September 22, 2014
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor E. Frankl
Think before you act. Take a breath. Count to ten. Those phrases are used so often you hardly hear them. But they’re over-used for a reason—they point to the pause. The dictionary defines pause as ‘a temporary stop in action or speech’. That stop creates a space, a pause, which may be the most important tool you have.
I talk a lot about being on automatic pilot—living in a state where there are no pauses. You go from one thought and/or action to the next without being awake to what you’re thinking or doing. It’s as though you’re sleepwalking. You react rather than thoughtfully respond.
Automatic pilot isn’t all bad though, it has its place. When you’re doing something mechanical or repetitious that requires a sense memory and a reactive response, automatic pilot is great. When you want to remember what you already know. When you jump on a bike automatic pilot immediately takes you to a repeat of how it worked last time and that’s a good thing.
But in the pause is where you’re in charge of your attention, and it’s where you have access to impulse control, self-awareness, social awareness, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, responsible decision–making and a host of other emotional intelligence skills.
In school we’re constantly telling kids to pay attention but until recently we haven’t told them how. The pause is how. Let’s start with that. Today pick a mindfulness exercise—pause and notice your breath, do a quick body scan and relax the tense parts, notice how it feels to sit where you sit, taste your dinner, feel the wind, smell the rain.
By the way, trying to describe the pause is like trying to describe fun to a child. It doesn’t work. You have to be engaged in doing it to understand it.
So try it…notice the end of a thought and then bring your attention to anything that you can see, hear, taste, touch or feel in this moment. See if you can fully inhabit just a few seconds of today and notice how it makes you feel. You may want to do it twice tomorrow.