The Default Adult

The Default Adult – An Introduction 

default : failure to be present.

A good friend, who I have known for years, was telling me a story. Mid-story, I looked at him funny and said, “What are talking about? This isn’t you!”

 He just looked at me and said, “Yeah it is. What do you mean?

“I know you and you would never say that !” I exclaimed.

Since I was a good friend, this caused him to pause a minute and think about it.

 ( the trick here is *the pause. )

Then he looked at me and said, “My God, you’re right! That’s not me talking, that’s my Dad! That’s what he thinks. Man, that’s crazy!” Shaking his head wondering what just happened.

What just happened is, my friend went into his Default Adult.

The Default Adult, is where you go and who you become, when you fail to be present in your own life.

I created the term Default Adult, to help my clients identify when, who they truly are, was no longer present. When they had defaulted into their subconscious programming. Which is comprised of the beliefs, emotional patterns and attitudes, parents and society instilled in you during your formative years. You are seeing and experiencing the world, through the prism of the past or an imagined future. Rather than the real and present moment.

A Client may be sharing a story or an experience, when I feel the need to say, “Where did you go?”

I intuitively have felt them leave. What does this feel like? 

It feels like who you really are, your true essence, is not there.

The you who needs to be doing the thinking and the feeling. Who needs to be doing the imagining and the conscious choosing, has gone on automatic pilot. You’re are not thinking or feeling anymore. You’re just reacting, or reciting back to me some script from the past or another person or group’s rhetoric. 

You have abandoned yourself and gone into default thinking and feelings. Learned patterns of behavior you automatically default to out of fear, habit or simply, never questioning them.

Sometimes it feels like you are just numb or in some dark hole. Your energy feels dead, your eyes vacant or far off. You could be looking straight at me, but you are not seeing me, because “you” are not there. This can be felt as disassociation from your feelings or your own body.

The Default Adult  sometimes is called ” the social norm”.  Or what is expected or demanded of you, by others. Rather than expressing your authentic self.

It is just getting by. It is avoiding conflict at all costs. It is always being nice. It is what you did to be approved of or to survive.

Unfortunately, for many of us, that meant dimming down our light. It meant, denying what you really think and what you really feel, so you could fit in. Even denying what you really feel to yourself. It is not being authentic, courageous or committed. 

The opposite of the Default Adult is the Conscious Adult. Even better, the Conscious/Spiritual Adult.That is the you who is conscious, present and in the moment. Who is centered in their spiritual self, and very attuned and comfortable with their own thoughts and feelings. Or simply put, the more real you.

This is who we often lose when we are always busy doing, achieving and interacting.

It is who you gain, when you take time to push in the clutch, disengage from the world and take time to pause.


Pat Novak ~ Creator of *the Pause.

A process guaranteed to get you present and in the moment.

Coming next : The Default Adult – Gets Triggered


30 thoughts on “The Default Adult”

  1. StormySweitzer says:

    Hi Pat – I have seen myself fall in and out of the default adult mode. It’s when I have an experience that is “me” that the conscious adult is reawakened and engaged. Finding ways to proactively trigger that consciousness (not just wait for the moments to occur), is the challenge I am trying to master.

  2. TinaPruittCampbell says:

    Pat….this is a fantastic post. I just returned from visiting my parents and found quite quickly that it is even expected that we go into the Default Adult mode. That situation is very uncomfortable when you have worked hard at, and are living, as a Conscious Adult as much as possible. I also have very dear friends who live in this mode more often than they want to admit or recognize…..

    Thank you for a wonderfully written post……it is quite thought provoking and I plan to pass it along….



  3. YvetteSyversen says:

    Oh, I can so relate to this, Pat. Being a “conscious adult” is a struggle for me. Its hard, so hard for a type A, high-achiever like myself. Being here, being present is something that felt so woo woo, for me..LOL. However, just recently I discovered the significance of striving to always be fully present in everything you do and so I strive for it every day. Its a challenge tho, but eventually, I will master it. I hope. Good thought-provoking post.

  4. tracymatthewsnyc says:

    Thanks for the reminder about being present. I feel myself wandering often and have to reel myself back in. I work hard to stay in the moment and this is a great reminder as I start my day!

