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Modern life – a frantic go-go-go race – is incredibly complex and challenging. The danger always lurks that, sooner or later, you’ll burn out – your plans ruined, your dreams unfulfilled, your potential unrealized. You’ll wonder where your energy went and how to get it back. The secret to surviving life’s constant churn lies in building the habit of taking short, planned, mindful pauses.
“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.” (Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)
These essential pauses provide special opportunities to listen to yourself and to the world in novel ways. Leaders, in particular, need both action and reflection to be effective. But, how can leaders become fully present in their lives if they never stop moving and never give themselves time to think? The short answer is, they can’t. And you can’t, either.
Periodic restorative pauses enable mindfulness and help you hear your inner “still, small voice.”
Planned, occasional pauses give you time to achieve self-awareness and regain control of your life. They put you in touch with your inner self, that “still, small voice.” Pauses let you connect with your loved ones and renew your energy.
“The best, most reliable lasting change occurs when we practice over time in low-risk, low-stakes situations. This kind of training in a safe environment gives people the opportunity to try, fail and try again without putting their job, their relationships or their business on the line.”
As you develop the important skill of pausing, you’ll learn that – among other things – proper pausing calls for intentional control of your breathing.
To breathe correctly for a deliberate pause: Shut your eyes. Focus on where your breathing occurs – “your nose, mouth, chest or belly.” As you breathe, pay close attention as you inhale and exhale. Take a deep breath and hold it for a three-count. Exhale through your nose.
“Go a day without your watch or iPhone and focus your attention on the ordinary in each day, each hour and each moment.”
When you pay close attention to bodily processes such as breathing, your energy aligns with your focus. Repeating this exercise over and over on a regular schedule resets your nervous system.
Consider how attentive breathing differs from your lifelong habit of conventional breathing. People average 16 breaths a minute, about 23,040 breaths each day. None of these breaths are particularly special.
Controlled breathing exercises let you step away, temporarily, from your conventional thought processes, so you can test new ideas and concepts. Plus, controlled breathing enables you to de-stress. Of course, at times, an over-attenuated biological stress reaction can interfere with your performance, your health and your mindfulness. Taking mindful pauses greatly reduces that toxic stress.
Breathe and pause without an agenda. Keep it simple. “Tuning into your breath” will heighten your awareness of your body’s energy.
How do you deal with pressure and stress? Your mind-set – the way you think and feel – offers the answer. Your mind-set is your basic “frame of reference” encompassing yourself and the people and situations around you. Your mind-set is your window on the world. It includes your ideas, viewpoints and expectations.
“Good brains and out-of-the-box talent merely serve as a starting point.”
You want your mind-set to be an asset, not a burden, so don’t succumb to a fixed mind-set. Be alert if you find yourself practicing rigid thinking and responses; try to open up your mind-set.
Cultivate a growth mind-set that is free and open to new cognitive vistas. A growth mind-set enables you to embrace new situations with curiosity and minimal fear. When you develop a growth mind-set, you become better able to welcome new challenges and to allow yourself to grow. Pausing can help you develop this crucial, expansive world view.
Your individual “thread” or purpose weaves through every important aspect of your life. Periodic, quiet reflection will help you identify your thread and get more in touch with it.
“There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change…You don’t ever let go of the thread.” (poet William Stafford)
Your purpose, whatever it may be, is the meaning of your life. It knits together everything that is essential to you. Avoid actions or people that deflect you from your purpose. When you recognize your purpose, nurture it, protect it and allow yourself to feel passionate about it.
Your daily practices, the things you do each day as a person and as a leader, shape who you are. Improving the daily practices that feed your success begins with making ongoing commitment to planned deliberate pauses.
“Pausing interrupts our automatic – read: blasé – patterns of thinking.”
Pauses enable you to adjust your daily life and to introduce new behaviors that will help you become more well-rounded, relaxed, empathetic and effective. Practicing regular pauses will add meaning and substance to your life.
Every life has a higher purpose, and pausing helps you move toward yours. Pausing to consider what you’re doing can be the gateway to a far more productive way to live, far better than being trapped in a cycle of always reacting without planning or thinking. On a personal level, people often are at the mercy of their habits, so it’s important to develop habits that sustain you, not destructive bad habits that pull you down. Consciously inculcating proper habits is essential.
“If you never push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you will never improve. (psychologist K. Anders Ericsson) ”
Positive habits – such as purposeful pauses, regular exercise, sufficient sleep and healthful eating – grow from positive routines. Once you make good habits automatic, you don’t have to worry about maintaining them. They take over and run productively in the background, reducing your cognitive burden and helping you focus on your creative endeavors and other positive pursuits.
Creating new neural pathways doesn’t happen by itself. You need a coach or mentor to show you the way and provide helpful guidance and feedback. Establish partnerships with other people who want to introduce meaningful pauses into their routine to enhance their leadership presence.
“Focus is the superpower of the 21st century.” (Eric Barker, business writer)
your physiognomy. They create new neural pathways, integral parts of your nervous system. Think of this as “body-based intelligence.”
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. (Aristotle).”
Don’t expect this process to go smoothly. For many, embracing mindful pauses and building new pathways means adapting to new ways of thinking. That means you should anticipate that you could make some instructive mistakes and face some of the failures that come with any attempt to forge a new path.
Any time you reorient yourself, you become a beginner. And beginners are sure to stagger around a bit and make false steps here and there. That’s to be expected, and at least you’re stumbling ahead, courageously and straightforwardly, in the right direction.
Industrial Mastery, Mentor, Light Worker, Nutritionist, Gymrat
Sharpen Your Attention, Deepen Your Presence, and Navigate the Future. Practical wisdom to help leaders maximize their effectiveness and recharge their creativity.
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