Give Yourself a Break
Most of us feel like the world we live in is continuing to move at a faster and faster pace. The rate of technological change is accelerating in a way that makes many of us feel we will never catch up.
Whether it’s home automation, smart cars, or artificial intelligence, nearly everything is being reinvented.
At work, expectations go up each month. We are trying to do more with less, wringing out every last minute of productivity, locked in a world of global competition.
Do you ever feel the need to pause? To take a deep breath?
Rachael O’Meara was working at Google as a customer support manager when she started to struggle. She was burned out and knew that she couldn’t continue without making major changes.
She decided to pause.
And, after giving herself a powerful break, she now shares her experience with all of us. Her new book—with what I think is a spectacularly simple and clever book cover—is Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break. I recently spoke with her about her experience and her new book.
I define a pause as any intentional shift in behavior that allows you the space to experience a mental shift in attitude, thoughts, or emotions that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred. A few examples are taking a long deep breath, not checking your phone for a set period of time, or doing something outside of your comfort zone that you are interested in. Taking a pause isn’t so that you can think more. It’s to do the exact opposite. It’s the space for you to step away from your everyday life and not focus on what is ruling your thoughts.
“Decision is a risk rooted in the courage of being free.” -Paul Tillich
Take a Daily Pause
Talk about the daily pause. What’s the best way to do it?
Pausing can allow new ideas to emerge, more satisfaction, and new ways of being and behaving that are aligned with what matters to you. The only requirement is your conscious choice to decide to shift your behavior. One of the easiest ways to do this is through what I call daily pauses. The best way to do this is to start simple and follow your breath. Sit or stand with both feet firmly on the ground and close your eyes if you are comfortable doing so. Place one hand on your diaphragm and slowly inhale, hold your breath, and slowly exhale. Count each inhale until you get to ten breaths. A few other ways to get started is to create a daily one-minute “mindful” pause – while you do something else or on its own notice what you feel, see, hear, taste or smell. Expressing gratitude is another great daily pause where you can set a timer for one or two minutes and write or say as many things that come to mind.
5 Signs That You Need a Pause
- You use to love your job; now you loathe it.
- The boss tells you it’s not working out.
- An intervention separates you from your technology.
- A major life event, challenge, or change happens.
- A new opportunity reveals itself.
You share your story of working at Google, your near burnout, your personal experience with a pause. If you fail to take daily pauses, does that build up to a need to take a longer one?
Pausing is about what works for you and consciously choosing to shift. It may not be realistic to take a long pause as I did. Daily pauses are a great way to tune in and notice what you’re feeling or follow a desire that brings you joy or feels nourishing. In my case, I hadn’t done any of that and I wasn’t present to myself or aware of what could help me before I got into my burned-out situation. A pause by no means needs to be that long, and the idea is that if you can build it into your day to shift your behavior that aligns with what matters to you, you can avoid burning out and instead choose to have more breaks within a day and notice what really matters.
“The minute you begin to do what you really want to do, it’s a really different kind of life.” -R. Buckminster Fuller
We live in a society where many feel they can’t even take their vacation days, let alone a long pause from work. Why is this toxic?
Tell me about it!
I wrote about this in the Harvard Business Review. 72% of executives wouldn’t take additional vacation days even if they were unlimited, however about four in 10 (39%) think output would actually increase if employees took more time off, according to the Creative Staffing Group. All of this while half of American employees “feel overworked or overwhelmed at least some of the time,” according to a survey by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute last year. It’s toxic because on the one hand we’re refusing to vacation (or pause) from work, and of course we’re going to be stressed out or unhappy. If we gave ourselves permission to step away from work more, the benefits of returning refreshed are well worth it and often lead to greater creativity and less stress.
“He…who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.” -Albert Einstein
What do you say to those who say, “Rachael, even if my organization would let me take unpaid leave, I don’t have the finances to do that. How can I take a pause?”
