The Benefits of Pausing – How To Regain Control
One of my favorite quotes is by Viktor Frankl, a 20th century psychiatrist from Vienna. It goes like this: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lives our growth and our freedom”. Powerful, right? I thought so too. It might help to know that Dr. Frankl spent 3 years in concentration camps during World War II so he knows a thing or two about the difficulties and adversities of life. In the western society we are taught, encouraged and often punished if we don’t keep up the pace with our coworkers, friends and neighbors. Is it any wonder that our mental and physical health and even relationships are suffering?
Our daily lives are filled with news on TV and radio, texting, advertisements, reality shows, various social media outlets…all a cacophony of ways to overwhelm the mind. We even recognize a special type of disorder called infomania, which describes a compulsive need for a person to obtain information and news. I’m sure you know a few people who fit this diagnosis! I used to have a terrible habit of treating social media as a “distraction” or what I thought was a way to let my mind unwind from various small stressor of life. While it may work temporarily, the reality is that it often leaves us with feelings of anxiety, low self esteem, and negative thoughts. Add work, commute, school and family stresses on top of this. How can we find this precious thing many of us search for- peace? Enter the lost art of pausing.
Pausing and reflecting is not some new age technique to attain liberation. What it can do is make subtle improvements in your daily life that compound over time. While starting to get familiar with pausing and reflecting in the middle of a big argument is not a good idea, start with the following instead. When you’re feeling annoyance/anger dealing with a coworker or driving in traffic, take a deep conscious abdominal breath. Feel how your body is reflecting the stress. Does your chest feel tight? Are your shoulder slouched? Is there tension in your mouth and eyes? Relax your neck, shoulders and upper back. Then try to reflect on your thoughts without an outward reaction. Think of this as if you were a dispassionate observer, reserving judgment. This will take some practice! You might realize how small this inconvenience is and perhaps let go of your frustrations a little bit.
Another pausing/mindfulness technique that I recently learned about and have tried to do daily is 5-in-3. Here we’ll focus on 3 senses: vision, hearing and tactile sensation (touch). You don’t need to do this for an hour to reap the benefits, just set aside a few minutes out of your day. First visually find 5 different things around you; can be as simple as book, table, piece of paper, phone, pen. Then listen to the sounds surrounding you and try to hear 5 distinct sounds. It helps to close your eyes as our vision tends to take over which minimizes some of the noises you hear. Lastly, feel 5 sensations with your body. Examples of this can be the feeling of the ground under your feet, the feel of your clothes, the pressure of the seatbelt over your chest, the feeling of a breeze on your face.
These are just a few of the ways we can use mindfulness to our advantage. Just like the quadriceps, we can train our mindfulness muscle and, with time, as we encounter bigger challenges, use this strategy to feel more peaceful, calm and at ease even when it seems like the world is against us. This is a challenging practice but nothing worthwhile comes easily, right? Keep practicing and you will get better.