Do you ever feel you’ve got so much to do you don’t know where to begin? Have you ever thrown yourself into something important only to get stuck? Have you ever been frozen by fear of failure?
All these scenarios, and many more, can occur when we lose our capacity to think clearly. At times like these, our mind can be filled by a haze of random, incoherent thoughts. We’re overwhelmed.
In a state of overwhelm, we feel disoriented. We struggle to keep our emotions in check. Our relationships suffer — at work and at home. We may over-react, make poor judgements and antagonize others. And we’re very likely to say something we later regret.
The antidote to mental overwhelm is mental clarity. To give mental clarity a chance we need to create mental space. I’m going to show you a simple and reliable way to do this. I call it the Pause Tool.
Right now, in this moment, try this (after you’ve read all 3 steps):
Pause: stop what you’re doing or thinking, as if pressing an internal pause button.
Focus: place your hand towards the bottom of your rib cage, between your heart and your stomach.
Breathe: slowly, gently and deeply, at least 3 times. Observe the flow of your in- and out-breath. Notice your chest rising, perhaps your stomach expanding.
In the space of these 3 breaths something will have shifted within you.
Time yourself breathing in this way for one minute. Count how many breaths you take. What do you notice now?
As we focus our awareness on our body and our breathing, our perspective shifts. We feel calmer and more grounded. The thoughts will still come, but in practising the Pause Tool we become more consciously aware of them. When you notice a thought, shift your attention back to your breath. That way your thoughts can’t derail you. They still won’t stop coming, but they won’t be able to control you.
The Pause Tool creates the space we need to think, and our conscious breathing anchors it. It helps us choose what we say or do next, to respond intentionally rather than react automatically from habit.
In the words of Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and one of the 20th century’s most influential psychotherapists:
“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 freedom.”
The space created by an intentional pause can open our mind just enough to see things differently.
and repeat often!