In Praise of the Thanksgiving Pause

It’s Thanksgiving. Public health advocates ask us to stop running around and stay put. Listen. And know gratitude more deeply in the pause.

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Sometimes circumstances do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It is Thanksgiving week in the United States. You may have traveled, you may not. Your Thanksgiving may look like previous Thanksgivings. It may not.

The message from public health advocates is to stop running around as we always do. To stay put. Exhale. Keep is simple. Pause.

Sometimes, circumstances know.

I think of a conversation I recently had with Stephanie, a CFO I had the pleasure of coaching for a half-year stretch. I cherish my conversations with Stephanie. She is immensely likable, smart, results-oriented, driven. At times, Stephanie’s impatience with the status quo and external pressures got the best of her. In this, our final conversation that concluded our formal coaching journey, I asked Stephanie to reflect on what she took away from our coaching conversations.

To pause, she said.

Perfect answer, I thought to myself.

We expect you, the modern-age professional, to be self-aware and reflect. At its best, this self-awareness is present in every moment. You engage with another person, and you’re at the same time aware of the quality of this engagement and the choices you make. I call this ability double-tracking. In the moment, and watchful of the moment, all at once.

In-the-moment, I stay conscious of what is going on. I choose to be un-automatic. I choose to be present.

Reflection, however, tends to happen in a pause. The pause is the moment in-between active engagement. This moment is often only milliseconds long. Just for a moment, I don’t talk, don’t react, don’t act. And here are some of the glorious things that happen in those milliseconds.

◾️ In the pause I catch myself

I notice my obsessive thinking, my obliviousness to my surroundings, my inattention to the cues I receive from the other person, my urge to retort with a habitual response. Yes, all of that. Even on Thanksgiving Day. Those are the things I catch.

◾️ In the pause I clear myself

I release the mind chatter, the rising emotion, the urge to disagree, the desire to be right. Yes, I let it go, all of that. That’s what I clear. I return to a more pure, less cluttered version of myself. The me that better hears my inner wisdom. The me that is fully connected to myself.

◾️ In the pause I consider the “other”

I switch my attention from MY thoughts to a genuine desire to understand the other. Her request. His demand. Their underlying motivation. Yes, I switch from me-thinking to you-thinking. To my deepest desire to be of service to you. This is a transformative consideration.

◾️ In the pause I recalibrate

I recalibrate my response to the other. I choose language that demonstrates understanding. A tone that is inviting. An energy that fosters connection. Yes, I advance the conversation and don’t allow it to get stuck. In the pause, I may discover that all is well, just as is. Exquisite, right? Those are the gifts of recalibration.

All this can happen in a pause. The moment when we stop. Mere milliseconds, much of the time. Circumstances in our over-scheduled, over-committed, over-stimulated lives conspire against the pause. This conspiracy is vicious. Guess what, pandemic circumstances are sending us a whole other message.

To pause, she said.

Yes, it’s a pretty perfect answer.

It’s Thanksgiving. Be grateful for what you have in lieu of yearning for all that you don’t. Instead of being super-busy, choose to be un-busy. Banish all stories of what this day should look like.

Instead, choose to pause.

In the pause, know deeper gratitude.

What a blessing that is.

HAPPY Thanksgiving!

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