I was recently at the dentist, sitting and waiting, scrolling Instagram, and saw an advertisement for a necklace. What drew my attention was its simplicity – it was called “The Pause Necklace,” and it came with a card that read the following:
“She finds herself awake again, all through the night – when the evening blurs into the morning sky, and still, peace is not in sight. The room is quiet, but her thoughts are loud, her mind lost in the wilds of her worries. Struggling in silence, she keeps waiting for the exhale, for her fears to part – but there’s a battle within her mind, there’s a war inside her heart. Taking a moment to pause, she allows herself to rest – regaining her peace and strength with each and every breath. Letting her chest rise and fall, she takes each thought in slowly, and lets them go – realizing that grace can still find her, even if steady breathing is all she can do. In this moment of clarity, she realizes that her anxiety does not define her – her worries do not hold her worth. Being okay does not always mean being alright. It’s okay to come undone, for it’s only in the darkness that she can discover the power of her own light.”
As you can imagine, I was struck by the beauty of this message. This poetic message of what it’s like for most mothers – awake at night worrying about our children, worrying about the world we live in, struggling to keep our fears from drowning us, and trying to slow down the thoughts that are swirling in our heads.
How many of us are racing from one thing to the next, unknowingly speeding up time as we manage day after day? How often do we try to get from one deadline to another, from one holiday to another, or from one difficult situation to another?
How many of us have ever learned how to pause? To take it easy? To stop what we’re doing and what we’re thinking and just be? To press the pause button on the video of our days and not do anything other than listen? To interrupt what we’re about to do that might not be useful or helpful?
It can be scary to slow down, especially for accountant moms. Many of us feel we have to prove ourselves, our value, and our worth at every turn. In this era of instantaneous communication, maximized efficiency, and constant reminders to “operate with a sense of urgency,” taking a pause can seem like a problem, both professionally and personally.
In episode #39 – Pausing Your Career – I discussed the questions and concerns accountant moms might have about pausing their career and how to make the decision to pause or re-enter after a pause. While that episode helped listeners to see that whether it’s pausing your career to parent your children, take care of an aging parent or write that book that’s been swirling around in your head, disrupting the traditional career paradigm does not have to be a career killer, this one will be a little different.
As we start a brand new year, I wanted to do an episode about pausing on purpose to help you apply the idea that pausing is important in moments throughout your day, not just in the trajectory of your career. It’s the sum of those moments that make up your life, and if you’re not intentional, you might be missing more than you want to and taking actions you don’t want to take.
This week I’m going to discuss what it means to pause on purpose and offer suggestions on how to do it.
What it means to pause on purpose
Have you ever gotten to the end of the day and felt so exhausted that you couldn’t remember what you did, who you saw, or how you got from one place to another? Have you ever had one of those robotic days where you were just on autopilot?
Have you ever gotten to the end of the day, looked back at the things you did and said, and shook your head? It’s as if someone else took over your life, and you just wound up in the aftermath, trying to figure out what happened.
If you’re anything like the accountant moms I coach, you’ve probably got a string of days, weeks, and months that seem like you’re in a video game and someone else is holding the controller. It’s as if you’ve got less and less control over your life.
When I teach my clients about pausing on purpose, it’s about learning to be more intentional. It’s about choosing your next action rather than doing whatever your brain has been trained to do.
Pausing on purpose is creating awareness and interrupting your Model. If you’re not familiar with the tool I teach my coaching clients and that I talk about in my book “The Smarter Accountant,” The Model is an awareness tool that shows us why we feel the way we feel, why we do or don’t do things, and why we have the results we have.
When I teach pausing on purpose, it’s typically when you’re about to take action, and you interrupt The Model to pause and check in with how you’re feeling. For example:
* About to send an angry email? Take a pause.
* Leaning toward saying yes to something you want to say no to? Take a pause.
* Distracted and endlessly scrolling through your newsfeed? Take a pause.
* Stressed and opening up the snack drawer? Take a pause.
* About to yell at your kids? Take a pause.
* Feeling hurt by someone’s comment? Take a pause.
Since we’ve become a society of doers, pausing on purpose gives us a chance to become choosers. We get to create a small buffer between our lower brain’s instinctual reactions and our high brain’s more thoughtful, intentional actions.
The interesting thing is that research shows that the lower, primitive, reactionary brain takes 350 milliseconds to respond to stimuli. Our higher, executive functioning brain takes 4-6 seconds.
So if you’ve ever had an emotional outburst, then moments later regretted it, you know from experience what this is like. The truth is that our “feeling brain” moves much quicker than our “thinking brain.”
