By Kay Hannaford
What happens when you press the pause button on your life? Noticing the date of my last blog, im reminded that I’ve pressed pause on my writing for the past few months. Was that a deliberate decision? No. I took a holiday for a couple of weeks and then, like many people this past winter, suffered multiple colds over several months. I simply didn’t feel well enough to write. Having pressed the pause button on a lot of things while I was unwell, I can now say I have quite a different perspective as a result.
For one thing, I asked myself if it really mattered whether I wrote blogs or I didn’t. The sky didn’t fall in and I even mused about whether I actually like writing and, if so, what else I might write. Maybe I’d rather write fiction! I’m not sure I even know how to write fiction. I could certainly learn and that might be fun. Or maybe I will stop writing altogether. Perhaps instead I could relearn to play the keyboard sitting downstairs, unplayed for too long.
Then I found myself questioning if I wanted to continue to work as a coach and mentor. Am I really making a difference? My reflections ranged over a wide range of topics and aspects of my life, including how much pressure I put on myself to perform in one way or another. It’s all a construct, this life we lead and we construct it ourselves, but we forget that. My enforced pause led me to contemplate deconstructing those castle (or prison) walls and consider rebuilding them into something quite different.
I could, if I really wanted to. I can. Maybe I will. And that’s very liberating to know, because it has reminded me I have a choice. Or any number of choices.
For now, I have work commitments that I’m really happy to fulfil. And having paused and reflected on those choices, I know I am bringing fresh enthusiasm and gratitude to the opportunities I have. I’m not just doing what I do because that’s what I do. I’ve chosen afresh to continue to do what I do.
And that’s the value of pausing. Whether it’s a pause of several months to recover one’s mojo, or a pause of a few seconds to consider and choose a response rather than merely react, pausing is a grossly under-rated activity. In fact, Andrew Stevens and I call it a Master Competency in our Leading in Complexity program. The complex issues and challenges that we face these days don’t have simple answers or solutions and require different ways of thinking and different approaches. Pausing to consider multiple perspectives and options to enable us to make better choices is essential.
Nobel prizewinning author Daniel Kahneman, in his bestselling book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, provides vibrant examples of the workings of the two systems in the mind, System 1 operating automatically and quickly with little or no effort and System 2, mental activities requiring effort ( including complex computations) often associated with agency, choice and concentration.
We need and use both, but System 2 activities require paying attention. Pausing. One way I continue to find useful to build muscle around focusing attention without judgement is meditation or mindfulness practice. It’s a direct line to that elusive space where we can observe our own thoughts and feelings and then deliberately choose responses rather than jump to reactive assumptions or conclusions.
If you’ve been running around like a hamster on a wheel, trusting that your intuitive thinking system will keep you afloat, it probably will but try pressing the pause button. You might be surprised, as I was, in the choices you make when you actually take the time to pause and reflect.