People usually believe that external events cause their feelings, i.e., this happened or that person did something and made me feel______. But actually, in between the event and the reaction, there’s a thought—usually a habitual automatic belief—that precedes the feeling. There’s a space, a pause, in between the event and the feeling.
When we become aware of the thought pattern, we can question it and change it to something more constructive. We can choose to pause. When we pause, we’re stepping out of our reactionary mode, which comes from a more primitive part of the brain, and stepping into a place of choice, which engages the prefrontal cortex, the conscious mind AKA the “thinking brain.”
In the pause, you can be an observer of your own thoughts and feelings and can choose your actions. Triggers occur because we feel somehow threatened by an external event, or even our own spiraling thoughts. Some are instinctual—loud noises and falling are inborn fears—but most are learned and habitual.
It’s far more difficult to recognize the pause and to access the thinking brain when we’re tired, stressed, anxious, hungry, dehydrated or otherwise depleted energetically. That’s when practices slip, when good self-care is ignored. And of course, that’s when we most need it.
To focus on the pause, begin by stopping, slowing down. Breathe. Physically pause. Use the “STOP method:” 1) Stop what you’re doing; 2) Take a breath; 3) Observe what’s going on in your mind and environment to assess if an actual threat is present or a reaction to a thought is occurring, then 4) Proceed with the best course of action based on your conscious assessment.
You can also make it a practice to create more pauses at regular intervals throughout the day as a way of taking care of yourself. Take breaks, rest and restore.