Last night I was watching How to Get Away With Murder when I needed a drink. I pressed the pause button on the remote and made the trek upstairs to the kitchen. After sipping some water, I sat back down to witness Professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) careen between being a terrifying control freak and a horrible hot mess of a brilliant woman.
I felt great. I was more comfortable and noticeably more alert because I had paused. Davis’s character was still being pulled apart by her emotions. Poor Annalise …
We’re all familiar with pausing a show or a song to run to the bathroom or get a snack. That’s all it takes to to get what we need. It’s pretty easy, right?
Most pauses take a mere 3 – 5 minutes. Pauses that give us time for something other than a snack, like interrupting an emotional explosion (remember counting to 10?) or before we’re about to make a presentation or enter a social setting like a party, also take little time. But they tend to be something we only occasionally remember to do.
Mostly we shift quickly from one thing to the next without a moments pause. We barely register our full reaction before it’s off to the races. When we do remember to pause, we usually don’t take complete advantage of it, either.
Fly on the wall at Erin’s office just the other day:
Erin gets on the phone with her client, Michael, a few seconds after having an unpleasant interaction with a co-worker. Michael doesn’t t know anything about this situation but within the first few seconds he reacts to her tone of voice. She seems to be in a negative mood and distracted (which she is). He wonders if he’s done something to annoy her. Michael questions whether Erin is truly ready to give him the attention he had paid for. Uh oh!
If you knew Erin, you’d know that she is smart, good at her job, committed to her clients, caring in her relationships, and well meaning. Erin is also a busy person. Being the mature woman that she is, Erin most likely noticed her upset. Perhaps she felt “frustration.” She probably said something to herself like “Grrr, better pull myself together, I have a call in 2 minutes, can’t deal with this now, it’s too big…” She may not have noticed her jaw clench and her breathing tighten. She certainly thought she could push the annoyance aside and get going on the next agenda item.
The thing is, all that pushing aside has an effect. Often it affects us in the moment, as in Erin’s first few minutes with Michael. Too frequently, the accumulation of countless unacknowledged reactions in our day leaves us drained, fatigued, short tempered and/or vaguely anxious.
Have you had an experience like Erin’s or have you had thoughts like these?
“But if I stop, even for just a few minutes, I might collapse and not start back up again, ever!”
“I’ll pause after I finish this, and that, and that. Then I’ll be able to take care of me and it. ”
“I’ll take go back and revisit it after I’ve crossed everything off my list for the day.”
“What will a few minutes do? I have to focus on what’s important! I need to bear down.”
I have said these same words or a version of them. So have my clients.
It’s easy to get caught in believing that ignoring our selves won’t matter, or that we’ll catch up with our inner life later. It can also be a challenge to trust that pausing will make a big enough difference for us to be willing to do it.
Think about how many times in your day you transition from one thing to the next. Not one, not two, could be fifty, could be hundreds. If we are carrying unacknowledged sensations from just a third of those moments with us, we are unlikely to be our best. And, that’s an understatement! By the end of the day or even earlier, we are very likely to be drained and scattered. We might observe ourselves numbing out with TV, food, or silly FB quizzes if we weren’t so busy trying to get away from ourselves.
Not only does our go- go life drain us of vital life energy, it robs us of knowing the best of ourselves. It impacts on work, personal relationships and our fundamental feeling of being at home within ourselves, something we rarely take the time to nourish.
If we begin to become aware of what’s happening inside us, we can then make choices about how to work with it. It allows us to regulate impulses, thoughts, emotions and behaviors at the micro level. With each pause we strengthen our ability to make a new choice, to allow a fresher perspective to bubble up.
It’s as if the pause opens the door for new possibilities to occur to us. And the ability to do that gives us the strength to pause more.
But, if we continue to go through life unaware, we’re more like puppets, individuals who allow life to happen to us.
The pause allows us to check in for a moment with who we are. The pause sets the stage for us to align who we really are with what we do.
Now we have a pause, which opens up possibilities and then becomes a skill, an ability… a Pause Ability!
Thanks for coming with me this far. There’s more to come when I share one best way to pause.
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