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Research reveals 96% of the UK is living life on autopilot as M&S launches ‘Make it Matter Day’ on 1 June 2017


May 27, 2017

The UK is an ‘autopilot’ nation in danger of sleep-walking through the choices we make, according to a new cultural report released today. The average person in Britain makes 15 decisions on autopilot a day – that’s more than 250,000 autopilot decisions in a lifetime – without truly thinking about them.

The ‘Autopilot Britain’ study was conducted on behalf of Marks & Spencer with a panel of leading experts as part of its new #SpenditWell campaign, and explores the decision-making behaviour of over 3,000 adults.  Ninety-six per cent admit to living life on autopilot, resulting in an epidemic of non-engagement with the world and sub-conscious decision making. These autopilot decisions range from what to wear in the morning to what to have for lunch or dinner – and even extend to what to do at the weekend.  As a result, M&S is urging the UK to break out of autopilot and make every decision count on 1 June 2017, as the nation comes together for Make it Matter Day to focus on finding the time for the everyday things that really matter in life.

The research findings show that our autopilot reflex is triggering negative habits, with the majority of people allowing routine to dictate their decisions, defaulting to ‘yes’ mode when – if they gave themselves more time to make the right choices – their natural instinct would be to say ‘no’.  According to the research, we say ‘yes’ four times a day when we wish we hadn’t, resulting in 70,000 moments of being untrue to ourselves and drowning out our inner voice over the course of a lifetime.  Almost half of adults (47 per cent) admit this is because they don’t want to let people down and over a third (37 per cent) believe it’s simply easier to say ‘yes’ than ‘no’ to others.

Despite the scale of the problem, the majority (81 per cent) said if they could simply change one small thing every day, it would give them greater clarity of thought and help release them from the autopilot epidemic.

When it comes to the top three situations where Brits are most likely to say ‘yes’ when they really wish they’d said ‘no’, more than a quarter (26 per cent) highlighted agreeing to work late, closely followed by saying ‘yes’ to a social event they know they won’t attend, and visiting people they don’t get on with.

Commenting on the research, Steve Rowe, CEO, M&S said: “Our in-depth customer study has shown that living life on autopilot is a direct consequence of us being so hectic and means that we don’t always get the most out of life. However, for most people one small change a day can make a huge difference. That’s why we are calling on the nation to stop saying yes to things that don’t matter and start making more conscious decisions.  Starting on Make it Matter Day on 1 June, we want our customers to share with us just how they are making decisions that count.”

Make it Matter Day will see M&S call on the nation to turn their four daily autopilot decisions into more enriching, empowered choices, to say ‘no’ instead of defaulting to ‘yes’,  and to share these everyday triumphs to help inspire others.

The study also found that being too busy to notice what decisions we make, the dominance of technology and spending too much time comparing ourselves unfavourably to others, means Britons are trapped in autopilot mode with 61 per cent sticking to the same, familiar patterns.

“Autopilot is a growing problem,” said Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness and contributor to the study.  “It has gone from being an evolutionary protection mechanism that stopped our brains overloading, to our default mode of operating whereby we sleep-walk into our choices.  It has seeped into more and more areas of our lives and relationships making us feel out of control.

“We are always on.  If you pause, you risk letting yourself or others down. When you stand still, it’s perceived that you’re going backwards. As we look around us, it seems like other people are living successful, perfect lives.  Autopilot makes it harder for us to make instinctively good choices so we feel trapped, and that we’re living some-one else’s life.”

The autopilot epidemic means:

  • Over a third (39 per cent) say their autopilot is switched on while relaxing at home – exactly when they should be engaging with the people who matter most, while a quarter of people admit to being on autopilot while at work
  • Seventy-six per cent of people feel they are not spending their time well, with one in five admitting to not properly listening to others when in autopilot mode
  • Over two fifths of adults (44 per cent) have forgotten something whilst on autopilot including birthdays, paying an important bill, locking the front door and even picking the children up from school

“We’re forgetting that when we are at home, one of the most important things is to interact with our family members without being constantly distracted,” says Professor Renata Salecl, author of ‘Tyranny of Choice’, and another expert involved in the Autopilot Britain study.

What kind of ‘autopilot’ are you?

According to the study, acting on autopilot doesn’t affect everyone in the same way and people need to be aware of their own personal autopilots and how they impact on daily life. “The first step is really recognising what is going on and encouraging people to notice what their autopilot behaviours are because then you’ve started the journey to changing that,” says Dr Mark Williamson.

“It is within our grasp to liberate ourselves from life on autopilot if we notice what’s going on and purposefully create more positive habits. By understanding the problem, we can identify better everyday solutions,” said Dr Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness.

The study has identified a set of useful archetypes in order to help people recognise their own versions of autopilot:


Problem: They find it so hard to say anything other than yes that obligations pile up and the internal voice pleading them to say “no” gets drowned out.  By trying to please everyone they end up resentful of their to-do list and not focussing on what matters.

Solution: Start with a calendar cull.  Review your diary every Sunday evening and identify and cancel any engagements which aren’t necessary or you said yes to under pressure. And in the everyday, buy yourself time to say no by needing to ‘check and see.’


Problem: On a mission to always find “what’s next”, the Pacers are so caught up in the pace of modern life that they pack as much as possible into their days – relentlessly busy “doing” rather than “being”.

Solution: Live in the now, start to list the things that matter, think around pockets of time and how to use them, and pause to look around and see how small changes can improve your pace of life around what matters. The average phone is unlocked 80 times a day for example – finding tech downtime for conversation, listening and appreciating others might be a valuable starting point.


Problem: Overwhelmed with choice and information, like a rabbit caught in the headlights they sometimes struggle through life allowing the world around them to dictate their choices, and following the crowd too often.

Solution:  Pay less attention to the perception of others ideal lives, stop worrying about keeping up with what others might showcase as the norm, and start to make decisions on what spending it well looks like just for you. Maybe change your commute pattern, download a podcast that reinvigorates your walk, or break the mould and choose to use your best ‘things’ every day, rather than keep them for a special occasion.

The Autopilot Britain research has been commissioned as part of #SpenditWell, a new campaign from M&S to inspire the nation to make the most out of every moment.

By Emily