It’s ironic that most of us crave a break and yet refuse to take one. It goes without saying that most of us pine for a week off work or away from the kids, vacation-style — those really take some planning and doing. But we refuse to give ourselves the doable, daily vacations — renewing pauses throughout the day.
In the all-or-nothing, Go Big or Go Home culture that surrounds us, many of us find ourselves held hostage to the idea that we should focus on getting substantial quantities of everything and that anything less is a meaningless drop in the bucket with no value added. If we only have 20 minutes to walk on the treadmill instead of go to an hour long workout class, we say “screw it” and do something else that’s a “better” use of the time. If we can’t find a healthy, lite menu choice at the restaurant our friend picked, we call it a day and just get the loaded nachos. If we can’t get a much needed weeklong vacation or an hour for yoga, we just hunker down at work, snack on garbage, and veg in front of the TV at the end of the day. This black-or-white/all-or-nothing thinking is really huge disservice to our wellbeing and in the go-go-go context of our world the Power of the Pause becomes infinitely more important.
Pausing – the deliberate and mindful decision to refrain from action—is not really in our human nature. Our critter selves are wired to go forward. No squirrel ever had a good winter from pausing in collecting of berries and nuts; no predator ever successfully hunted meat by not pouncing; and no human ever got a promotion at work or their kids’ lunch packed by lounging on the couch.
Two important ways that learning to pause can improve your life
1. When you learn to pause, you are giving yourself the opportunity to more fully appreciate and maximize opportunities that do not at first glance appear valuable.
If we slow down and think about it, we all know that 20 minutes of exercise is substantially more beneficial than no minutes of exercise. Yet somehow, when we’re running late at the end of the day and somehow our gym time has been whittled down from 60 minutes to 30, we’re highly likely to just keep driving on home past the gym. There are a million examples of this relativity that come up in our daily lives, but when we’re moving too fast we default to the all-or-nothing thinking that obscures these important grey areas. Our automatic thinking just jumps right to the “not worth it” thinking pattern. And then we miss out.
If we can learn to insert a pause when automatic thoughts such as “I’ll only have 20 minutes to work out at this point, I might as well go home” pop into our heads, we can then make a different choice that serves us better.
2. When you learn to pause, you are giving yourself the opportunity to experience your precious life
Pausing gives us an opportunity to make sure we are in the moment we in, enjoying and experiencing it to the max. How often do we get to the bottom of a popcorn container in a movie and think, holy cow, who ate all that popcorn? We consumed it without experiencing it because we weren’t paying attention to what we were doing, and we got all of the calories and none of the joy as we mindlessly tossed it into our mouths.
Pausing is a meaningful way to make sure we are experiencing our experiences … tasting the popcorn, so to speak. Practice inserting pauses — even just sixty seconds — into your activities, to check in and make sure your attention is on what you are doing and that you’re experiencing it fully. Otherwise, what’s the point? If we’re not experiencing the pleasure of a $5 coffee, we might as well go get the $.99 sludge from a gas station and save ourselves a bundle. If we’re going to spend our entire time with our families taking pictures and posting them, we might as well just be an onlooker and not a participant.
Pausing will plug you into your life and help you have memorable experiences instead of forgettable consumption. It will help you recognize opportunities that you might otherwise blow by in the whirl of your daily life. Pausing will open space for you to experience the extraordinary already available to you in the seemingly ordinary and routine. Pausing will help you live your life to the fullest, instead of the fastest.