Most people don’t consider a pause because they mistakenly think it costs too much or they don’t have enough time. Money tends to be the most limiting factor, but it is a myth that a pause needs to be some extravagant expensive journey. A pause can essentially be free or within your budget if you intend it to be. It’s about what works for you, and when you give yourself permission to think about it like that, it can change everything. Daily pauses and smaller shifts in behavior can have as much impact as a longer unpaid leave pause – it’s about intention and what can work for you.
Think of it this way: What if a pause was a way you paid yourself? A pause is an investment in your livelihood, and you are paying it forward and reigniting your spark of life.
“When things begin accelerating wildly out of control, sometimes patience is the only answer. Press pause.” -Douglas Rushkoff
Floss Your Brain
Talk a little bit about mental flossing. I love that visual!
(Me too – I’m a hard core dental flosser. My nickname at rowing practice was “flossy” because I was always flossing my teeth). Imagine you are flossing your brain. Just like your teeth, you can mentally floss your thoughts. When we become aware of what our thoughts or beliefs are that aren’t serving us, we can practice “mentally flossing” them away, like the plaque that is there but may not even be noticed and then build up over time.
“There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.” -Alan Cohen
What is the TASER technique?
One way to do this is to use what I call the TASER technique – an acronym in the book to “zap” your false beliefs about yourself.
Think about a false belief/limiting belief that you told yourself today that is likely not true. In my case, I was at a fitness class and thinking about how inflexible I was and, yes, I could lose a few pounds. The underlying belief would be, “I’m not ok (the way I am).”
Let’s walk through the TASER Technique using an example of a false belief
- T – tune in (“I had a false belief right there!”)
- A – Acknowledge the belief you have and what emotion you have (“I acknowledge I had this belief. I feel sad.”)
- S – Shift your belief to something that’s more updated, more accurate. (“I am”)
- E – Express your new belief. It’s the opposite or what your historical belief is. (I say out loud or to myself, “I am ok!” or “I’m ok no matter what!”).
- R – Repeat every time you catch a false belief. The more you can catch these, the more you can raise your own awareness and intentionally shift your behavior. (I say this again ten more times today, or whenever I catch it!)
What are some of the elements of an AWESOME pause experience?
Do you mean pausesome?!
Each individual will have their own version of an awesome pause – it’s about what works for you based on your finances, timeframe, or activity. An awesome experience will be one that feels satisfying and meets your desires in the moment. In my case, when I choose to take a risk and engage with someone else – as simple as giving a complement to someone else – that is an awesome pause for me. Someone feels seen or heard from what I’ve said, and I feel satisfied and heard because I took a risk and engaged when I otherwise wouldn’t have. Pausing to engage meaningfully and establish a connection with someone else is one way pausing for me is awesome and meets my deeper hungers to be heard and seen, and I know I matter. I talk about this as a daily pause, and it can be done several times throughout a day.
“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” – Guillaume Apollinaire
What’s a pause playground?
The best way we learn, like kids, is playing – like playing at the playground. Your pause is another version of this playground. It’s yours to experiment with, test your abilities, go outside your comfort zone and have some fun. Be open to possibilities and try new things. A pause can be your own playground to have fun and explore new ways of being that may emerge as a result of intentionally shifting your behavior.
We are stretched to be always on and often unaware of how things could be different. I write about these “sleepers” in pause and how easy it is to do that. We assume things are “the way they are.” This isn’t the case. If each of us chose to pause and intentionally shift in some way, where new ideas, emotions, or ways of being may occur, we can prevent continuing going down a path of burnout, reduce stress, and generate new discoveries about our lives. Pausing has a ripple effect and others can be impacted by your pause, creating more acceptance and value around pausing. That is the power of pause. We all have it, and the more we choose to exercise it, whether it’s a conscious breath, a walk around the block, or setting intention for the next task at hand, the more aligned we feel. You also make it ok for others to do the same. My vision is that pausing becomes a way of life for many of us, without rushing into the next thing because we’re on autopilot.
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For more information, see Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break.