24 Mar How to Practice Pause
Mark had been in the bathroom for so long that I was getting worried. Had he fallen in? Had he locked himself inside? Had he clogged up the toilet? All of these had happened before. So, they were all genuine possibilities.
“Mark? You okay in there?” I asked as I tapped on the door.
“Yeah,” he mumbled back. He was obviously occupied with something. And so, I decided to let him have privacy for a bit longer. That is, until another fifteen minutes or so went by.
“Mark? Does your tummy hurt?” I asked, again lightly knocking on the door.
“Uh, no,” he said. But I wasn’t so convinced. Something was clearly up. By this time, he’d been locked up in that bathroom for well over an hour.
“Mark, I need you to unlock the door. Are your pants on?”
“Yes,” he said reluctantly.
“Well, have you washed your hands yet?”
“Well, what in the world are you still doing in there?” I asked. “I need you to open the door now.”
“I not want to,” Mark said. “It stink.”
“That’s okay, Honey. No one smells good when they do that,” I said reassuringly. Though, Mark had genuine reason for worry. That poor kid could out-stink anyone. While it has taken years to sort out what is wrong, we’ve discovered through genetic testing that he suffers from multiple metabolic disorders. So, ever since we adopted him, Mark’s been on a very strict diet to protect his health. But, oh boy, can that poor little man smell. So, he was understandably very self-conscious about it.
“Now, come on. Open the door. It’s just mom,” I said as I waited for him to fumble with the lock.
I was full-on expecting to be blown away by the odor behind that door. But nothing could’ve prepared me for what I smelled — and saw.
“What the heck did you do?!” I asked as my eyes nearly popped out of my head.
“I tell you,” Mark said. “I stink!”
Every part of that bathroom was blanketed in a heavy, sticky coat of air freshener spray. Not a single surface had been left untouched. Everything was covered — the counters, the shower curtain, the hand towel hanging on the wall, even the bathroom floor. And not a drop remained in the spray bottle.
As I looked down at Mark, his eyes wet with tears, I began to feel myself get hot. As much as I felt bad for him, I couldn’t help but get frustrated with the work ahead of me. What a mess. What a waste. What an incredible amount of work.
Know that emotions are instinctual.
This is why practicing pause rather than giving full vent to our emotions is so difficult. They are hard-wired into us as humans, and these emotions create energy, creating an urgency to push and propel us forward — even when we shouldn’t. So, when we try to practice pause, we’re working against this instinctual drive or urge to hurry up and act.
Remind yourself that you’re not on a timer.
Rarely in life do we need to respond or react immediately. Even though it might not feel like it, we often can — and should — take the time to make intentional decisions and actions. This is essential to learning how to respond and not react. The energy created by our emotions will push us to knee-jerk reactions. But it’s the power — and the opportunity — in the pause that will help us carefully craft responses, we will be far less likely to regret. So, take the pressure off yourself. Remind yourself that you can take the time to stop, calm down, and think things through before you move forward.
Appreciate the equipment you’re working with: a human brain.
Emotions are experienced in the amygdala, an almond-shaped area deep within the brain. But rational thinking and decision-making are handled in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain closer to the top and behind the forehead. It takes time for us to move past simply experiencing or feeling an emotion (in the amygdala) to thinking about it rationally (in the prefrontal cortex). This is how our human brains work. We will feel the urge to act before we can even think about it. This isn’t just you. Everyone experiences this.
Thankfully, practicing pause is a skill, and — just like any other skill — we can improve with practice. Intentionally remembering how our brains work and knowing that we will feel an incredible urge to act and quickly so. It helps us not be so caught off guard by how difficult it can be to do.
I calmly sent Mark to his room. Then, I decided to tackle the floor first. But after I had it all wiped up, I decided to do — what felt like — a favor to myself: I turned off the light and sat on the floor. I took a break in the dark and all alone.
At first, this felt like wasting time, time I didn’t have to waste. But I did my best to push those initial thoughts aside and used the time to relax — even if for only a few moments. On that cold bathroom floor, it wasn’t about Mark anymore. It was about me. I took the time I needed to appropriately and intentionally work through my feelings.
And you know what? That is my proudest moment as a parent. I intentionally chose not to lash out with my reaction. Instead, I permitted myself to press pause. I created the time and space to practice pause.
I’ll be the first to admit it. Pausing in the heat of the moment is not an easy thing to do, but it’s necessary. Ever spent time with a toddler? Yeah, they’re still working on this skill, too. Don’t be a toddler. That’s the goal. And I hope the tips included here help.