Practice the Pause

Instead of reacting automatically to something that happens, pause first. Tap into your kinder, wiser self before you respond.


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In each minisode, we are sharing a Steal This Tip – a simple strategy that’s helping us be more fulfilled, mindful, or happy in our daily lives. Our tip this time is: Practice the pause.

We often react automatically to the events in our lives, without thinking. A coworker makes a comment that irritates us. We read a news story, and our anxiety spirals. Someone cuts us off in traffic, and we rage. But when we get ourselves into the habit of pausing and putting a bit of space between what happens and how we react to it, we can interrupt this knee-jerk response. We can tap into our wiser selves and choose how we respond.

Melia saw this quote on Instagram that sums it up well: “Practice the pause. When in doubt, pause. When angry, pause. When tired, pause. When stressed, pause.” The last line varies: “And when you pause, pray.” or “And when you pause, breathe.” Use the one that resonates with you.

How can we practice the pause in everyday life?

Gill has learned from experience that when she gets an email or message that annoys her, it’s a bad idea to respond right away. She will do something else for a while to calm down before getting back to it. In face-to-face interactions, she’s still working on practicing the pause when someone says something to make her angry (even though her wiser self knows that her initial retort is unlikely to improve the conversation!).

Melia’s first reaction when things don’t go as planned to tends to be annoyance or anger. It feels unfair that she is having to deal with something like being woken up during the night by either her children or the cats (sometimes both!).

When she can take a deep breath – or even better, the three-breath pause we’ve talked about before – she creates the space to respond in a number of different ways instead of “I hate everyone and everything.” In that space, she can insert what Hilary Rushford calls an anchoring phrase. Melia has been using “Soften” and “Empathy first” and looking for gratitudes and silver linings.

Gill recently tried adopting “Patience, Kindness, Compassion” as a mantra during stressful interactions – with varying levels of success. But just having something to fall back on – other than “People are the worst!” – is a step in the right direction.

Get In Touch

How do you practice the pause? What strategy are you using to choose how to respond in stressful situations?

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