The Power of a Pause

In the hyperbolically accelerating world we live in, it feels like taking time to pause for any length of time is something we cannot afford to do. With a pause we lag behind. With a pause we are not giving it our all. It comes with a measure of guilt. We need to act, now – and quickly.

All too often we are simply reacting. A knee-jerk, stimulus-response. Whether it’s robotically pushing the like button on that social media post or speaking before the other person has actually finished making their point, we need to act.  I’ve gotten myself in trouble with this – by assuming I knew where a conversation was going, making an ass of myself and then having to back pedal and apologize when things went off the rails. I’m working on this.

The secret- if it actually is a secret- is not to react, but respond. Consider before speaking. Make sure you understand before making a reply or taking action.  In some cases this could be a death or life, failure or success, react or respond type of decision. The thing to consider before saying, “It can’t be done” or “There just isn’t time,” is that the difference between reaction and response might be as little as a single breath.

Seth Godin speaks to this in the section in Tribes entitled “The Easiest Thing” (page 86 in the version I have).

“The easiest thing is to react.

The second easiest thing is to respond.

But the hardest thing is to initiate.”

I don’t mean to suggest that snap judgements are worthless. Malcom Gladwell, in his book Blink, points to the power that instant, intuited decisions can have. There is a utility, and skill, in being able to make the right decision in situations where not all the information you would like is available and you don’t have the luxury of a pause. Often, these correct snap judgements are applied and function best in an extremely specific context, where you have amassed knowledge through experience that your subconscious can access in an instant.  Knowing if art is fake or real, ‘sensing’ the right next move in a basketball game, being able to know good music after the first few notes.

However, Gladwell also cautions that snap judgements can easily lead us astray, especially if we forget to factor in our biases, whether innate or situational. Still, a pause can get you over the boundary line of poor decision making into the zone of making good decisions. And putting this into action is, as Godin notes, “the second easiest thing….”

Take a (thoughtful) breath before saying something and let your conversations flow at a more reasonable pace with better results- actual back and forth. Give yourself and your co-converser space to respond, not react. Need more information about what was just said? Pause and the other person will most likely step in to fill the silence. Not sure what to say? Pause, collect your thoughts and say the right thing.

While there will be times when the opportunity to pause will not be there, but far too often it is and we simply fail to take it.  Try it out. Take a single breath before answering. Take a single breath before clicking the like or follow button. Take a single breath before deciding to make a purchase, have another drink, having another bite.  You will be surprised not only at your ability to make better decisions, but how the awareness of having actually made a good decision will benefit you in the long run.




Pause before making a decision – snap decisions aren’t always the best choice.

Pause and clear your mind.