The Power of the Pause: Take a Breath Before Responding

I SAW A FACEBOOK POST this week that got me reacting big time. I was so annoyed and found my fingers on the keyboard ready to type out some nasty shit. And then I paused. I took a breath. And I asked myself, “What good will my comment serve?”

Then I stepped away from the keyboard.

Crisis averted.

How often do you find yourself regretting an answer? A reaction? An outburst? Whether when invited to dinner, when asked to help out in some way, or when your buttons get pushed, learning to pause before responding can save you a lot of grief.

Knee-jerk reactions are a big cause of emotional and mental clutter. You don’t want to be that friend who accepts invitations and then cancels at the last minute (full disclosure: this used to be me), or someone who wants to be the hero or to be liked so you say yes to every request only to have resentment breed fast.

No matter the situation, a few seconds can be a lifesaver. And often a few seconds is all that’s needed. I call it “The Power of the Pause.”

To practice the pause, simply take a breath when an invitation or request comes your way or when you get triggered.

“Hey, you want to go to dinner tonight/tomorrow/this weekend?”



Not excited at the idea? Honor that feeling.

“I’m not available tonight, but let me check my calendar for the next week or so and I’ll get back to you.”

A fear of the other person’s feelings getting hurt might compel you to immediately agree to something you’re on the fence about, when in fact you might not want to go simply because you’re tired or you’ve been running around like crazy and need a break. Give yourself some space and time to consider the invitation and then you’ll be able to answer in an honest way, keeping the relationship channels between you and the other person clean.

Or let’s say you’ve been asked to volunteer at your child’s school or to take on a community activity at work, try this:

“My plate is pretty full right now so I wouldn’t be able to give the event/project/fundraiser the time it deserves. Sorry I can’t be of more help.”

This doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent or lazy employee. It simply means what you said — that you wouldn’t be able to give it your best.

Sure, it might feel uncomfortable to decline invitations or requests, but accepting out of guilt or obligation clutters up your spirit and keeps you in the vicious cycle of agreement and self-betrayal.

Pausing to check in helps you identify the boundaries you need to set and recognize with whom you may give too much of yourself to. Combine this with language you’re comfortable using when declining and you’ll no longer fear being caught off guard.

This same approach works great with yourself, too. Maybe you’re a worrier by nature and something is currently making you uneasy. Stop and check in about the purpose of your worrying. Is it productive, meaning there is something you can do to address the concern, or is it non-productive, meaning you’re just spinning your wheels worrying but there’s truly no action you can take to alleviate it.

Instead of defaulting to old habits, come off autopilot and take a moment before saying “yes.” If you want to be in charge of your life and continue making strides toward your goals, add the pause to your toolbox.

After all, nothing changes if nothing changes.

Now I want to hear from you.

  • Do you often find yourself in commitments out of guilt and obligation?
  • Where could you use a pause?

  • What prompts you to be an automatic “yes” person?

Let’s chat in the comments below.

Photo credit: Rafa Puerta Photo via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND



6 replies
  1. Vicki Lee
    Vicki Lee says:

    I’m like a lion – I love having big pause! Seriously though, it is a great resource to have and it’s becoming more and more a natural part of the way I live now. Mostly it’s useful when a comment or something is said by someone that immediately triggers me. I find I can stop myself to pause before firing back or opening my mouth with a verbal retaliation. After all, it may not be what I think it is and certainly not worthy of an attack on them.
    After a pause, I might still feel the need to respond as I also trust my knowing or I think it’s valid to say/write then and there – after a pause.

    I often will respond with an invitation with similar, being gracious for the invite then saying I will check my calendar and consider it first then get back to them, which I always do because it’s good manners. And often I find my immediate reaction to decline changes to a yes after a pause and consideration of it.

    The power of the pause is mighty because it has you being more involved and conscious of what you say or do rather than a big ol’ defensive reaction that is more often about something else.

    Thank you Kerri. Such an important gift.

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Vicki! I love that lion line. Ha ha ha! Yes, sometimes the pause can be difficult to remember to do, but boy oh boy, it’s such a good tool! That’s great that it’s becoming your regular M.O. It really helps you to be more in the moment.

  2. Susan
    Susan says:

    Love this concept! I respond way too quickly particularly around invitations. Finding appropriate language to decline events has always been tricky for me. Thanks for the suggestions. Like the idea of giving yourself time to check in with yourself, take control of your schedule and then only accept if it will feed your soul.

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Susan! Yes, language is usually the main thing that can make you agree to something you may not want to. A gold standard is “Let me check my calendar.” Or even, “I just have to check on a couple things first.” Take your time responding to those invitations and let’s make sure you’re making yourself a priority!

  3. Kat
    Kat says:

    I am learning to pause for a while before shooting an email off in anger or frustration. I write a LOT of emails every day to students, faculty, and staff, and this is crunch time before the fall semester starts. I get angry or upset at the drop of a hat, but I am teaching myself to raise hell alone in my office and not in email hahahahaa

    I also do say yes when I want to say no.

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      I love that, Kat, “raise hell along in my office and not in email”! Great rule of thumb! I imagine your job can involve some emotionally-charged emails.

      Ask yourself what makes you say yes when you want to say no. What stops you from saying no? Figuring that out will help you address the source of it.


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