“Human freedom involves our capacity to pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.”—Rollo May
How do you typically act in response to pressure?
Do you choose your response or do you find yourself reacting on impulse?
As we all know from experience, life tends to come at us very quickly. It’s easy to get caught up in a rhythm and flow that feels out of control. At those times we can easily find ourselves responding to situations with less thought than we would like.
When emotions are running high, it not uncommon to become overwhelmed and make rash decisions we may later regret.
So what can we do to regain control in those pressured moments?
The Problem with our habitual responses to life’s Challenges
When we are under pressure, and conflicts or difficulties arise, we can easily find ourselves overwhelmed. At those times our survival instincts cause us to indulge in unskilled habitual responses that typically make things worse.
Our instinctive striving for some form control in a frenetic world is often unsuccessful and unwise. It leaves us feeling stressed and anxious.
We frantically try to manage what is happening. Someone says something hurtful to us and we strike back quickly or retreat. We make a mistake at work and we scramble to cover it up or go out of our way to make up for it. We smash head first into emotionally charged confrontations.
Yet what would it be like if, right in the midst of this mayhem, we were to consciously take our hands off the controls?
What if we were to intentionally stop for a brief moment after each impulsive urge, and simply pause and notice our inner experience?
Identifying the gap between stimulus and response
Taking our hands off the controls and pausing is an opportunity to clearly see the wants and fears that are driving us. When we are challenged in life we instinctually act on habitual urges without thinking. It’s an automatic reaction or impulsive urge to combat the stimulus we are confronted with.
But with a little bit of effort we can more actively manage our responses. If we learn to pause after each urge it would no longer control us. We would be able to make conscious choices that might be healthier for us.
If we can purposely hit the pause button we give ourselves a little time to make sure we make the right choice. We create a gap to make better decisions from a place of a little more thought and awareness.
By taking the time to briefly detach ourselves from the situation confronting us we gain an opportunity to see the bigger picture and what’s really going on.
By identifying the gap between stimulus and response we become aware of something we had never previously noticed. Increased awareness supports a decrease in stress.
Learning to pause to ponder and consider our choices makes all the difference in how we experienced his world.
The Power of the Pause
Making time to pause is a place of enormous potential and growth. It’s where we choose who we will be in this moment, and the next. If we want a calmer stress free life, we have to embrace the power of the pause.
To cultivate the pause, notice your next urge. Learn as much as you can about it. Do you see a pattern of behaviour when you are triggered in response to a stimulus you want to control?
The impulsive urges won’t go away; nonetheless your ability to pause will get stronger.
When we catch ourselves striving and fixating about the future, pausing enables us to ground ourselves in the present moment and better understand what’s really going on.
Practicing the Pause
1-Take a few deep breaths and with each exhale let go of any worries or thoughts about what you are going to do next; let go of any tightness in the body.
2-Now, notice what you are experiencing as you inhabit the pause. What sensations are you aware of in your body? Do you feel anxious or restless as you try to step out of your mental stories?
Take Home Message
As simple as it sounds, injecting a pause can make a huge difference in the quality of your life.
Whenever you find you are stuck or disconnected, you can begin your life fresh in that moment by pausing, relaxing and paying attention to your immediate experience.
During the moments of a pause, we become conscious of how the feeling that something is missing or wrong keeps us leaning into the future, on our way somewhere else. This gives us a fundamental choice in how we respond.
Hitting pause isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
Remember that you get to make a choice.
Do you choose your response or act on impulse?
What are some simple ways you can use the Power of the Pause to improve your life?