Who Is Driving Your Car? Mindfulness And The Prevalence Of Autopilot

Who Is Driving Your Car? Mindfulness And The Prevalence Of Autopilot

You are driving your car, you reach a point on your journey and momentarily can’t recall one iota of how you got to where you are. Ever had that experience?

Recent research carried out at Harvard University by Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T Gilbert suggests that we spend 47% of our days thinking about something else other than what we are actually doing.

Not so surprising when behavioural science suggests that 95% of our decisions and actions are based on unconscious processing. We are pretty well on autopilot relying on our unconscious mind most of the time. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes absolute sense as the part of the brain that produces logic and rational thought is very energy hungry, and uses it a bit like some smart phones use up battery. So to make best use of our effort, our brains evolved to do as much automatic processing as possible, thereby conserving energy for both hunting prey and running away if we become prey.

Nevertheless, in our comparatively safe modern existence, it does beg the question of whether or not this automatic mode of operation has outlived its usefulness. Here we all are, running on auto for 47% of the time, a bit like a driverless car. We have these amazing pieces of equipment called our brains at our disposal, yet harness only a small fraction of what it is truly capable of.

Another metaphor would be seeing ourselves as a wild horse, with the potential to become a race day winner, but instead we just frolic around the fields and eat grass all day because that is what our autopilot tells us to do.

Imagine what might be possible if we focussed on what we are actually doing even 70% of the time? Imagine if we could train our brains to use them more effectively and efficiently? How much more productive might our days be? What might we as individuals and yes even the human race be capable of?

It seems like mindfulness might be the answer. Defined by Jon Kabat-Zin, it’s founder as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose in the present moment, non judgmentally”. In simple terms mindfulness is about paying attention, being tuned into the present moment to create greater awareness and insight.

There is a growing body of research to show that mindfulness has a positive impact on employees and on the bottom line. Results suggest that mindfulness increases clarity, focus, improves creativity, innovation, decision making and leadership. Oh and it also significantly reduces stress.  The good news is that mindfulness is easily learned, MRI scans show positive changes in the brain after attending an eight week mindfulness course for one hour a week supported by a short daily mindful practice.

No coincidence that companies like Google, Target and General Mills and other corporate organisations are sitting up and starting to invest heavily in mindfulness.

Getting more curious? Why not invest a little of that 47% of the time spent in distraction and give it a try?





If you want to succeed, learn to fail well…

If you want to succeed, learn to fail well…

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work”
Thomas Edison

Over the years working as an executive coach, I have coached many clients who come to me for help because they are ambitious to succeed. Sometimes, they want it so desperately that they consistently sabotage themselves, creating performance anxiety which has the exactly the opposite effect of what they want leading to what they see as “failure” or just not getting what they want.

You know the kind of thing. You are doing a presentation to the Board. You really want to really want to impress but feel so nervous that you can’t breathe or think straight. You stand up to speak only to find your mouth dry and the words wrapped in a knot around your tongue until they all suddenly spill out uncontrollably.

Neuroscience teaches us much about this fear. It comes from the reptilian brain that we developed as cave men to ensure we could get away from woolly mammoths, it’s related to our strongest emotions and needs. Our brain reacts in the same way to real or imagined threats, blood drains away from the pre-frontal cortex preparing the limbs for fight, freeze or flight. The net result is that we can’t think straight, we panic, freeze up and make a hash of it.

Top Tips – if this resonates for you, here are some tips which my clients have found useful:

  1. Imagine and visualise success – and ask yourself the question “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Changing your thinking to what you are aiming for rather than what you want to avoid can be very powerful.
  2. Face the worst case scenario – Susan Jeffers in her book “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” states that what we really fear is how we will handle what happens, not the event itself. Imagining how we could cope if things went wrong often makes us realise it wouldn’t be that bad.
  3. Have a plan B – know what you will do if things don’t go to plan. For many clients this has been a new and defining way of thinking.
  4. Take action. JDI – dive in and do the very things that you are afraid to do! The best way to reduce fear is to take action. As soon as you do, you will start to build positive experiences and confidence.
  5. Don’t take it personally – Roger Allen said “Failure is an event, not a person”– instead of thinking about failure as a reflection of you as person, recognise it as an outcome.
  6. Learn from your experience. “there is no such thing as failure only feedback” – when things don’t go to plan, ask yourself:
    What actually happened?
    What were the circumstances?
    What could I have done differently?
    What can I do better next time?
  7. If what you are doing isn’t working, do something different. Einstein defined madness as trying to do the same thing repeatedly without succeeding. Keep yourself sane, try different approaches and different ways to achieve your outcome. Think of it as experimenting.
  8. Consider the opportunities that come from the experience – Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich says “every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit”
  9. Understand the benefits of failure – really successful people understand that failing is an integral part of succeeding. Failures are not end points but stepping stones, history is littered with people who have succeeded only after repeated failures.
  10. Don’t give up. People who succeed keep on trying even in the face of failure. Not trying means you will never know if you could have succeeded. Your full potential may never be realised.

