The Power of the Pause

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.

And I took a breath.

And I asked myself, “What good will my comment serve?”

Then I stepped away from the keyboard.

Crisis averted.

Had I posted my comment, I would have been revved up all day awaiting a response and ready to fire back. Is that really the best use of my time and energy? Hell no! Besides, has anyone ever had a truly productive exchange on social media?

Ah, the power of the pause.

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

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 so says yes to every request only to later get resentful and pissed off.

No matter the situation, a few seconds can be a lifesaver. And often a few seconds is all that’s needed.

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 tomorrow?”



Not excited at the idea? Shove away the shoulds and honor that feeling.

“I’m not available, but thanks for the invite. Maybe another time.”

You might feel compelled to agree to something you’re unsure of out of a fear of hurting the other person’s feelings but giving yourself space and time to consider the invitation will allow you to give an honest answer. Doing so honors your commitment to yourself and keeps the relationship channels between you and the other person clean.

SIDE NOTE: Although you might be available time-wise, you may not be available energy-wise. It’s ok to say no even when your calendar shows the space to say yes.

The Powerful Pause is a handy tool in lots of different situations. For instance, if:

  • You tend to worry a lot. Pause and see if your worrying is productive or unproductive. If your worrying alerts you to a step you can take to better a situation, it’s productive. If there’s nothing you can do, it’s unproductive. The pause can help you act or surrender.
  • You’re about to order that next drink or reach for another cookie. Pause to check if there are uncomfortable emotions bubbling up that you’re trying to silence.
  • You’re beating yourself up for procrastinating. Pause and see if you might be protecting yourself in a roundabout way. Does anything feel scary about taking action?

Instead of defaulting to old habits, turn off the autopilot and take a minute to be with yourself. After all, nothing changes if nothing changes, right?

This week, begin by simply noticing where you tend to act or respond quickly. Then note those times when you wish you would have paused. You’ll up your chances of behaving differently the next time.

Your life and your BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals) deserve as much time and energy as you can muster. Let’s be sure you’re not wasting these precious commodities in unnecessary ways.

10 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.

  4. Clair
    Clair says:

    Thanks Kerri! I’m not working now so I find myself wondering how do I say no when I everyone knows I have all the time in the world? I’m not available energetically. I love that. I’ve been pausing a lot to ask myself how much of what I’m thinking is true and how much am I projecting fear into a situation. Thanks for the new ideas and tools.

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      Therein lies the power of an effective boundary, Clair! You needn’t explain yourself to anyone when you say no. In fact, as soon as you explain yourself, you invite them to challenge you. Short, sweet, and to the point is your best approach. For example, if someone asks if you can run an errand for them you can say something like, “I wish I could help, but I’m not available.” If they push the issue, simply repeat. “I wish I could help, but I’m not available.” See how concise that is? Even the most stubborn requestor will get the message after several repeats. 🙂

  5. Day
    Day says:

    I appreciate your practical advice about the power of the pause, especially the suggestion about taking a breath. I need this reminder often in this stressful time. I’m strengthening my ability to see beyond others’ flares to the anxiety and uncertainty of joblessness and homelessness, small business challenges, elders’ loneliness and parents’ worries …just to name a few. When I can remember to look at the bigger picture, I respond with greater kindness that is how I want to be in the world. Thanks for the pause tips!


    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      Beautiful, Day. It’s no secret that the world needs more kindness right now. The pandemic forced a collective pause which was good for a time but its effect is waning. Time for us to integrate regular pauses into our individual lives. I’m glad you found the tips helpful!


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