The Power of Taking A Pause: Why Slowing Down Is Far from Failure
In our busy lives, slowing things down might feel counter-productive
But, says coach Rona Steinberg, you might be surprised how taking a pause can help your progress
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It’s autumn, the clocks have gone back (or was it forward?), it’s been raining heavily for what seems like ages and it feels cosy to be inside with my laptop and cats for company. Ahead of me is a relatively quiet day, a couple of coaching clients, some training design work with a colleague, supper with friends. Casually I open my inbox. Waiting for me is an email from Alice at Welldoing – she wants to know if I would like to write some content. I must admit my heart sinks slightly...although I profess to be a keen writer, lately I just haven’t found much to write about and haven’t even wanted to. I wonder if everything that’s happening in the world has stifled my creativity or am I merely suffering from an extended bout of writer’s block?
I notice a frisson of anxiety replacing my sense of calm – an old and familiar response that often appears when I’m asked to do something, especially in a professional capacity. Not only do I feel the urge to complete the task immediately, but if I don’t or feel, for whatever reason, that I can’t, I become even more anxious. It was the same at school and university and continued when I was a lawyer...things on my to-do list never stayed there very long as I liked to clear my desk as quickly as possible.
I wonder if this is something you can relate to?
Taking time to explore and reflect
Fortunately, this desire to get things done – and as quickly as possible – isn’t something that tends to trip me up in my coaching work where I feel relaxed and in tune with what needs to happen. Coaching can be a dynamic process of course but I often like to take things slow.
However, I notice that when some clients start coaching with me, they’re initially keen to move along quickly, get to the action and possible solution for what they perceive to be their ‘problem’. They may not be used to exploring emotion, especially difficult emotions. They sometimes express surprise that the coaching goes as deep as it does.
Yet exploring and processing emotion with the goal of not only becoming more aware of what is going on for a client but also uncovering the wisdom that lies within, is very much part of the kind of coaching that I offer. When I sense something happening in the space or the energy or my intuition tells me there’s more to explore, I will often invite the client to ‘take a pause’. It means we can sit quietly, slow everything down, breathe and relax into allowing what needs to emerge to simply rise to the surface.
I remember one client, a lovely man who came to me for some leadership coaching. He thought he was going to learn some new skills but working out what kind of leader you want to be requires deep thought about who you really are and what you stand for. Merely acquiring some new tips and tricks isn’t really going to cut it.
As we explored the impact he wanted to make in the world, long-forgotten experiences and emotions reminded him of who he was at his core. This experience was powerful enough for him to decide to bring much more of his authentic self into his role at work and life in general. He discovered he was much more effective as a leader and felt more relaxed and peaceful even in challenging situations.
Slowing things down can feel challenging
Yet sometimes taking the time to access possibly long-buried emotions can feel difficult, even inappropriate. Powerful emotions, especially when accompanied by tears, are not always welcome in the workplace. There can be a certain mindset that causes us to elevate people, especially leaders, who look calm and collected at all times, even in a crisis or difficult situation. We say they are ‘strong’.
Conversely, there might be an inclination to disapprove of those who are not ‘in control of’ their emotions, especially when those emotions are perceived as negative. They might be labelled ‘weak’.
Yet being able to show vulnerability is a key leadership skill, in my view, neither ‘strong’ nor ‘weak’ but simply a willingness to show what’s really going on for you. In essence, a willingness to show your humanity. This is something we can all relate to and increases trust and connection, vital when things feel difficult. It not only allows others to own and express their vulnerability but also means the deeper wisdom which exists within those feelings can be accessed too.
The powerful pause
Calm, peace, often a realisation that decisions don’t always need to be taken in a hurry are powerful resources that we can always turn to when we feel overwhelmed. Tasks rarely need to be completed immediately. In fact, by taking the space to consider and reflect, we can often access our creativity and resourcefulness more easily. Another outcome of ‘taking a pause’ is that anxiety often quickly dissipates to be replaced by something more relaxed and thoughtful.
So, with all of that in mind, when I notice that I have nothing useful I can write about for Welldoing in that moment, I decide that instead of sitting at the laptop and stressfully cobbling something together to please her and appease my anxiety, I will on this occasion take my own advice, take a pause and see if something comes up.
It stays at the back of my mind quietly waiting all day and sure enough, by evening, I suddenly know what I want to write about...‘taking a pause’. I start typing and the words come easily and fluently, nothing forced or rushed.
Taking a pause is a wonderful coaching tool and something you can do for yourself whenever you feel overwhelmed or things feel complex or difficult to understand or resolve. Trust yourself enough to allow the space and time to figure things out. You might be surprised to discover what was there all along just waiting for the right moment to emerge.