Tree with two faces - a light side and a dark side

MBCT Diary: 1 – Automatic Pilot |

Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was initially developed as a maintenance version of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Receiving a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy takes place over a number of weeks but once it is complete, you often need something to help you prevent relapse.

I’ve been on Citalopram for 15 years. It hasn’t been an easy ride. Recently I’ve been seeking out new ways to help me manage the recurring bouts of severe depression and anxiety that I’ve experienced most of my life. Over the next few weeks I’ll be blogging about my experience of a course of MBCT.

One of the most important parts of the treatment was the way it developed – each week we built upon our learning and understanding from the previous week. Learning to use MBCT is something we have to experience and practice week-by-week.

While I hope to give people a sense of what MBCT is, and possibly some new perspectives or insights, reading about it is no replacement for receiving a course and getting the practical experience.

I’ll cover each session as we did. I want to recreate something of this sense of building and discovery that we experienced. I would encourage you to read the posts in order.

So let’s get started with the first week.

Automatic Pilot

  • Developing awareness
  • Being with our experience
  • Choosing how best to respond

They emphasised that it can take time for you to understand the point of what you are doing. They encouraged us to stick with it and come each week, even if at the time we don’t feel up to it, or don’t see the point.  This was really useful. As the course starts, it isn’t always clear exactly how it will help. The encouragement to just do something, to just put one foot in front of the other without thinking about it and questioning it too much can be really helpful.

We started by looking at dried fruit. We were each given a cranberry and asked to spend time exploring how it looked, its texture and its smell as if we had never seen one before. We were asked to put it in our mouths and see what that felt like and then, finally, to bite it, to chew it and to notice how that felt, before taking the conscious decision to swallow it. Give it a go with your next mouthful of food. For me, this activity opened my eyes to my tendency to eat fast without really appreciating it.

After we had done this, we talked about how it felt to be more aware of the experience of eating. Liam explained how the activity helped illustrate, in a really practical way, how much time we spend doing things on automatic pilot, behaving mechanically without really being aware of what’s going on. While the body is doing one thing, the mind is wandering off elsewhere.

Alice explained how this ‘autopilot’ can be difficult if you have suffered from depression in the past. Bits of negative thinking are more likely to go unnoticed and we can slip into well worn grooves of thought that lead to stronger feelings of sadness. By the time these really surface, they are much stronger and harder to deal with.

She said that, by being fully aware of an experience and how it feels, you can change the experience – in terms of the cranberry, this made a lot of sense – I have never tasted such a cranberry tasting cranberry as that one!

Some people said that they experience feelings of boredom and frustration during the activity – ‘I’m sick of looking at this cranberry.’ They were worried they were doing something ‘wrong’ – but Alice explained the point was not to have any particular experience, but just to be aware of whatever our experience was.

The main thing at this stage was to realise how much of life slips by without us really being aware of what is going on. Missing out on the good means life isn’t as rich as it might be, and missing out on the bad means we’re not in such a good position to take action and depression can creep up on us. How to take action is what would come later in the course.

At the time of publishing, entering the code MINDFUL50 at checkout will reduce the price of any of our Mindfulness Courses by 50%.

  1. Sent by Irene on

    I found the article very useful and interesting.

    1. Sent by Mark Harrison on

      Glad you enjoyed the article. There are 12 in the series, with one being posted each week. We’ll continue to send out reminders in our newsletter emails.

  2. Sent by Jacky on

    Hi I tried to apply the Discount code for this course but it would not work… 🙁 Said it doesn’t apply

    1. Sent by Mark Harrison on

      Thank you for pointing out that the discount code was not working. This is now fixed and applying the code will reduce the price accordingly. I hope you enjoy the course and further blog articles.

  3. Sent by geraldine on

    Its always an easy solution to hand out pills. Although they may be helpful for a short time learning to use other skills and techniques seem a more valuable way forward. We do tend to go into auto-pilot and accept things as we see them. very interesting article so thank you.

    1. Sent by Mark Harrison on

      Glad you enjoyed the article. Clare is refreshingly open about her experiences and the techniques she discusses show us all how we improve our mental well-being in a sustainable manner. There are 11 more in the series, so watch this space.

  4. Sent by Jacky on

    Thanks Mark! 🙂

  5. Sent by Ian McCubbin on

    A very good insight and example to explain automatic thought patterns. The work in mindfulness CBT is to reboot more of the positive thoughts patterns. I can see this will take practice and discipline. Also finding groups activities which feed our positivity is essential.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I am sure this therapy will help you lots.

    1. Sent by Mark Harrison on

      Thank you for taking the time to get in touch. Part 3 will be on its way next week (you’ll get an email) and part 2 can be found here.

  7. Sent by Cheyli on

    Participants will learn about the principles of mindfulness and key attitudinal foundations of mindfulness and how they can understand the purpose of mindfulness based living and how to move from automatic pilot mode into mindful awareness.

  8. Sent by Garry on

    Even if when we practice, we are only bringing our mind back to the breath from thoughts about what’s for tea, this trains us to get more skilful at doing it when we do have more difficult and intrusive thoughts. Through the breathing space, we get better at stepping out of that automatic pilot mode and reconnecting with what is happening in the present moment.

  9. Sent by Lasean on


  10. Sent by Raquel on

    … by being fully aware of an experience and how it feels, you can change the experience…
    This will now be an affirmation I can use which will summaries the article and can be used as a constant reminder in future.

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