Accidents happen when we least expect them. Generally attributed to human error, gaining a better understanding of this condition will aid in its prevention.

"Delayed intelligence" is a natural thought following an accident or unpleasant event. Delayed intelligence can be explained by your thought energy level. Before the incident occurred, you likely were operating in automatic.

Your attention to details was low-to-numb, and your behavior was habitual. Immediately following the incident, thought energy was elevated, and you were attentive to surroundings and events that were occurring.

Human error, usually resulting from not being focused on what you are doing, is the cause of most accidents that occur. It is a momentary lapse of thought that results in an accident. When thoughts start to drift, especially while engaged in a potentially dangerous activity, an accident is waiting to happen.

Preventing human error is the key. It involves a willingness to stay attentive to situations. There are three distinct levels of thought that play major roles in managing behavior and preventing human error.

The lowest level of thought is automatic. This level consists of thoughts about from the past, learned behaviors or experiences.

Automatic thinking usually occurs with common experiences, those that you do often and without much variance. Driving your automobile is an example. Can you remember driving along and missing a turn, or passing a common landmark and not remembering that you passed it? This is an example of being in automatic.

Accidents are more likely to happen in this position because of your lack of readiness to respond. Habitual behavior is created when actions are repeated over and over, forming habits. These habits generated automatic thoughts that continue to direct our behaviors. Although we are aware, there is little conscious thought taking place.

For example, when you are driving a vehicle, do you have thoughts of situations and events that are not in your immediate environment? My guess is that you do. In most instances, this is OK, and even beneficial. It is a way for your mind to rest and rejuvenate itself.

Automatic thought becomes a challenge when conscious thought is needed to be attentive to a situation or event. Conscious thought requires more energy and a higher level of awareness.

The second awareness level is focused. When focused, you are actively thinking and paying attention to the task at hand. For example, as you are driving, a stop light changes to red. Hopefully the change will alert you, and you will apply a braking action that brings your vehicle to a stop. Notice that when the light changed, your attention level moved from automatic to focused thinking.

Attentiveness and conscious thinking are key to the focused state. Your thoughts triggered an automatic response, putting on the brakes, and a potential human error was prevented from occurring.

You may be focused, but because of a personal problem, your thoughts may be distracted. You are vacillating between focused and automatic.

For example, you are driving at night. It is raining and your windshield wipers are leaving streaks, such that lights of approaching cars hit your windshield, splitting into three or four beams. You are focused and know the hazards and potential dangers that potentially lie ahead. You are late for an appointment, and thinking how angry others will be if you are late. You are distracted, and this raises your risk of committing a human error. Committing yourself to the task at hand is most important.

Options is the highest awareness level associated with this process. At the options level of awareness, you are actively thinking, offering yourself a selection of choices from which to choose. In the case of the red light, you likely put on the brakes, slow your speed to a stop, check your mirrors to see where other traffic might be and prepare yourself for your next action.

Creative thinking adds to alternatives, making you a more perceptive and alert driver. All in all, being aware of your level of awareness aids your ability to manage your self more productively.

When challenged with distractions at the focused level, calling on options is your saving grace. This is a "creative" level of thought and produces potential solutions for consideration. Problem-solving is best when you are focused and able to bring to light creative thoughts regarding new information. Focused and option levels of thought are least likely to experience accidents caused by human error.

Knowing the levels of thought, and being able to assess where you are with your thoughts, can be useful in avoiding accidents and keeping productivity high. Practice with yourself.

Ask right now which level of thought energy you are exhibiting. You probably are "focused." If, however, you are reading, but are not processing, you are back in "automatic."