We often don’t think of questioning ourselves on why we’re doing things before we do them. More often than not, we do things that we know we shouldn’t be doing. However, there is great power in realizing that there is a space between a stimulus and your response to it. Pausing can help you become more mindful of that space and what you choose to do with that space.

Viktor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning wrote:

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 our freedom.

Pausing before doing something forces you to proactively question the choice you’re about to make. It builds intentionality into whatever you’re about to do. At the very least, it makes you aware that there is a space between a stimulus and response, and with that comes great responsibility as to how you choose to use that space.

In addition, pausing can often stop us in our tracks and subtly question our true motives. Is this the best use of my time? Is this something I should be doing? What’s the value of interrupting myself by doing this as opposed to whatever I was already doing?

Pausing works great, especially with things that we consider “bad habits”. For instance, if you eat too fast, consider pausing between bites. If you listen to too many podcasts, consider asking yourself why you want to listen to a podcast before you listen to it. If you watch too much TV, maybe ask yourself why before you watch the next show.

This sounds so obvious, but you might be surprised by how often we don’t ask ourselves why we’re doing something before doing it. We all have “bad habits” that are ingrained in our subconscious that prevent us from thinking about why we are doing something. Before we’ve even thought about the reason behind the action, we’ve already completed it.

We often find ourselves impulsively checking social media networks for notifications without thinking. It gives us a dopamine hit every time we check, which is our brain rewarding us for a behavior that is counterproductive in the first place. In fact, we do them so fast, that we forget to pause before doing them. We even forget the fact that we could actually pause before doing something.

Oftentimes, we move quickly through a bad habit because we know that a brief pause to think about the choice we’re about to make will allow our left-brain logic to take over and prevent us from doing it. As a result, we won’t get that dopamine hit, and our brains are deprived from the hit it craves.

But, there is a choice. This is not to say that checking those websites is a bad thing in and of itself. It’s not. What I’m saying is ask yourself about the choice you’re about to make, and become aware that you indeed have a choice.

The point is: don’t be disappointed in yourself, but humbly question your motives when making these kinds of choices.

Here are some common situations where you might want to consider pausing:

Pause before picking up your smartphone. Ask yourself why you’re doing it. If you’re checking just for the heck of it, then that’s counterproductive and not justified. More importantly, it’s not intentional. Pausing before you check the phone makes your action more intentional. At the very least, it forces you to question yourself about your choice.

Pause between bites during eating and use that instant to consider if you should continue eating or not. This lets you avoid overeating and decide to eat when hungry and stop when full.

Before turning on the television, ask yourself if this is really something you want to be doing.

Any time you find yourself “consuming” any kind of information, such as reading articles on the web, watching videos, or what have you, take a moment to pause. I’m not judging your choice, I just want to help you make your choice more deliberate.

These choices can help you be more mindful with your behavior and choices. If you can recognize that you’re just mindlessly doing these things, then that’s just counterproductive.

When you want to stop doing something, make it harder for yourself to do it. When you want to start doing something, make it easier for yourself to do it.

What do you do when you identify something that you want to stop doing, but can’t seem to shake the subconscious habit? Start by creating a barrier to doing the thing — make it difficult to do the activity that you want to break.

All of this to say, I want you to pause before doing things, and remember there is great power in knowing that there is, in fact, a space between a stimulus and your response to it. When you take a moment to pause in that space, you’re making the choice more intentional and deliberate. The whole point, of course, is to live a more mindful life. Pausing is a means to making that choice more conscious.

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