The clock strikes 11pm on a Sunday night, and I catch myself painting my nails. My eagerness to try out a new polish color clashes with my rational brain that wants to head to bed early before a new week. I am on my second coat, when the Sunday night scaries flutter in my belly. I get the feeling I am racing against the clock in order to get my eight precious hours of sleep. The second my pinkie finger is complete, I screw on the nail polish cap and hurry to the bathroom to brush my teeth. My quick movement knocks the toothbrush off its shelf and messes up my right thumbnail. Shit.
Time paused. I watched myself from a birds-eye view. My desire to rush and multitask cost me even more bedtime delay and stress. In this very instant, I had an epiphany. Why do I rush against the clock and put unnecessary pressure on myself? What would my energy and demeanor be like if I paused while my nails were drying? What if I took those sweet five minutes to breathe, be patient with myself, respect my nails and fully allow myself to be in the non-doing of life. What if I truly embraced the pause?
Pondering this question led me on a hunt for other moments where I could embrace the pause. Already a self-help junkie, mindfulness facilitator and professional coach, I am always searching for ways to deepen my personal mindfulness practice as well as tools for my clients. Many of my clients are busy professionals who find it hard to slow down and make time to take care of their mental well-being as well as they care for their physical fitness. Believe me, I understand that the pause seems scary. Moments of stillness and silence feel uncomfortable and foreign in our society. It often seems like we no longer know how to handle them. We even have a problem pausing to embrace a well-deserved and necessary lunch break, as Tony Schwartz highlights in his book: The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working. For most people, the pause is uncomfortable because we crave to feel productive or useful. Most of us pick up our smart phones to fill time and space. A 2016 Deloitte study noted that today’s adults pick up their smart phone 47 times per day. Those 18–24 years old pick it up 82 times daily. This demonstrates how much time we spend with our phones and how, with some awareness, we could distribute some of that time and focus elsewhere in our schedule.
What would life be like if we mindfully embraced the miniature pauses we encounter every day? Instead of filling the space with more work, communication, consumerism, and the need to “do” and fit everything in, what if we just let ourselves be and breathe?
Think about all of the pauses you face each day. Whether you’re waiting for tea water to boil, the elevator to arrive, your web browser to load at the coffee shop, anticipating the arrival of your bus or train, pausing at a red light, on hold for customer service, or even waiting for your nails to dry, these are sweet mindful moments we get to embrace. Yet as a mindfulness facilitator and coach, the excuse I hear most often about why people can’t start a meditation practice is time.
Few people feel they have enough time. So, instead of putting pressure on yourself to cram a 20-minute meditation sit into your already-busy morning routine, start by embracing the various pauses throughout your day. Flex your mindfulness muscles. Allow yourself to be fully in the moment, your body and with your breath. Try to resist looking at social media or checking your email. Take note of your body’s physical sensations, discover the colors in your environment or even just smile and observe what that feels like. Take a moment to breathe and be. When you practice conscious deep breathing, you are relaxing the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the parasympathetic nervous system that enables your body to rest, digest and de-stress. Think of how many mindful deep breaths you can capture during your day to help calm and restore the body to a relaxed and more functional state.
Embracing pauses in my life helps me manage stress and overwhelm because it puts me in control of time versus letting time control my life. Train your mind to recognize that pauses are actually productive. Pauses restore your directed attention, calm your nervous system and equalize your emotions.
If you are a data-driven person, and want more hard numbers, try tracking your pauses with Toggl as a way to measure all of the pauses you embrace during your day. You will be shocked how many mindful moments you will have collected. Embrace the pause to be grounded and present for your life instead of feeling like you are constantly trying to keep up with it. Notice how stress levels decrease and tension in your body softens. Embrace the pause and take back control of your time and well-being.
Originally published at medium.com