This is why the tool, The Model, is so powerful. It helps put you in control of your “feeling brain” and your “thinking brain.”
It’s not just about pausing to appreciate a fleeting moment in time; it’s about pausing in order to be able to choose – choose what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling, what you’re doing, and what your experience will be.
How to pause on purpose
It sounds like it’s easier said than done sometimes – just stop what you’re doing and pause. But here’s the thing – you first have to stop the momentum of your lower brain and make a decision with your higher brain, which isn’t always easy.
When I work with my coaching clients, we spend time becoming aware of their actions after the fact. In other words, we get clear about why they did or didn’t do something, which is always because of a feeling.
As I’ve shared on this podcast before, our feelings drive our actions, so when we notice our actions, inactions, or reactions, we have the opportunity to get curious about the feeling that preceded those actions. With practice, we start to become aware of the fact that our feelings drive our actions, and we notice the connection.
The first phase of learning how to pause on purpose is having awareness after the fact – what was I feeling that led me to take that action? What was I feeling that led me to not do that thing I wanted to? What was the feeling that led to me having that reaction at that moment?
The more awareness you have and practice in the first phase, the easier it is to move to the second phase. This second phase is when you’re in the moment, about to do something, and you intentionally decide to pause and not take action. You pause on purpose.
The best part about learning how to pause on purpose is that rather than being caught up in the momentum of our and others’ actions and priorities, we can choose to take a pause which allows us to get curious and ask questions. Is this action intentional or habitual? What one-word emotion would describe how I’m feeling? Am I coming from a place of abundance or scarcity?
This second phase is when you turn on the switch of the executive functioning part of your brain, and you allow those 4 to 6 seconds to turn off the switch of the lower, reactionary brain. You take a moment to stop whatever momentum is present, and you decide on purpose whether the action you’re about to take is fueled by the best feeling.
If the answer is no, then what action do you want to take, and what feeling would you need to feel? By pausing on purpose, you allow your higher brain to make an intentional decision about how you want to feel and what you want to do.
For example, in the second phase, you would notice you’re feeling frustrated, and you would pause, interrupting your Model by not taking action from the feeling of frustration. Before doing or saying something, you would acknowledge that you are feeling frustrated and would ask yourself if the action you were going to take is intentional or habitual.
So let’s say you come home to find toys all over the floor, and the kids haven’t done their homework. Before you yell at them, you pause on purpose to acknowledge that you’re feeling frustrated, and you decide with your higher brain that you’d rather feel curious than frustrated and that you’d rather ask what happened rather than yell.
Or let’s say you have a co-worker that doesn’t pull their weight, and you typically get annoyed and complain about them. Before you complain the next time, pause on purpose to acknowledge that you’re feeling annoyed and decide with your higher brain that you’d rather feel focused on what you’re doing than annoyed at what they’re not doing.
Now that you know the phases of learning how to pause on purpose begin to notice after the fact where you took action that you didn’t want to and begin to implement a pause whenever you can. Just like we give our children a time-out when we see their behavior escalating, a pause on purpose gives us a chance for a time-out as well.
I’d also like to suggest you pause on purpose when you notice your thinking is going down an unhelpful rabbit hole. When you notice you’re thinking a lot of thoughts that are creating worry or overwhelm, pause on purpose to interrupt the momentum of your thoughts and choose your thoughts more intentionally.
For example, if you find yourself constantly worrying about one of your children, notice the thoughts creating the feeling of worry and decide to pause those thoughts on purpose. Then decide what feeling you’d like to have instead of worry and what thought you’d need to think to create that feeling.
Maybe you’re worried because you think that your son won’t do well on an exam. As soon as you feel worried, acknowledge the feeling but interrupt it by choosing how you’d like to feel instead and choose an optional thought that will create that feeling.
You might choose to feel love instead of worry and choose to think, “I love him no matter what he gets on that exam.” By pausing on purpose, you stop the momentum of worry and take back control over how you feel and how you behave.
Hopefully, you now see the power of pausing on purpose and can begin to implement the two phases into your own life. Just know that you’ll be amazed by the power of a pause on purpose.
* Many of us feel we have to prove ourselves, our value, and our worth at every turn. In this era of instantaneous communication, maximized efficiency, and constant reminders to “operate with a sense of urgency,” taking a pause can seem like a problem, both professionally and personally.
* Since we’ve become a society of doers, pausing on purpose gives us a chance to become choosers.
* It’s not just about pausing to appreciate a fleeting moment in time; it’s about pausing in order to be able to choose – choose what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling, what you’re doing, and what your experience will be.