On our last family holiday in the US we hired a car.
An automatic as is standard with American cars — we Brits normally drive what they call a ‘stick shift’. The first couple of days we were staying in Seattle and drove slowly, getting used to the car, the city streets and driving on the wrong side of the road.
By the third day we’d planned a road trip a couple of hours out of the city and I started to worry.
Whenever I drive this car, it feels like it’s driving along in first gear.
Which is weird because I thought the whole point of automatics was that they change gear — well — automatically!
As we drove, everyone listened to the sound of the engine.
Yes, my husband agreed, it does sound kinda strained. Are you sure you’re driving it properly?
Human error, right? That’s always the first place we look!
The more I thought about it the more I thought something wasn’t right and that we should take it back to the car rental office before we made the road trip. The last thing I wanted to was drive down the freeway and not be able to shift out of first gear
My son, bless him, decided to review the manual that evening.
look, I think you need to change the setting — you can drive it in manual or you can drive it in automatic!
Well, who knew?
Not me, that’s for sure. Any automatic shift I’ve ever driven has just changed gear without me needing to do anything.
And it strikes me this is a great example of how some of us go through life in the metaphorical equivalent of first gear.
Sure, we can speed up, but only if we rev up really fast. We expend a lot of energy doing it, it feels forced and hard, and it makes a lot of noise, both for us and those around us.
If you don’t know there are gears beyond first, if you don’t know there’s a simple setting change you can make, then you might simply get used to living that way.
And a lot of us live like that — at high rev. If you don’t know what you don’t know then how could you possibly see that ‘automatic’ is even available?
Maybe you’re used to being told that your personal or professional growth is on the other side of ‘hard’, or maybe you’re so used to fighting invisible demons that you think comfortable equals complacent.
Let me assure you it doesn’t!
When we’re in that state where things feel ‘hard’ or it feels as if ‘more’ — more time, more energy, more effort — is the only way to increase our output and get stuff done, then we’re stuck in first gear.
We might call it ‘overwhelm’, we might call it ‘lack of focus’, we might call it ‘over-thinking’, whatever we call it the experience is one where it feels as if our mind is on overdrive.
From this place, we tend only to see a small number of options: it’s rev faster, or it’s throw in the towel and abdicate responsibility. We can’t think clearly because we have too much mental fog in the way.
We don’t see the obvious choice, which is to shift gears; to slow down (the rev counter) to speed up.
Just as a car goes more smoothly the more gears you have available, so you can go through life with a smoother ride, a faster speed, using less energy and making less noise.
You might just find you get to your destination relaxed and refreshed and, rather than being relieved to get out of that noisy, exhausting car, you’re up and ready for even more adventures.
Road trips or otherwise, life’s a smoother ride when you know how the machinery works.
Helping you understand the human operating system
About the author
Cathy Presland is an expert in transformative leadership. She has more than two decades of experience in government and international organisations and her focus as a coach is to support impact-driven individuals and organisations to improve their performance, leadership and peace of mind so they can make more of a difference with the work they do. Find out more at https://cathypresland.com