Most mornings, before I even get out of bed, my mind is already racing with things I need to remember, find out, and do. It's usually more of a blessing than a curse, and it certainly is not without its joy, but it can make my head a pretty noisy place to be. In a day filled with client engagements, volunteer commitments, connecting with friends and family, and saving space for self-care, my thoughts often crash into each other, creating waves that sometimes leave me happily riding on top of them and sometimes overwhelmed as they wash over me. It can be hard to keep perspective and focus when it feels like I'm balancing on a surfboard.
In the midst of these waves, I stumbled upon a quote from Mister Rogers that caught my attention first because of its connection to our Won't You Be curriculum and then, more importantly, because it was just what I needed to hear.
"Our society is much more interested in information than wonder, in noise rather than silence…And I feel that we need a lot more wonder and a lot more silence in our lives."
What we need, I chuckled to myself, is a pause button. If we could just push pause when we need some extra time or space, imagine the wonder we could create for ourselves.
And then, I realized, we already have a pause button. We just don't remember to push it very often.
Why do we need to pause?
In a big way, we need to pause for others just as much as we need to pause for ourselves. It's easy to get overwhelmed these days; from big meetings at work to big moments with family to big stories playing out in the news, it's all too easy to get swept up in the waves of getting things done rather than the intentionality behind what we do and why we do it. Quiet time helps to relieve stress and tension, renew our mental resources, and more productively evaluate information. When we don't press pause in our lives, we deprive ourselves of some very important cognitive work. When we do press pause, we unlock the opportunity to be more effective and efficient.
Like any other tool, we all have a pause button we can press—but we don't always remember to use it. In a 2013 study, Joseph Moran identified something that highlights the value of incorporating space and silence into our days: "When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into "a conscious workspace." It is in this workspace, which requires us to embrace silence, that much of our real work can get done.
For many of us, life is full of noise. It's marked by the sound of your headphones connecting to your computer for another video call, honking horns during your commute, and clanging pots and pans as you make dinner. If these environments are not conducive to accomplishing our real work—the thinking, processing, and planning that can make us more productive—are we doing ourselves a disservice? Could it be that hitting our own PAUSE button can make us better leaders, colleagues, and friends?
Hit the PAUSE Button
Taking time to pause, whether as a regular practice or in the moments when you truly need it, is a wonderful chance to realign with your needs, goals, and priorities. Here are a few ways you can make your PAUSE moments meaningful and refreshing.
Take a moment to consider your principles. What are the most basic, fundamental traits or beliefs that inspire your actions? When you look internally, what are the qualities you possess that mean the most to you?
Our values are an essential foundation for how we perceive the world, how we connect with others, and how we make decisions. Take some time to consider how your values impact your views and actions. In moments of overwhelm, consider if the thoughts you have or the choices you are making are aligned with your values. Where you find misalignment, you may also find an opportunity to reframe your perspective and choose next steps that will honor your principles.
When we get busy, it can be very easy to rely on assumptions to guide our thoughts and actions. Fact-checking takes time, and that's why hitting the PAUSE button can be a valuable strategy.
Consider the assumptions you might be making. Then, look at how you can either validate or challenge those assumptions. It might mean reaching out to a team member to ask if you have the right information, or it might involve some additional homework to uncover new facts or data. By recognizing our assumptions for what they are—unexamined beliefs that may not paint a complete picture—we enable ourselves to seek clarity and accuracy. Actions taken on a foundation built from clarity and accuracy will always be stronger than those on a foundation built from assumptions.
Humans are inherently social beings, and our lives are richer for the connections we make with others. Hitting the PAUSE button can help us ensure we are nurturing our relationships with understanding.
When you're facing tough decisions or difficult conversations, pause to understand your needs—and the needs of others. What do you need in the moment? What do your colleagues, friends, or family members need? Feedback can be a powerful tool to use as you seek to understand both kinds of needs. Share where you need help or support and offer help or support to others. When we pause to build understanding, we build stronger connections with the people who matter to us.
The world we work in presents us with many types of charged environments—whether they involve in-person or virtual interactions. That's why carving out space can be an essential tool to help you pause, reflect, and reset.
Hit the PAUSE button to carve out the time and space you need for your work and your thoughts. If you are facing a challenge, removing yourself from your environment—creating a true physical separation—can work wonders for clearing your head and changing your perspective. The PAUSE button can be great for specific challenges, such as preparing for a difficult presentation or a tough conversation, but it can help more holistically, too. Protect some time on your calendar for a walk outside, meditation, or a conversation with a friend. Space can remove you from stressful situations and enable you to problem solve or process in your own time.
Although most of us can quickly label our moods, hitting the PAUSE button to ask yourself how you are feeling can be a productive way to get to the core of how an event or issue is impacting your thoughts or actions.
Take time to consider how the situations you face make you feel. It may be that your emotions are shaping your approach—for better or for worse. If you are feeling angry or insulted, are those emotions fueling your words and actions? Taking stock of our emotions can help to put intention behind our reactions and prevent us from making choices that could inadvertently damage relationships or reputations. By pausing, you can empower yourself to enter situations with awareness and generate the kinds of results you want.
Use Your PAUSE Button
I may never get to a place where I can enjoy a quiet start to my morning; my mind will likely always race with things I need to remember, find out, and do. But knowing that I have a PAUSE button empowers me to take the moments I need to examine my principles, challenge my assumptions, understand what I need and what my colleagues need, protect my space and my time, and consider my emotions. The PAUSE button is one tool can help us build deeper connections and accomplish more meaningful work—and maybe, just maybe, give us what we need to rediscover our sense of wonder.