  5. TraceyCeurvels says:

    Hi Pat: great post, and thanks for the fresh viewpoint on this. I can often notice in myself and in others when we’re in default mode. Now that I am a parent I am more aware than ever to be a conscious/spiritual adult. My daughter who is 3 is a great reminder because she is of course this way, and I want her to remain so, as much as possible.

  6. SusanaFrioni says:

    Hi Pat! loooove this! My default adult was the over enthuastic + liven up the party. I could turn it on like a switch. This positive, + optimistic energy was valued so much in all the self help books that I read that I thought it was a good thing. Until studying the Enneagram helped me realise this was an ingrained, “default” behaviour of mine. It’s not to say that I need to banish it…but having that awareness helped me distinguish when this type of behaviour was genuine…and when it was being turned on for the sake of it. x

  7. kprophet.darkeros says:

    Thank you for naming this. It is such an insidious state we slip into, and like you describe so effortlessly and most often, unconsciously. What a GIFT to have someone on the outside tapping us on the shoulder… PAUSING… so that we can come back to our NOW self. I love that! an exceptional way to navigate away from conflict. Hitting it straight on inevitably feels adversarial.

    I work with many different ways to bring consciousness to these complexes. I am going to try this one. It feels very positive. Thank you!

  8. pat novak says:

    @Kendra Current Hi Pat, I had trouble posting on your site. created a login, then it wouldn’t give me the option to sign in?? Here’s my comment (to preserve the content): I love that you directed the focus of this scenario back to “the pause.” I have had the experience of unfolding the pause through multiple layers, like dream-surfing the dream within a dream in the movie Inception, to tease apart the moment, track back to the original trigger, and discover what’s really happening in the present. What you’re naming as “the pause” is an invaluable practice and resource that is timelessly relevant.

  9. Hi Pat,

    I love this post. I think this is so great to discuss this. I have been there and done that. When times get crazy and hectic is when I find myself going to the Default Adult and if I am not careful I can get stuck there. I so like the opposite of Conscious Adult/Spiritual Adult. Thanks for sharing and I am going to try to remember to check on this through out the week.

  10. laurie.rosenfeld says:

    Love this Susana! Just posted a similar comment with reference to the Enneagram. 🙂 @SusanaFrioni

  11. laurie.rosenfeld says:

    So true Tina! We DO go into Default Adult mode with our parents and families of origin! I was just reminded of this myself yesterday. @TinaPruittCampbell

  12. ellen.ercolini says:

    Yowza. Important, kind of alarming stuff. Thanks for the helpful ways to navigate this.

  13. pat novak says:

    @kprophet.darkeros Hey Kathleen, it is so easy to do! Fall back into the old patterns of doing and being. Those of us who study this only know too well. This is just the introduction, to help people recognize when it begins to happen. The pause is just the beginning as well. But such an important step. It can be done many ways, I believe with your work, you create a pause with creativity! <3

  14. pat novak says:

    @@SusanaFrioni Hello lovely! I would love to find out what your other energy is. I really appreciated when I was first introduced to the Enneagram. It’s a great system. Like you said, giving you the awareness to distinguish the behavior. Awareness is such an important piece!

  15. pat novak says:

    Hi @TraceyCeurvels ! This is a way I came up with to help my clients understand the difference. When they were in their subconscious programming, instead of the conscious self. I can so relate with you! It was when I became a parent that created the commitment in me to get conscious. A wise spiritual teacher at the time told me, My daughter was destined to repeat my patterns unless I began to study and understand what becoming conscious meant. This was like over twenty years ago. I really didn’t understand what she meant, but I just knew she was right. It’s been a journey ever since. And I can tell you, as a parent, it works! These new children coming in now, need us to step up more than ever. xo

  16. pat novak says:

    @tracymatthewsnyc You bet Tracy ! We all need the reminder to take that pause !

  17. pat novak says:

    @YvetteSyversen Really glad you liked it Yvette. I love the high- achievers ! Where would we be without you? I can hear it in you as you say you want to “master” being present in everything you do . Ya’ll need to master everything, it’s in your drive, We just don’t want you to burn out!

