We have all been in a heightened emotional situation, and most of us experience it every day in one subtle way or another.

An email or text comes that doesn’t feel as warm as you would like for it to be. You’re upset because someone passed off a bit too much of your efforts as their own. Or maybe you just don’t feel the best you’ve ever felt on a given day.

These situations are opportunities to test “The Case for Pausing”.

The act of pausing is an accessible and scalable skill. You have the ability to do it anywhere, at any time, and you have the power to decide the length.

A pause is a temporary stop in action or speech. It would be helpful to add thought under the action category in this sense. Let’s include with the definition that a pause is a break from a heavy mental state.

Lengths of Pausing

How long do you pause? You should feel comforted that you have options and different durations of pauses available.

  • Brief – A simple count of one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand might be enough here to give enough space. Focus on one object for a few seconds – maybe it is a pebble in your hand, or a tree in nature, or a cloud moving in the sky. Bring 100% of your focus there.

  • Mid-range – Think something along the lines of 15-20 minutes. How can you take an outsider look at the environment or emotional state you are in? A walk outside if you can; a brief meditation (we have these at our fingertips through many apps including Headspace, Waking Up; Insight Timer; and Calm to name a few).

  • Extended – Do you need a day, night, week or month to think about something or revisit it? We all have bandwidth limitations and sometimes things have to take the back seat.

  • Indefinite – The adverse effects of grit, sometimes you should quit. The sunk cost fallacy of continuing. The sunk cost effect is manifested in a greater tendency to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made. (Arkes & Blumer 1985). Pausing here might give you space to evaluate if your costs are outweighing your benefits.

Four Techniques

Noting is a technique that comes up in various types of mindful meditation.

  • “Whether you are focusing on the breath or simply sitting in quiet, this technique involves specifically “noting” what’s distracting the mind, to the extent that we are so caught up in a thought or emotion that we’ve lost our awareness of the breath (or whatever the object of focus is). We “note” the thought or feeling to restore awareness, create a bit of space, as a way of letting go, and to learn more about our thought patterns, tendencies, and conditioning.” – Andy Puddicombe of Headspace

We can use this technique outside of meditation when we find ourselves lost in thought or emotion. A pause can be taken here to first recognize and “note” that something is greatly distracting us.  You are giving yourself a few moments here to realize that the emotion and situation are not permanent states.

You actually pause and take time to focus on the thought that you are experiencing.

There is evidence to show that this act alone greatly reduces the negative aspects of the thought. Just being here alone you have given yourself some space and have the opportunity to decide what you are going to do with that, rather than just reacting.

The Trichotomy of Control (William Irvine – The Stoic Challenge)

  • Things over which we have complete control (such as the goals we set for ourselves)

  • Things over which we have no control at all (such as whether the sun rises tomorrow)

  • Things over which we have some but not complete control (such as whether we win while playing tennis)

Figure out which one applies to you in that moment. Every time you decide to control your inner dialogue and become more responsive rather than reactive, there is a small win for you and everyone around you.

Being present and recognizing your emotions allows you to give space in any situation and bring it down a notch. This calming effect will be projected out to the people around you, making their experience, day, or moment a bit lighter.

Framing Effect

The psychological principles that govern the perception of decision problems and the evaluation of probabilities and outcomes produce predictable shifts of preference when the same problem is framed in different ways. (Tversky & Kahneman 1981). How we mentally characterize a situation has a profound impact on how we respond to it emotionally.

In the act of a pause, we can briefly remove ourself from the situation and frame how all other sides might view the situation.

In that moment, you have the opportunity to truly respond rather than react. You can do so from an empathetic viewpoint rather than a selfish stance. If it truly is an internal feeling or emotion, you can view yourself from the outside as someone else.

Attention Restoration Theory (ART) asserts that people can concentrate better after spending time in nature, or even looking at scenes of nature. (Kaplan & Kaplan 1989).

There are four steps here:

  • Clearing the mind – let thoughts come and go

  • Mental fatigue recovery – your mind moves on from the though that impacted you

  • Soft fascination – low stimulus activity in nature – think a leisure hike

  • Reflection and restoration – once in this state from nature you are able to bring your attention to reflect and restore your attention to things you value


In sum, anyone has the option to pause. How long and the type of technique you use will is entirely up to you. There are many techniques to try with a few mentioned here for encouragement.

The end goal here is to learn to be a bit more present and a little bit less reactive.

Stop for a few seconds, go for a walk, or spend a weekend in nature. And you just might find, that in any day, in any moment, there can be a case for a pause.


Link to sunk cost fallacy: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1985-20101-001

Link to Noting on Headspace: https://www.headspace.com/meditation/techniques

Link to Stoic Challenge: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07P9DC6TY/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Link to Framing Effect: http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/surveys.course/TverskyKahneman1981.pdf

Link to Attention Restoration Theory: https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=7l80AAAAIAAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&ots=TqJXQIla2j&sig=q0vdWeLufadCL9x_20KhzrNxazg#v=onepage&q&f=false