The... Pause (that tiny moment before we respond)

The Pause is the brief moment of reflection and thoughtfulness before doing something or replying to someone. It sounds simple, but it’s not.  From ancient times we’ve been wired to REACT based on instinct—that’s how a millennia ago we protected ourselves from predators. To respond with intention however, requires practice and strong disciple in order to rewire our default behaviors. 

For the past couple of years, I’ve stared to become really aware of HOW I react to situations and I have noticed two default options. 

Nervous reaction  

This often happens when I feel insecure. Either I’m talking to a person I consider superior, more knowledgeable etc. or I’m talking about a subject I’m not very familiar with. In these situations, my voice reacts faster than my brain. I ramble and speak very quickly (as if lots of words = I know a lot), I also experience uncomfortable (and distracting) sensations in my body i.e.: heat, pressure in my chest, sweat. Because of this reactive behavior, I am unable to present a clear, concise point, leaving me feeling slightly ashamed or annoyed at myself for not having said what I really wanted.


Defensive reaction  

Sometimes, a simple comment or (social media) image can trigger a strong unpleasant emotion i.e.: anger, jealousy. These sensations send a powerful signal to my brain saying: “You are being attack. Attack back!” For example, when my husband, James, comes home and says: “What happened here? The house is a mess!”, my auto-pilot behavior is to REACT aggressively (or passive aggressively)…. To answer back in an unpleasant tone and start trying to score points (well, I’ve been with the kids all afternoon, they where being wild, I am tired – what have YOU been doing? blah blah blah). 


Default reactions are difficult to domesticate. After all, it’s like trying to rewire a 10,000-year-old brain! But in order to have the thoughtful connection I desire (with myself and with others), I need to upgrade my operating system. I need to learn how to RESPOND. 


This is where The Pause comes in. Pausing allows me to notice the sensation of anger/frustration/jealousy etc. in my body, but gives me a chance to choose how I want to respond (as opposed to lashing out). I can say to James: “I know… the house it’s a mess, I also wish it was organized. The kids were wild. Let’s cleat it up.”  


The Pause requires me to slow down and connect with my body. So when talking to someone whom I find intimidating, I try to concentrate on my breathing and make an effort to speak pronouncing e-v-e-r-y single letter. No need to rush when I’m confident in what I’m saying. 


As Viktor Frankl (author of the wonderful book Man’s Search for Meaning) said: 

“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.”


Recently, I was talking to a friend and colleague from The Wellbeing Project, discussing what we thought it’s the meaning of “well-being.” He said that it’s our ability to respond well… and I couldn’t agree more. We can always choose how we want to engage with others (and our thoughts). I know it’s not easy, but we must practice for the sake of living the way we truly want.

Veronica Marquez