Do you tend to think things through, or automatically react? Being quick to react can work in some situations, but often, taking a mental “pause” before responding is a smart move. With today’s technologies, we have nearly instant access to other people, making it easy to just react first and deal with the consequences later. However, taking a moment to gather our thoughts and put together a conscious response can lead to much better outcomes.

Taking a pause for mindfully seeing a situation clearly can help us choose a response, rather than automatically reacting with ingrained patterns that may not serve us, others, or the situation. Mindfulness puts us back in choice. As Viktor Frankl 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.”

Let’s explore how to use a mental “pause” button before responding. Keep in mind that this pause can be useful in a variety of situations, and is a skill you can develop by practicing consistently over time.

  1. Think through the consequences — both intended and unintended. There is a power in pausing to explore what happens next if you choose response A, B or C. Taking this break reduces stress and makes you feel more relaxed and ready to make an informed decision. Sometimes quick reactions (i.e. snapping at a family member, criticizing a colleague or sending a poorly-worded email) lead to negative consequences, whether they’re intended or not. Giving yourself a moment to gather your thoughts and feelings can help you make a choice you won’t regret later.
  2. Take your emotional temperature. Are you feeling highly emotional about this particular situation? Give yourself some space to lean into your feelings and explore the source before responding to the situation. You may find that once the intense feelings subside, you’re able to see the situation differently. You may also find that your initial inclination was correct, and now you can respond with a more effective, thought-out reaction.
  3. Explore each option. There are multiple ways to explore each of your options — ask yourself if a friend were to come to you with this situation, what would you advise them to do? You can also ask yourself how you would feel if you had to face the person involved in the situation again. Explore which option will be most effective in resolving the situation by imagining how each scenario/response would play out. Sometimes the best response is no response at all.
Choosing to adopt a mental “pause” button into your daily life can lead to a more thoughtful, purposeful life, rather than one driven mostly by impulse reactions.

How to use a mental “pause” button