Default (di-‘folt): “to make a selection automatically in the absence of a choice made by the user.”

In the realm of computers, default mode is where we land when no specific choice is made.  But I have been reflecting lately on how we humans have our own version of Default Mode.  You know, all the moments where you go through the motions, say no to things outside your comfort zone, or talk yourself out of trying something new.   They add up to something not quite as severe as burnout but not quite as wonderful as living a full life.

Having patterns in our days can help us stay focused, and grounded, and also help us measure progress as we practice a routine in repetition in order to improve.  

But what about when those patterns lead to a lack of conscious choice and leave us with default choices that may not be the most fun, inspiring, or purposeful?  Instead, they perpetuate a status quo that doesn’t move us forward.

Managing the many demands of day-to-day work and life, and all the stress that comes with that can nudge us slowly and subtly into Default Mode.  And the problem with that is that, because it is the Default, we don’t even notice.  

How to Tell You Are In Default Mode

The signals are subtle, but here are a few that may be telling you that you are in Default Mode: 

  1. You say no to things that might be fun because you feel too tired to say yes.
  2. You have a number of routines whose value you haven’t assessed in a long time.
  3. Life feels automatic, rushed, or droning.  

The Benefits of Exiting Default Mode

Staying in Default Mode has the immediate benefit of staying comfortable, but choosing more consciously leads to a much richer set of rewards.  I tried an experiment recently and became aware of how much I was leaning into Default Mode.  I started to realize that some of the things I was saying “no” to by default were really not deserving to be put on a shelf.  

Getting out of Default Mode and allowing yourself to try something outside the norm for yourself is like opening a window and letting in a flood of fresh air.  Fun, inspiration and the sense of possibility replace the drone of “I can’t.  I’m too busy.  I don’t do that.”

Ready to give the experiment a try?  It’s simple, easy, and quick.  You are going to make four lists of 10:

  1. Ten things you used to love to do that you haven’t done in a long time.
  2. Ten things you would love to do if you could.
  3. Ten wishes
  4. Ten treats you might allow yourself on a special occasion

In completing this exercise, don’t overthink them, and write down the first things that come to mind.  You may find yourself debating if something belongs on the list, because, for example, you realize you actually could do it.  Write it down anyway.  Coming to the realization that you could do some of these things is partly the point. You deprive yourself of the opportunity to fully realize the truth of the possibility if you don’t write it down.  Write it down and allow yourself to acknowledge that some of those things aren’t as out of the question as you dismissed them for being.

Expect Some Changes

Chances are you will start to see that some of the things on the “I wish” or “If I could…” lists really aren’t prohibitive at all.  Things that you actually could do, if you felt like it, if you planned your day a little differently, or if you had a simple conversation with your partner about a desire to spend a little of your time a little differently.

Stepping out of Default Mode from time to time brings a spark of inspiration and a sense of possibility to life.  Indeed, once we step out of Default Mode, the possibilities are truly endless.

Wendy Hultmark, CPC, ACC, is a coach who helps women in leadership own their stories and write the next chapter.  Learn more at