How to Hold the Gearstick
Modern engines and transmissions may be pretty tough, but the shrieking protest of cogs when you accidently graunch into the wrong gear always sounds terrible.
Applying pressure to one side of the gearstick or the other, called ‘palming’, minimizes the risk of selecting the wrong gear. Hold the level as you would a handshake with the thumbs-up position to change from second to third and fourth to fifth.
Invert the hand, so your thumb faces down, to stay left when changing first to second, or to cross back down from third to second and fifth to fourth. In other words: thumbs-up to pull the gear towards you, thumbs-down to push away.
The gearstick sits in a spring-loaded housing. It will naturally find the centre for neutral in the third/fourth axis, so you only need to apply sideways pressure to find lower (to the left) or higher (to the right) gears.
Whenever you get lost, take a breath and pop the thing into neutral, without any side pressure, so that you know where you are. Then take it from there.
Using the spring is also the easiest way to change from second to third. Just push forward into neutral, the stick will flip across to the centre of its own accord, and then slip it forward.