How The Brain Works: Default vs Direct Mode

There are two states in which the brain operates: The default or “autopilot” mode and the direct mode. In reality, we spend most of our day operating under the autopilot mode. How the brain works naturally involves neuroscience. In our Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life article we discussed how every single aspect of how we operate is based on connections of neuron networks. Every single action is dictated by specific neuron network paths that have been established overtime during our development. The brain is, in fact, a very complex computer dependent on different processes.

A big part of self-development, self-help, self-awareness, etc is understanding the science behind our bodies. How we sense ourselves and reality is through our bodies, including our brain. And in fact, the brain is probably at the center of our physical existence. It decodes, translates, and interprets the world around us. In reality, we are to some extent limited by our very brains and the synoptic-firings and processes. Which makes it such a complex organ.

If understanding how the brain works fascinate you and more importantly believe it to be an important key to unlocking the next chapter in your life, then we suggest continuing reading.


So let’s jump right into it…


Default “Autopilot” Mode

As mentioned before, we operate most of the time under the default or “autopilot” mode. This is the automated processes that have been established in our brains that dictate what we call “second nature” or “narrative” scripts. The default mode is a network within our brain. Neuroscience defined it as the “Default Network Mode” or DNM for short. It involves very specific regions such as the Hippocampus that involve memory and the medial prefrontal cortex which plays an important part in social behavior and cognition. Without getting too scientific in this article, it is in layman’s terms a mode that is triggered when there is not much happening around you. Needless to say, this is about 60% of our day when you operate almost without thinking and your thoughts drift. This, unfortunately, is how the brain works.

Now there is a reason why the DNM is important, but we have dedicated a section just for that further ahead. But there is a reason why is called “default”. Because we spend so much time on insignificant tasks that our mind just wonders and drifts away. It directly relates and highlights a reoccurring and unfortunate life pattern among humans. We are simply rarely present. This implies that the present simply isn’t motivating enough for the mind to solely focus on the intricacies and power of the now. The beauty of the emotions and feelings of the moment. Rather, we are constantly in a state of dullness.

If you’d like to learn more about the Default Mode Network, we recommend an article by David Rock called “New Study Shows Humans Are on Autopilot Nearly Half the Time“. It also explains why it is so important to understand it and how it relates to our mental health and well being.


Direct Mode

Unlike the default mode, the direct mode strictly focuses on the present. It is the mode when you are fully at the moment and you are in control of what you’re thinking. This mode is fully aware of the emotions, thoughts, and logic within your brain. In other words, this is very much the conscious mind. We often refer to the brain as a complex computer so we thought it would be a good idea to introduce a term used in the software development community. It is called Flow. And what that is its very much a state of immersive, hyper-focused attention.

Think of direct mode as a state of complete control of your brain functions. It allows you to be fully present and aware of the actions surrounding the moment you are in. You can, therefore, shape and dictate your thoughts, emotions, and other brain functions effectively.


How The Brain Works & Why We Need Default “Autopilot” Mode

The Default Network Mode allows us to automate certain necessary daily tasks. It prevents us, and more specifically our brains, from draining our battery too fast. Imagine being deeply present and aware of every simple and little task throughout your day. Just like how we explained in our article “The Reticular Activating System And Visualization”, we need certain processes in our brains. The Reticular Activating System being one of those critical processes as it acts as a filter, we also need the DNM. These are just processes in our brain that allows us not to short circuit from over stimulation or information. IN reality, the world beyond our mind and eyes is a rather chaotic and overwhelming world. It is full of a very complex and significant amount of data that our brains need to decode.

Also, there is a pretty important reason we need DNM and that has to do with certain critical, yet dangerous when negative, functions. Such as :

The emotion of one’s self: Reflecting about one’s emotional state

Self-reference: Referring to traits and descriptions of one’s self

Autobiographical information: Memories of collection of events and facts about one’s self

Remembering the past: Recalling events that happened in the past

Imagining the future: Envisioning events that might happen in the future

Emotions of others: Understanding the emotions of other people and empathizing with their feelings

Social evaluations
: Good-bad attitude judgments about social concepts

Social categories: Reflecting on important social characteristics and status of a group

Episodic memory: Detailed memory related to specific events in time


How To Switch To Direct Mode

It comes down to catching or noticing your mind drifting away. Being able to recognize when you are not fully emerged at the moment and in your thoughts. A useful method for practicing being in this state is to watch any tutorial video on a topic that you find interesting at a higher speed. At first, when the video is played at twice the speed your brain will not be able to process most of the information. However, after a few runs, your brain will begin to switch from default mode to direct mode. It forces you to focus on the video because of the high probability that if you don’t pay attention you might miss important information.


Over time, this practice is extremely helpful for efficient learning and working as it forces the brain to switch to direct mode and remain in a hyper-focused state in any situation.


Benefits of Using Direct Mode

Breaking away from default mode allows you to re-pattern or rewire your brain and its functions, like your thoughts. Meaning, it reprograms how the brain works. It allows stripping away any negative preconception of a specific moment or recollection that can potentially impact a key decision. Because of the large amount of time our brains spend in the default mode, it tends to impact our ability to fully understand or appreciate the choices and opportunities in front of us. When you come across a choice or opportunity your default mode is likely activated. It then focuses on all the wrong reasons why not to take action on it. It emphasizes the potential outcome of such an event based on prior experiences and judgments.

Ultimately, we miss out on a lot of new and exciting opportunities for growth because of the same reasons why we need DNM. It is important to note that it only affects when the functions in the brains that are triggered in the default mode focus on negative narratives.

Please leave us a comment below with your thoughts.



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