The Power of Pause

Last week I said I’d give you ideas and resources so you could start exploring authenticity.  Today I’ll discuss the power of pause. When I taught the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,  I loved Habit 1, Be Proactive, because it’s based on the principle of pausing before reacting. It is so important when doing anything. It’s like stepping back and seeing what you need to do in any situation.

In my post called Is anybody listening, I discuss that true understanding happens when you pause — stop what you’re doing and listen to the person with the intent to understand.  The opposite is listening to reply and that’s when you react and are deciding how you can fix, advise or analyze their dilemma.  

Using pause in everyday situations

Here’s a scenario you may relate to. You come home after a busy day, the kids were supposed to clean the kitchen and get dinner started. You walk in the door to a messy kitchen with no sign of dinner on the horizon. Your kids are gleefully engrossed in a video game.  You react. You yell, tell them you had a terrible day, you’re starving and now they’re playing video games and how could they be so selfish?  How does that usually work out?  Now everyone’s upset, especially you, the kitchen’s still a mess and there’s no dinner. 

Let’s rewind.  You come home after a busy day, kitchen isn’t clean, no dinner and the kids are playing video games.  You think about your outcome – clean kitchen, dinner and a nice evening with your family. You pause and say instead: “hey guys, I’ve had a really stressful day and I’d appreciate it if you could clean the kitchen and get dinner started.” They may hem and haw but you’ll have a much better change of getting them away from the TV and into the kitchen.

Pause and decide what you are going to do first.

I remember a time when my son was in high and how I had a triumphant “pause” experience.  I’d been asking him to clean his room all week and he hadn’t.  As I drove home from work, I prepared my lashing out at him speech. It went something like this: I’ve been asking you all week to clean your room up and it’s still a mess.  I’ve been working all day and you can’t even clean your room up? I shop, I clean blah, blah blah.  

As I walked in the door, I decided to pause and think about the outcome I wanted.  If I yelled at him, he may not even clean his room up in the first place and even if he did, he’d do it begrudgingly. He’d be mad and probably wouldn’t even speak to me at dinner. Evening botched 🙁

So, instead, I went in his room, saw him doing his homework (he had no idea about the battle that had been raging in my head) and I asked him to clean his room.  He jumped off his bed and said –sure!  How easy was that? No botched up evening that night. All was good!

I went to a seminar on Emotional Intelligence and I remember a facilitator saying that before you lash out at or say something hurtful, consider the outcome you have for that relationship.   Saying hurtful things damages relationships.  Pausing to think for a few seconds, a minute, a day, maybe even a week, considering the gravity of the situation, gives you time to come up with a more thoughtful response. Whatever the outcome, you’ve started the conversation from a calmer place and the result will no doubt be better.  Maybe you resolve a conflict, clarify a situation and understand where the other person is coming from. 

Using pause in highly charged emotional situations 

What about those highly charged emotional situations? Here’s another example.  In July 2017 my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Me, my seven siblings, dad and mom were discussing how to move forward.  There are two medical people in our family and they were spewing out bleak medical data. Things like – she may not be able to walk, she may not be able to  take care of herself, we’ll have to move her bed downstairs because the stairs may be too hard to climb, she may need a feeding tube, she wants a do not resuscitate order.  It was like they were talking about some obscure, nameless, patient, instead of my mother who was sitting right in front of them.  

All this depressing medical stuff was scaring me.  I loved my mom and I didn’t want her to suffer.  I knew she didn’t want to die.  She was 88 and was rocking life! She played bridge, golfed a lot with her BFF girlfriends and took care of my somewhat, at times, grumpy dad. All 13 of her grandkids just loved her. She had the most lovely southern accent, was charming, was always interested in everyone. She was the kind of person who just made you feel better when she was around. Anyway, I was so bummed thinking how she must feel listening to people talk about her and her potential demise and death. It was no picnic and she looked miserable. 

I wanted my mom to be part of the conversation and I wanted to lighten up this foreboding atmosphere. So, I did the unthinkable. I dared to go up against the medical pros and said that maybe the treatment would go well. I asked mom how she felt about everything.  She was really sad and broken down inside as she talked. It broke my heart.

Apparently, my bold, daring words were perceived as too emotional because one of my brothers told me, somewhat condescendingly, that my opinions were important and should be heard, but I needed to keep those old emotions in check and just “state the facts ma’me.” If you knew anything about my family you would know that we are ALL very sarcastic.  So, jokingly I said: that’s fine but I don’t really care about your opinion anyway. 

Doc brother did not like this at all and started in on me saying the other brother had very valid opinions and what I said was rude.  Then my sister chimed in in agreement.  Tension was high.  My dad stood up and yelled “stop arguing.”  I was on high defense and my heart was about to leap out of my chest. So, I cautiously repeated back what my brother just said: so you think what I said offended our brother? Repeating what he said was my ticket to a “pause” and to put that heart back in my chest.  He blurted out yes and started criticizing me more. So I ask my other brother directly if I offended him. He said yes and he started in on me. But then, I made a magical move. Much to everyone’s surprise, I apologized. A huge “pause” settled over the room. My heart- rate was almost back to normal and the tension seemed to be carefully edging it’s way down.

Afterwards, all my five brothers came up and we hugged and they asked if “we were good.” It had been tense, but there was so much at stake – our mom’s life — so of course everyone was upset.  I can honestly say that “pause” really saved the day.

The Power of Pause 

As you can see, pause really holds A LOT of power. If I’d taken the non-pause approach, I would have gotten defensive, and then people would have started hurling verbal boulders my way and the end would have been a mess-especially since we had four more days together. We wouldn’t have gotten anything resolved and everyone would have been mad at ME if I hadn’t use the power of pause.

How many discussions turn into arguments because we react instead of pausing?

How many discussions turn to arguments and spiral out of control because people react based on emotions and default to defense mode They spew out the first thing that comes to mind and then people get angry, hurt, and resentful and then the relationship goes south.   I love this quote from Margaret Wheatley.

Thinking is the place where intelligent actions begin. We pause long enough to look more carefully at a situation, to see more of its character, to think about why it’s happening, to notice how it’s affecting us and others. 
Margaret Wheatley 

red and black bus with pause as destination
Get on the pause bus

So your first step this week is to pause before a difficult situation.  Get on the pause bus. If you’re asked a question and feel awkward answering it, you can use the most powerful pause words around: “let me think about it and get back to you” or some variation thereof.  Or the tried and true count to ten before answering.  I’ve said yes so many times to things I didn’t want to do because I reacted immediately. But now, I’m an official  pauser,  and I can think about the question and respond when I’m good and ready.

Okay, so you don’t have to pause every time someone asks you something.  Just when you get that feeling — like pressure, discomfort, confusion or any other troubling emotion. 

It’s a pretty simple homework assignment.  Please try it – you’ll like it! Next week I’ll talk about mindfulness that will help you more with pause. 

I’ll end with a quote from one of my favorite bears:

Love is taking a few steps backward maybe even more to give way to the happiness of the person you love.”
—Winnie the Pooh

And that person you’re taking a step back for also includes you!

As always, leave a comment or email me. I’d love to hear your experiences trying this simple, yet powerful technique.

Picture of me, the bloggerer

Until next week,

Kathy 🙂

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