In Praise of the Pause

Sometimes inclement weather does the trick. I jot down these words on a rain-drenched Saturday afternoon in South Florida.

No desire to run about. No temptation to roam the beach. I settle in. Exhale. Pause.We’re heading into a holiday week in the US. For many, that means days packed with social activity. But, perhaps as well, a few moments to reflect and celebrate what truly matters in our lives. To pause.I think of a conversation I recently had with Stephanie, a CFO I had the pleasure of coaching for a half-year stretch. I cherish my conversations with Stephanie. She is immensely likable, smart, results-oriented, driven. At times, Stephanie’s impatience with the status quo and external pressures got the best of her. In this, our final conversation that concluded our formal coaching journey, I asked Stephanie to reflect on what she took away from our coaching conversations.

To pause, she said.

Perfect answer, I thought to myself.We expect you, the modern-age professional, to be self-aware and reflect. At its best, this self-awareness is present in every moment. You engage with another person, and you’re at the same time aware of the quality of your engagement and the choices you make. I call this ability double-tracking. In the moment, and watchful of the moment, all at once.

In-the-moment, I stay conscious of what is going on. I choose to be un-automatic.

Reflection, however, tends to happen in a pause. The pause is the moment in-between active engagement. This moment is often only milliseconds long. Just for a moment, I don’t talk, don’t react, don’t act. And here are some of the glorious things that happen in those milliseconds:

In the pause I catch myself

I notice my obsessive thinking, my obliviousness to my surroundings, my inattention to the cues I receive from the other person, my urge to retort with a habitual response. Yes, all of that. Those are the things I catch.

In the pause I clear myself

I release the mind chatter, the rising emotion, the urge to disagree, the desire to be right. Yes, I let it go, all of that. That’s what I clear. I return to a more pure, less cluttered version of myself. The me that better hears my inner wisdom. The me that is fully connected to myself.

In the pause I consider the “other”

I switch my attention from MY thoughts to a genuine desire to understand the other. Her request. His demand. Their underlying motivation. Yes, I switch from me-thinking to you-thinking. To my deepest desire to be of service to you. This is a transformative consideration.

In the pause I recalibrate

I recalibrate my response to the other. I choose language that demonstrates understanding. A tone that is inviting. An energy that fosters connection. Yes, I advance the conversation and don’t allow it to get stuck. In the pause, I may discover that all is well, just as is. Exquisite, right? Those are the gifts of recalibration.All this can happen in a pause. The moment when we stop. Mere milliseconds, most of the time. Circumstances in our over-scheduled, over-committed, over-stimulated lives conspire against the pause. This conspiracy is vicious. Don’t be a victim of circumstances.To pause, she said.

Yes, it’s a pretty perfect answer.