Remember, you can only really know that you have gone too far when you get there. And if you don’t try, won’t you always be aiming for less than you can actually achieve?

The best way to succeed is to “fail well” by using strategies that help you not to take it personally, to think of it things not going to plan and something you can continually learn and grow from and a necessary part of achieving success.

A Blue Print for Being An Amazing Coaching Client

A Blue Print for Being An Amazing Coaching Client

A Blue Print for Being An Amazing Coaching Client – Want to know how to get the best from coaching? Read my short case study…

Jane was highly stressed, losing sleep and hair.  When I met her first, she was pale, had tired grey rings around her eyes and looked visibly hunched. Whilst her managers were very happy with her work, I heard that she felt she was really struggling with her workload, taking a lot of responsibility onto her shoulders, finding it difficult to be visible, to speak up and have courage in her own worth and opinions. At our intake session, she opened up in a way that she told me she had never experienced before.  Her initial focus for coaching was very clear – work/life balance, if it was one thing that she wanted to achieve in her programme, that was it – other areas for growth were secondary.

Right from the word go, Jane had an extremely positive attitude to her coaching. She took every single resource offered, books, articles, websites, videos and ran with them.  She even found her own resources – podcasts, apps and websites that spoke to her agenda. Time and energy were invested in coaching assignments, she reflected on resources and gleaned her own insights which she brought to each session. We remained connected by email between sessions and so her growth was continually on her agenda.

Work life balance was sorted very early on – Jane set better boundaries, was leaving work on time, doing regular exercise, eating better and had better sleep hygiene. These seemed simple things and yet they created the foundation of resilience needed to also grow in other areas, in visibility and courage.  She found ongoing ways to monitor and maintain her sense of well-being.

As the programme progressed, Jane had reached a view that she had many possibilities open to her, she didn’t need to be stuck at all. It became clear the type of future work that aligned most with her values, interests and strengths as well as her financial needs. She got to know all of who she was as a person and revived parts of herself that seem to have been lost – parts of her that were more positive, open and outgoing.

At the end of the programme she was positively radiating energy, standing tall with a noticeable and striking presence. Her hair loss had stopped, she was sleeping better and she has a plan to sustain the changes. Her whole way of experiencing the world and relating to others has changed. Colleagues, managers and direct reports have calibrated these changes by offering unsolicited feedback.  She was given a spot bonus too for her performance at work.

Now at this stage, I’d love to bathe in the reflected glory of her progress. But the truth is a good coach is a vessel for personal and professional growth.  From this experience, I’d like to offer a list of real reasons that this client achieved such amazing results, so that future clients can get a sense of how to get achieve maximum value through working with a coach.  Here’s a blue print of best practice for the coaching client:

  • Be ready for and open to coaching
  • Take clear ownership of the coaching programme
  • Mutually agree a clear focus for coaching and expectations
  • Meet often – bi weekly sessions are a good option to keep momentum up and accelerate progress
  • Be brave – transformational coaching requires courage – it isn’t always comfortable
  • Invest time and energy in the process habitually– a lot of work happens between as well as during sessions including:
    • Preparing for sessions and reflecting on them to harvest insights
    • Working on assignments, using, absorbing and reflecting on resources
    • Capture thoughts and insights in writing
    • Experimenting with and reflecting on new approaches, adapting to ensure congruency
    • Keeping in touch with your coach, updating them with your insights and experiences
  • Creating an onward plan at the end of the programme which keeps you focused and accountable to sustain changes.

Coaching is an input:output equation, you get back what you put in. So if you are thinking about coaching, or just starting a programme and want to get the best from it. Ask yourself one question – what can I do to get the most from it?

Procrastination – so, what is it that you are really putting off?

Procrastination – so, what is it that you are really putting off?

“Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.”
Napoleon Hill, American Author


The truth is that we all do it, yes, even me. If you are like me there will always be those items that don’t move on the bottom of the to do list others fly off the top like hot cakes.

Here are some typical symptoms of procrastination. Do any of these feel familiar to you?

  • Waiting for the “right time” or “right place” to start your task (this one is close to my heart!)
  • “Analysis paralysis” thinking about doing or researching rather than actually doing
  • Waiting for an adrenalin rush to materialise
  • Deliberating about where to start
  • Getting persistently distracted
Why do we procrastinate?

It is rarely the task itself that we are actually putting off – more the underlying thoughts and emotions that we associate the task with.

So what is it that really holds us back?

Fear – the truth is that most of our procrastination comes from fear– of failure, of uncertainty and the unknown, of not being perfect or good enough. Sometimes we eve fear success as it may mean less free time and autonomy.

Lack of self-belief – the minute you tell yourself a story that you can’t do something, is the same minute it becomes true. Negative thinking quickly becomes self-reinforcing.

Lack of motivation – a few years ago I replaced the word “lazy” with the words “not motivated” – when you catch yourself saying things like “I should” or “I have to”, you know you might be working to someone else’s agenda.

