How do our brains go on “autopilot” when going somewhere familiar, to the point where you don’t even remember most of the trip?

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Sometimes I’ve gone “on autopilot” and ended up in the completely wrong place. Like going all the way home and parking before realizing I was supposed to stop at the store. How is it possible to do all the complicated things needed to drive, but be mentally in a completely different place at the same time?

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Unconscious processing. Your drive home has become familiar or routine enough that you’ve built up a muscle memory. Your brain saves a lot of time by only needing conscious thought process for new, difficult, or intricate processes, and easier or more habitual processes can be done without the conscious brain. So you get in our car, start heading home, and your brain goes oh i recognize this, we’re good- it shuts off your conscious thinking because it thinks you don’t need it, and you can save that time and energy for something else.

In the same way that you don’t really think about the keys as you type, or a musician doesn’t think about their fingers while playing, or an athlete doesn’t think about how to move every body part while they compete. The nervous system is lazy- it will repeat whatever you did before as much as it can. When you do something the same way enough times, it becomes automatic (and hard to change!)