Unplugging the autopilot

Emmy and AACTA award-winning producer Ellenor Cox shares invaluable tips and insights on how to cultivate and master more presence and influence in our screen careers.

The alarm rings, and you’re off and running. Stepping into the shower, your mind is already filled with mental plans for the day, to-do lists, worries and tasks. Adrenalin is coursing through your veins, your heart is beating faster and your breathing is a little tighter.

Rather than starting your day, your day has started you.

This high-alert mind and body reactivity is fed all day with an ever-growing to-do list and the clamour of a constant soundtrack of critical and judgemental thoughts. Your focus is pulled to the squeakiest wheel that needs oiling, and there’s an omnipresent and exhausting sense of chasing your tail.

Sound familiar? Many of you may be smiling wryly and thinking, ‘Yes, that’s just another normal day in the screen industry…’.

But what if there were some simple habits that would enable us to exit the autopilot lane and consciously choose how we want to start and navigate our day?

Mention the word ‘mindfulness’ to most and images of incense, white robes and fluffy new-age woo-woo quickly spring to mind. It’s an overused term nowadays so let’s begin by looking at what it’s not! It’s not a religion. It’s not about achieving relaxation and it’s not a way to eliminate stress. Think of it more as a way to expand your repertoire of meeting moments in your life in a more present, focused and self-aware manner.

When you’ve mastered mindfulness, you’re able to navigate stressful situations in a more peaceful and healthy way. Your team members want to show up and do their best because they feel seen and listened to, cared for and appreciated. Importantly you become the most powerful person in the room – not because you have the loudest voice, but because you’re the one paying the closest attention and ‘reading the room’ the best. You’ve learnt to quieten your inner commentary and reactions and can focus on the bigger picture.

Mindful leadership is becoming a favourite buzzword in the highest performing companies and teams in the world because it’s being recognised as a far more resilient and healthy way to deal with the challenges in our information-laden lives.

There are four fundamentals of excellence to cultivate for this mindful self-mastery to make massive differences to your mental and physical health, productivity and outcomes.


You might have noticed in more recent times that the ability to multi-task is no longer featured as much in job advertisements – there’s a good reason for this. Multi-tasking is something that computers can do because they have multiple processors.

Human brains aren’t built the same way. When our brain flits from this to that, the problem is that when you return to the original thought or task (especially if it’s a complex one), you can’t pick it up where you left off. So you have to take a couple of steps back and ramp back into it. Over the course of a day, that’s a considerable amount of productive time lost.

Cultivating mindful focus means that when we notice our mind starting to wander, we can see this quickly and bring it back. It’s the actual act of redirecting our thoughts back to the original thought or focus that is the act of mindfulness.

While this takes effort and practice, like any muscle, with training and habitual awareness, we quickly start to see the results of being focused and present. People feel listened to and heard, and we’re able to catch nuances and see solutions because of our laser focus. Try switching your phone off next time you’re in a meeting or online call and notice how often your mind will drift to ‘just wanting to check your phone’.


Cultivating our ability to develop greater clarity applies not only to seeing the events and environments around us clearly but also to seeing ourselves more clearly. A mindful leader is aware of the storytelling in their mind.

They turn up to a meeting asking themselves ‘how do I see what’s here today; not what was here last week or last year,’ or ‘not what I expected to be here, but what’s actually here and what’s being said.’

This is the foundation stone of uncovering our unconscious biases and automatic stereotypes, judgements and assumptions.


What we know from neuroscience is that our brains need spaciousness for creativity and innovation which is not easy when our minds are constantly on a to-do list loop. But we’ve all had that experience when we’re stuck on something or sleeping on it and suddenly there’s the answer the next day. We gave ourselves some space to enable more creative thoughts to cognate. With mindful leadership training we can grab these moments throughout the day rather than needing eight hours sleep to discover the answers.


Rather than compassion meaning sympathy or empathy, it’s the deep understanding that in order to show up as the best possible version of ourselves and get the most out of other people, then we need to prioritise acts of kindness. Simple acts like learning to say no to unrealistic deadlines or new requests or going to bed half-an-hour early or taking the time to check in on a colleague can leverage significantly positive outcomes.

To be influential, you need to be connected to yourself, others, and the big picture, and you need to be skillful at change. To connect well, we need to be focused, clear, creative, and compassionate, and to be skillful, we need to be focused, clear, creative, and compassionate.

See how these things fit so well together? Let’s look at a variety of practical ways to learn how to do this.

Practice ‘purposeful pauses’ every day. When you drink your coffee just focus on that one experience with all your senses. When you clean your teeth just focus on one positive intention for the day.

Stop multitasking and do one thing at a time.

Breath. Take five deep breaths before a meeting or taking a call.

Cut down on distractions. Turn off all your notifications. Only check your email once every hour.

Be present.
– Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit.
– Close your eyes.
– Bring your attention to the sensations of your breath – feel each in-breath and each out-breath.
– Each time your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the sensations of the breath.

• Wake up your senses. Drive, walk or commute in silence looking around and noticing the colours smells, and scenes.

• Bring mindfulness to a meeting.

For the first three to five minutes of a meeting, challenge yourself to look around the room and really see each person. What is the energy of the other person? What do you notice? Listen with deep curiosity to what is being said. Seek to understand their point of view.

Ellenor offers a range of free resources available to the screen sector at and is available for individual and team coaching, consultancy and workshop facilitation.