Moving into Action

Simply powering through resistance might work temporarily, but is unlikely to sustain effort for the longer haul. You have to get to the root of what it is you are really putting off and why. So before you fire up the engines, here are some things to consider first:

  • Work out why you are procrastinating – look at the list of possible causes above and ask yourself – Which of these applies to me? What is it that I am really avoiding or putting off?
  • Address your limiting beliefs – ask yourself – so what is it that I really believe about myself in relation to this task? How does this belief serve me?
  • Set a motivating goal – ask yourself – On a scale of 1 – 10 just how important is this task to me? (if not important, why do it??) What would make it a 10?
  • Identify possibilities – What would happen if you did/ or didn’t do it? What is the best and worst thing that could happen? What would you do if this happened?
Some Practical Tips
  • Create the best environment – a tidy, distraction free space; take regular breaks to keep yourself fresh.
  • Recognise achievements – try keeping a ‘done’ list as well as a to do list
  • Publish your plans to others and maybe ask someone you trust to keep you accountable
Create A Realistic Plan:
  • Visualise success – imagine that you had already completed the task, what did you do to achieve your outcome?
  • Map out the tasks – write down exactly what you have to do and estimate how long it will take
  • Create small bite-size steps – this helps to avoid feelings of overwhelm, allows you to work for shorter periods of time, on one thing at a time and feel that you are making progress.
  • Make an “unschedule” – map out all the other things that take your time that are not related to the task, how much time do you really have available? Build this into your plan.
  • Create achievable deadlines – you’ll get a buzz from getting which to aids motivation.


Perhaps the best advice is simply – stop thinking and get started. Without that simple kick start, you wouldn’t be reading this article right now!

Keeping Resilient In The Job Hunt Jungle

Keeping Resilient In The Job Hunt Jungle

There are many ways we find ourselves in the jungle of job hunting…. redundancy, having newly graduated or left school, returning to work after a break or just looking for a new challenge.

I call it a jungle because on one level it is a really rich place full of opportunity like a verdant fertile jungle filled with many brightly coloured plants and fruits each beckoning us. On the other hand, we can feel overwhelmed by the range of possibilities, like being lost in the undergrowth, not seeing a clear path and calling ourselves into question with each job advert we look at. It is a place of transition where we sit between a feeling of belonging, known comfort and security and feeling afraid in the face of the unknown and uncertainty.

The emotions we feel in this jungle are well documented. Elizabeth Kubler Ross/John Fisher describe the roller coaster of emotions of transition well. And of course, we don’t go through the transition curve step by step, but move backwards and forwards on the curve depending on our own unique experience.

So how do we keep ourselves whole and resilient in this job hunting jungle?

As a coach, I have worked with many clients who are seeking new roles and career paths. Based on this I would like to share our top tips to keeping resilient:

  1. Keep an abundance mind set – look on the job search as an opportunity to get what you really wantin your career and life. It’s as much about you finding what you want as organisations finding what they want.
  2. Set goals in other areas of your life so you get a wider perspective, sense of achievement and progression. Take up a new activity e.g. learn a musical instrument, a new language, start art, singing or dance classes.
  3. Keep active – care for your body and mind; exercise, eat and sleep well; socialise. Whilst you may feel you have to stay glued to your desk 24/7, the truth is, you will be much more productive if you take time out to do things that bring you energy and happiness.
  4. Focus on what you can do – it’s easy to feel overawed by job adverts and find all the things that disqualify youNote what qualifies you in rather than out by listing your skills, experience and achievements to date. What do these tell you about what you have to offer?
  5. Be with your emotion – name your emotion and accept it compassionately. Empathise with that part of you that maybe feels hurt, frustrated, angry or lacking in self-belief. Tell yourself the emotion is temporary, it will pass.
  6. Be mindful of negative self-talk – journal any negative thoughts and read them back making new notes as you do. Be aware these are just thoughts, they don’t define you, they are not who you are.
  7. Don’t take it personally! Keep perspective, remember finding a job is a processand very imperfect one at that – if you don’t get through the first stage, you might just have had a key word missing from your CV.  If you get a rejection, it is from one person (or computer programme), that failed to see a match, not the company – so don’t let it get you down!
  8. Treat the whole process as a way to learn – seek feedback constantly from any applications you make, ask recruiters, note down what you have done well and what you could do better at. Work out what you have to do to succeed at every stage of the process. Then practice!
  9. Visualise success – periodically imagine yourself in your new role basking in success – you are far more likely to find the resources to achieve it if you can see the future that lies ahead.
  10. Take your time – don’t rush in to the first thing that comes along just because they want you – make sure it is going to give you the life and work you really want.

For more resources on resilience in general see https://www.mindful.org/how-to-cultivate-the-resources-for-resilience/ and https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201805/the-one-resilience-skill-you-need-overcome-life-stress.

Gayl Long is an Executive and Career Coach with 25 years+ of Coaching, Facilitation and HR experience.