I’ve been a fast mover for as long as I can remember. My mind moves fast and my body follows. I get things done quickly, and finding efficiencies and shortcuts in work and life brings me great satisfaction. The thing I’m not good at is taking a break—or even just a short pause between moments. That’s really what this post is about—a reminder to myself and any other fast movers out there—of the value of taking space between moments.
The importance of pausing applies to many areas of life. I used to equate stopping and stillness to laziness; I generally thought it was a big waste of time. But really, it’s a way to recharge and reset your energy, which can actually help you be more productive.
I’m not talking about taking a year off of work to sip margaritas on the beach (although, I’m not opposed to that approach…) I’m just talking about taking a conscious moment to come back to yourself at certain points in the day. This can be in the very simple form of a deep breath, or in the grander form of a well-appointed vacation.
Here are nine scenarios where pausing can be helpful and rewarding. Some of these ideas are short pauses, others are longer stretches—but all are effective.
Before Entering a Difficult Situation
Before you pick up the phone to have a tough conversation or step into an uncomfortable scenario, take a moment to stop, close your eyes, and take at least three deep breaths to center yourself. Notice your breath and heartbeat slow down if nerves were at play. If you find your nerves and heart rate are still running, take a few more deep breaths or try this stress-relieving breathing exercise. When you’re able to step into a tough situation with a calmer mind, you choose your words more carefully and show up with more mindful reactions and presence.
Before Making a Decision
Feeling frazzled or indecisive? When your mind is everywhere at once, smart decisions (or decisions at all…) can be harder to come by. Stop what you’re doing, pause your thoughts, and come back to your breath. Proceed from your pause with a clearer mind.
If it’s a big, life-changing decision, take a quiet weekend away from the grind to consider your options and sit with the pros, cons, and various life scenarios.
When You’ve Got Too Much to Do
This is the one that always seems counter-productive to me—to take a break when you’re already overbooked? But, it works. When I feel overwhelmed, and all of my to-dos are swirling in my mind at once, I end up getting nothing done. Try “The Hand” exercise that I introduced in a post about multitasking. In this exercise, pausing brings awareness to the single most important thing you need to focus on.
When You’re Stuck in a Rut
If life isn’t going your way, you’re feeling stuck in a rut—or even if you just feel like you’re considering a new direction—take a break or step back from your everyday life. Find a week to go somewhere you’ve never been for an adventure, or relax in nature and contemplate the various directions you can take. A week on vacation or a time-out to do some soul searching could be just what the doctor ordered.
To Start Your Day on a Mindful Note
The morning pause is an attractive alternative to hopping out of bed and immediately attacking the to-do list. Before you even start your day, take a pause. Taking time for silence and stillness first thing in the morning is a powerful and present way to start your day.
When You Feel Stress Start to Rise
You know that moment right before you freak out about something? This is an important moment to identify. As soon as you notice stress begin to rise, before the anxiety takes over, stop it in its tracks by taking a time-out. Sometimes three slow, deep breaths is all you need to stop stress before it starts.
In the Heat of a Moment
When you’re in the middle of an argument or uncomfortable confrontation, it’s easy to say something you don’t mean. In the heat of a moment, before making a stupid comment, take a deep breath to check yourself. Ask yourself if there is a more conscious, compassionate way to communicate your message. Then proceed with that extra awareness in place.
When You’re at a Loss for Words
If you can’t think of the right words to say in a given situation, don’t try to force or control your mind. Instead, take a mental pause. Once your mind is clear, the words will come.
During Breathwork: Breath Retention
I start each morning with a breathwork sequence to anchor my body and mind for meditation. Part of the sequence involves breath retention, which is essentially pausing at specific points in the flow of breath. It’s called Kumbhaka in Sanskrit, and it’s simple. You just hold your breath at the top of every inhale and at the bottom of every exhale. Here’s how it goes:
- Inhale for a count of 4
- Hold your breath at the top for a count of 4 (=Pause)
- Exhale slowly for a count of 4
- Hold your breath at the bottom for a count of 4 (=Pause)
Pausing in the flow of your breath, or breath retention, is a great tool to purify and clear the mind and body. I’ve found it to be one of the best practices to boost my ability to concentrate and clear my mind. You can substitute the four count for any length of time that feels right for you.
The concept of weaving conscious pauses throughout one’s day has many nicknames: “The sacred pause,” “the purposeful pause,” “space to breath,” “time out.” Call it whatever you’d like, but if back-to-back meetings, long to-do lists, swirling thoughts, and everyday chaos is your norm, you may need to grasp the simplicity of slowing down and finding that space between moments.