Change ManagementDecision MakingLeadershipMotivation to Tackle ChangeNew Year PlanningProblem SolvingSelf DiscoveryTransition

Gain Control by Shifting Out of Automatic

In a car, an automatic transmission works just fine, but car enthusiasts will tell you that a manual transmission is the only way to go, even though it requires more effort and concentration. Why?

A manual transmission gives the driver more control of the car, allowing the driver to navigate actively rather than passively, and to be more involved in the process.

The driver needs to make decisions based on driving conditions, think more clearly and be more aware of what he is doing.  This not only increases the driver’s enjoyment of the experience, but helps him or her deal more effectively with trouble spots on the road, such as bad weather conditions or bad driving by other drivers.

Just as when driving a car on automatic, in business, and in life, sometimes we operate on automatic for too long – and when we do, it is often difficult to get out of “bad driving conditions”. If you are ready to take back control, it may be time to take yourself out of automatic and take a closer look at the current conditions.


“Be careful how you interpret the world: It is like that.”- Erich Heller

Our deeply formed assumptions and beliefs can create blind spots that prevent us from looking at situations from new angles. These beliefs become what is “true” for us, creating a framework we call our “reality.”  Sometimes we get stuck in our own frameworks, “our automatic”, so to speak. To shift requires someone or something from outside, to challenge our assumptions and test our realities.

Examples of some of the assumptions I hear on a regular basis include:

“If I don’t do it myself, it won’t be done right. Nobody could possibly care as much as I do.”

“If we take time off to plan, the business will fall apart.”

“We must work 10-hour days — there is no other way we can keep up with our customer demands,  everyone in our industry does it.”

Despite the fact that often people desperately want to improve their situation, their “truths” might be preventing them from moving forward. To change behavior often requires re-exploring beliefs.


“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
– Marcel Proust

A good way to start exploring our beliefs is by looking at our situations from some new perspectives. By consciously shifting into manual, you force yourself to take a closer look at the current situation.

There are a number of fundamental coaching questions that can help you take a step back from the day to day and begin to explore from some new perspectives. Share your thoughts on these questions with a partner, friend or a coach who doesn’t have a vested interest and is good at helping people sort out their thinking. In that process, it is likely that they will see assumptions that you are making that you are not even aware of.  Once you identify your assumptions new perspectives and possibilities may come readily to the surface.


In any organization, and individually in your own professional life, to gain momentum it’s important to shift out of automatic. By shifting perspective with some strategic questions it becomes possible to innovate, problem-solve and challenge the status quo!

As Benjamin Franklin once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”

Written by Helene Mazur

Helene is the founder of Princeton Performance Dynamics, an executive coaching and strategic planning facilitation company for business and non-profit leaders and their teams. Helene’s passion is helping her clients to focus their goals, see new perspectives on their current situation, put in place realistic, motivating plans, and execute to achieve new levels of success.

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