  18. pat novak says:

    @TinaPruittCampbell HI Tina ! So many can relate to your experience. We really do feel it when we visit family. It is very uncomfortable as you say, when who they expect is, the Default Adult. And it’s so easy to fall back into. Almost feels like your back “home”, Then you come back to your own life and your conscious practices, and wow, where did i go? It’s a journey. Naming it , I found, helps people recognize how they go unconscious and what it means. Thank you! xo

  19. pat novak says:

    @Stormy Sweitzer Absolutely ! Anything we can do to proactively trigger that consciousness. Keeping it our awareness and staying present with our feelings. It’s a loving challenge.

  20. pat novak says:

    @laurie.rosenfeld Yes!

  21. laurie.rosenfeld says:

    Pat, so much resonates for me in this post! I love the term “default adult”. What you describe here meshes beautifully with the Enneagram. In Enneagram-speak, our “Type Structure” is the Default Adult operating on autopilot; and the essence of who we are, our “Essential Nature” is the Conscious/Spiritual Adult that you describe. Love these synergies. I also resonate with your “where did you go?” line of questioning. I know the feeling. I worked with a client for 5 months and every now and they she would either ramble nervously or just freeze and go blank. Both were signs that she had checked out of her experience. I compassionately called it out in the moment and we worked on it in the sessions. I began by asking her to share her thoughts and feelings but nothing was registering. So we focused on the breath. And then I walked her through some exercises to get back into her body. What you describe here is so important and our culture does not teach people how to reconnect. Wondering what strategies you use to help your clients become present? Check out my latest posts on the Enneagram if case you’re interested.

  22. Pat Novak says:

    Thank you so much Laurie!

  23. pat novak says:

    @sasha Thank you sasha campbell One of the wonderful women who keeps us conscious about our nutrition! So very important !

  24. TinaPruittCampbell says:

    @pat novak Yea, but the uncomfortableness was that I DIDN’T fall back into that and it caused quite an upset because I was my true self….I remained true to me, but others were not willing to accept that and tried to pull the Default Adult out with mean & guilt-ridden words. It didn’t work. Thus, the uncomfortable atmosphere that was present……very unfortunate, I must add. I felt totally at peace with myself and even expressed that “this is who I am” and was very saddened it wasn’t accepted.

  25. Pat Novak says:

    @TinaPruittCampbell Got it ! That is when the sadness/anger comes in doesn’t it? They are still living in the past , while you are coming from the present. And you watch them play their roles, and you love them, but you can’t join in anymore. It’s actually a good sign, when we don’t fit in anymore and they try to pull us back to where “they” feel comfortable. Not easy, but good. I believe that is what you are sharing. Because it does mean we are growing and becoming more of the Conscious / Spiritual Adult., when we no longer fit in. And it does upset the old “tribe.”
    I would love if you wrote about the old Tina they expected and the you who you are now. if that is something you want to share.Question ( and this is the thing I do ) how do you feel about the “old” Tina they wanted to see?

  26. SukiTaylor says:

    Oh! this is a wake up call for a Type A person like me. Life had been busy and sometimes I really forgot the real me. Good reminder and love that you mentioned about take time to pause.

  27. TraceyCeurvels says:

    @pat novak Yes, the new children definitely need parents to step up more! I agree. Thankfully I started becoming more conscious of it before she was here, and now that’s she here, with her wise soul, I see how important it is. It is a journey and I am constantly learning.

  28. Pat Novak says:

    That is probably why she chose you 🙂

  29. Sue Ann Gleason says:

    Very powerful post and such a beautiful way to remember to be present. I recall a time at the end of a school year (every school year) when I had so many things to wrap up & pack up—I was thrown into default adult. All I really wanted to do, was wrap my arms around all the little people who filled my days with laughter (and purpose) and bid them farewell. But there I was, the default adult, following a prescription instead of my heart. Great reminder to “check in” each day and be sure I’m taking time to pause. Even though my life work has shifted leaving ample time for spaciousness, I still need to be reminded that the pause button is in my hand.

  30. JennaTest says:

    testing.. wil delete

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