Shifting Gears (Issue 1078)

In which we are reminded to visualize or rehearse what we plan to do when we shift from one environment or one client meeting to another.

Last October, I went to Ireland for 10 days. Rented a car with a manual six-speed transmission. No problem with shifting gears: I learned to drive in a German car with an unforgiving clutch and a four-on-the-floor manual transmission shifter. By comparison, this car was easy – smooth and gentle.

However, since the Irish drive on the left side of the road, I sat on the right side of the car rather than the left as I would in Boston. While the pedals were in the same place (accelerator with right foot) and the gear box pattern was the same (first gear was up and to the left), I had to operate the gear shift with my left hand rather than my right.

That was a bit of an adjustment and, mostly, it went well. The car’s dashboard would signal when I should shift to the next highest gear and, within a few hours, I’d learned to shift based on the sound of the engine; I didn’t need the visual prompt. Over the next ten days, I moved the gear shifter several hundred times from one place to another, up through the gears and down. On some of the curvy, blind-cornered, narrow country roads (thankfully, Irish road signs are a lot more informative and frequent than US road signs), I shifted up and down several times a minute. With a few notable exceptions, I had it all going on.

So, the trip ended. I flew back to Boston. I took a cab from the airport to the house. I unpacked and prepared for work the next day.

The following morning, I hopped into my own car and drove very slowly down our one-way street, letting the engine warm up a bit, to the traffic light and intersection at which I would turn left onto Massachusetts Avenue, a two-lanes-in-each direction major street.

When the light changed, I turned onto Mass Avenue and accelerated. As the engine speed rose to 1800 RPM, I moved my left foot to depress the clutch and my left hand to change gears. And why not? The sound of the engine at that speed was exactly what had prompted me to shift gears the day before in Ireland. Except… I was driving on an America street in an American car with an automatic transmission. No clutch. No manual shift. Shifter on the right side, not the left.

“Well, that’s daft,” I thought to myself as I stopped at the next traffic light.

When the light turned green, off I went and… the same thing happened. Left foot and left hand automatically reached for controls that weren’t there.

By the third light, I’d more-or-less mastered the return to the automatic transmission… until I drove home that night: There was one more repetition.

Surprise for me: I thought I’d be fine when I returned to a vehicle that I’ve driven for thousands of hours. Instead, cues and responses learned only a week earlier and repeated for only few days kicked in automatically… and inappropriately.

I’d never considered “going through the motions” to reset myself in my car before I started it.

Nick Miller and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses. Many more Sales Thoughts like this and a host of other articles and resources at .

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