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The Interrupter: Take the One–Minute Pause!

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.

 – Victor Frankl

A leader recently shared with me the value of taking a one–minute pause before he spoke at board meetings so he could be more present, take a few deep calming breaths, create some space for himself, and respond in a more thoughtful, deliberate way. A Wharton student shared with me that she used the technique of taking a pause, focusing on her breath, and getting grounded in her body by feeling her fingertips to help her feel more calm during emotionally charged conversations.

Tara Brach, meditation psychologist and meditation teacher, speaks about how most things are really out of our control – even our thoughts, body sensations, and emotions – but because our mind is trainable, we can take control of how we respond to certain situations. She mentioned something called “the interrupter,” a mindful moment where we take a pause and respond to the situation at hand in an intentional way versus being stuck in autopilot or acting out based on our old patterns.

Tips around the one–minute interrupter!

  • Take a few deep breaths, with more focus on the exhale. This will help stop your fight/flight response, activate your parasympathetic (the rest and digest) system, regulate your emotions, and cultivate a sense of calm and well-being.
  • If you are in a conversation or meeting, and things get heated, request a short coffee or bathroom break to give yourself time to step away and settle your mind. Again, a few, slow, deep breaths will help interrupt the fight/flight response and facilitate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) system.
  • Rather than mindlessly checking your phone, take a mindful minute to take a few deep breaths, get present, and feel centered. As a practice, because we’ve become so addicted to our phones, Tara Brach encourages us to skip once every four times we check our PDAs – and take a mindful pause.
  • At end of the day, right before you enter your home, take a moment, a few deep breaths, check in with yourself and ask – what’s my best intention for how I want to show up and be with myself, family, and/or others? Relaxed? Calm? Joyful? This is a great exercise to do anytime of day – either for yourself or before you meet with someone.
  • Here’s a simple four step approach – called STOP that I learned as part of my MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) training. It’s a simple way to be more deliberate and thoughtful about how you respond to any kind of moment – pleasant or stressful.
  1. Stop: Pause.
  2. Take a Breath: It might be half a breath, one breath or ten breaths – depends on the situation you are in and the pace of your experience, so trust your judgment and work with what you have.
  3. Observe: Notice what’s happening. Pay attention to and honor your thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Say “YES” to this moment, accepting that it is here. Try to coexist with whatever you are noticing. The suffering comes in when we resist or want things to be different than they are.
  4. Proceed: What’s the appropriate response here given what you are noticing? What’s your best intention for this situation? Make a decision based on a deliberate choice versus habit.
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