Articles to help you optimize your life
There I was – running my first workshop in front of a group of actual, live humans. It wasn’t going well. We were only 10 minutes into an hour-long event and I felt like we were already way off track. Somebody had asked a question that I hadn’t expected and my mind got flooded with fear and was racing to come up with an answer that I didn’t have. Like a horror movie, I watched as I just KEPT TALKING in circles, witnessing as I started pacing back and forth as my thoughts raced. Some part of me was screaming inside my mind ‘Why the heck are you still going? STOP IT! Get back to the presentation!”
That was the worst time it happened, but I started seeing that I would have this feeling of being out of control of myself in lots of places in my life; when I was doing a client discovery call early in my path to becoming a coach, when I was talking to a stranger at the local brewery, when I had to stand up to the executive director of a company I was doing contract work for. As soon as something didn’t go ‘perfectly’ all of a sudden it felt like I was stuck in fight/flight/freeze, like my mind wasn’t mine anymore and I was just a passenger.
I started talking about it to others and found out that I wasn’t alone. LOTS of people understood exactly what I was talking about. Some call it survival mode and others don’t have a name for it at all, but so many people have felt it. Heck – some people spend most of their lives in that mode! These conversations led me to look for a way out of the craziness. What I stumbled upon was a total surprise – all it took to get control back was adding some pause points into my life.
What’s a pause point?
What the heck do I mean by ‘pause point’? I mean taking a few moments to stop and notice what’s actually going on. Noticing what thoughts and emotions are going on inside of me (like the fear of not having an answer) or what behaviors I’m exhibiting (pacing, biting my nails, bouncing my leg like a drummer hiked up on speed). Taking time to notice what is actually happening with others (is the guy shaking his head like he feels I’ve answered his question?).
When I say pause point I DON’T mean trying not to have any thoughts – that’s just about impossible to do, especially when I’m in the middle of a presentation or in a hard conversation. What I mean is taking a step back to look at what meaning I’m making from all the thoughts that are happening in my mind. Am I freaking out because all those thoughts are saying that I’m messing things up? Do I think that the guy asking the question hates me simply because he asked something that I don’t know off the top of my head?
All the pause-point is, is a moment of calm within the storm of stuff happening in and around me.
What’s the point of a pause?
How much of your time do you spend reacting to situations instead of responding (see here and here for the difference). When I got really honest with myself I realized that I was spending 75+% of every day reacting to situations. My wife would say something innocuous and I’d get super defensive and start an argument. A client would say something unexpected and I would feel like I was a half-step behind for the rest of the session. When I started adding pause points into my day, I started responding more and reacting less.
As we pause more we find that we are able to focus more on and be more intentional about doing the things that lead to the long term goals that we have instead of feeling like we have to grab whatever short-term win is right in front of us. To use a silly metaphor – it helps us step out of living paycheck to paycheck and step into setting up a retirement account.
Perhaps most importantly, pause points help to create a little bit of space between you and the voice of fear, so that you can step up into being your most awesome self. When you’ve got that space you naturally feel more confident, calm, present, and happy.
How to build in some pause points
This all sounds great, but if you’re anything like me you don’t have time to whip out your meditation pillow and ‘om’ the day away before walking into your important meeting with your boss. So how can those of us living in the real world build in some pauses to our day? :
The three times to build in a pause:
- Pre-Action. Before you walk into a situation – pause to set an intention.
- During Action. Anytime you feel like you are getting wrapped up in the action – find a brief moment to pause.
- Post-Action. After the meeting, the workshop, the unexpected feedback session from a coworker on your way to the bathroom, or whatever comes your way – pause.
How to pause:
- Take a breath. Seriously, just take a breath – that might be enough to shift you out of reacting.
- Check-in on what it is that you want to happen (or ‘what ought to be happening’) right now. This brings in that intentionality that can help you keep the train on the tracks.
- Notice what thoughts and emotions are whirling around inside of you. This crazy thing happens when we just notice these things: they get a little bit quieter which gives us more space to show up as our more awesome self.
Remember how bad that workshop was going at the beginning? I’d love to say I ended up killing it by adding in some pause points that day, but I didn’t. I muddled my way through it, went overtime, and overall threw a really lackluster workshop. Ever since then though I pause before walking in to give a workshop. I take a breath and ask myself ‘what do I hope these folks get out of this workshop?’
While I’m presenting I find at least one moment to pause and check in on what the energy of the room is (are people fired up, are they contemplative, are they bored out of their mind?) so that I can adapt the rest of the event.
And when it’s over – I pause and try to calm down. I step out of the story of ‘I messed this up and that up’ and into a little quieter me where I’m not freaking out. And I do it with nothing more than a little pause point.