The Power of the Pause, by Erin Heeney

In our last post, Christina discussed the importance of urgency in business to drive performance and create an atmosphere of achievement. Tools such as defined goals, timelines, and success measures keep us accountable and help fuel a sense of accomplishment.

Urgency is important, but if left unchecked we become the proverbial chicken running around without a head.

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Enter the pause. 

Not a stop, not a rewind, not a fast-forward. A pause. Why? Because it connects us to the present. Urgency can motivate us toward the end goal but the pause keeps us grounded in the moment. When we are present, we are better communicators because we are aware of what is actually happening. Not what just happened, not what we think will happen, but what IS happening. Awareness is pressing the pause button; it brings us to the here and now. Mindfulness is giving the pause time and space so we can use our conscious brain to make decisions, communicate clearly, and act wisely.

When we are on auto play, our unconscious mind is in control. And when our unconscious mind is taking control of our actions and behaviour, whether it's writing a report, analyzing data, or speaking with a customer/coworker/supervisor/employee/etc we risk missing important information and making mistakes.

To make real, authentic, and impactful decisions we need our conscious mind in full force.

Our conscious mind is aware of its environment and the thoughts and emotions it triggers. When we pause and take a moment to be mindful of that environment, we can start to understand the difference between a thought and an emotion. We can dissect and break down the situation in order to communicate clearly, make a decision, or analyze the information.

In a world of immediacy and urgency, taking a pause can feel awkward and uncomfortable. Many people dislike silence and see a pause as a void to fill or even as a weakness of the other person. However, the reality is by taking a pause before responding we are practicing active listening and we aren't defaulting to the first thing that pops into our mind.

So what does a pause look like? In its simplest form, it's connecting with your breath. There is nothing more present than your breath. It's literally bringing awareness to a function of your unconscious mind so that you bring it to your consciousness. From there, you can employ a breathing technique or simply follow your natural breath to connect with the present moment.

The ultimate pause practice is meditation. The mind is a muscle, and just like other muscles, it can be developed, shaped, and strengthened. But it can also become weak, can atrophy, and rely on the other, bigger muscles (e.g. the unconscious mind) to take control which will ultimately create a great unbalance.

Approaches like taking a deep breath, counting to ten, or going for a walk are good places to start. But they need to be done mindfully and it takes practice in order for them to work. Taking a mindful walk doesn't mean walking while going over the conversation again and again in your mind trying to figure it out. It means feeling the ground beneath your feet, the wind on your cheeks, the smells in the air. It's about connecting with the act of walking and being fully present for that walk. You're telling your mind to be present with what you're doing so that when you're finished with your pause, you have brought your attention and awareness to the present to allow your conscious mind to flourish.

Try practicing mindfulness first in the little every day things like washing the dishes, flossing, walking the dog, or making coffee. Pay attention to how your senses react: the smell of the coffee, the warmth of the dish water. Notice the feelings evoked: the happiness of your pup, the satisfaction of taking care of your dental health. Once you become comfortable being mindful in the simple, every day you can bring that practice to other more difficult situations like decision making and communication.