personalities to spend some time with their attention focused on their own mental landscape rather than the world around them.
Social Engagement (61%)
Due to their Turbulent trait, members of the Social Engagement Strategy lose some of their mental energy to thoughts about how they can do more and be more – and what other people are thinking about them – rather than focusing on the task at hand. Their bouts of perfectionism can also cause Social Engagers to procrastinate or disengage, even from projects that matter to them.
Constant Improvement (70%)
Types who follow the Constant Improvement Strategy are the most likely to zone out. Their Introversion predisposes them to escape into their own private thoughts. When you add the Turbulent trait into the mix, you end up with personality types who spend significant mental energy imagining how things could be better or different. This tendency can be useful, but it inevitably pulls Constant Improvers out of the moment, preventing them from fully embracing things as they are.
We all zone out every now and then – yes, Consuls, even you – but some personality types are significantly more likely to spend time on autopilot. When it comes to Roles, cerebral Analysts and dreamy Diplomats are the most likely to lose themselves in thought and imagination. By contrast, task-focused Sentinels inhabit the present moment, focusing on the world as it exists now. Our analysis of Strategies reveals that Introverted personalities and people with the Turbulent trait are more likely to operate on autopilot than their Extraverted or Assertive counterparts.
What about you? Do you often lose yourself in thought or daydreams, or do you have laser-like focus as your personal superpower? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!