One of the ideas I hold close to the center of my work as a coach is the idea that for each of us—but for those engaged in mission-based work in particular—practicing self-care and work-life balance is not just another good idea, but is in fact the key to serving the causes we care about, as fully and effectively as possible.
This is particularly true in our present moment as the pace of life quickens and the opportunities for distraction multiply and spin out of control. Distraction and feelings of overwhelm not only make us feel out of balance or underwater. They conspire to sap our energy so we’re less present, less engaged, and less able to be of service to the things we value most—whether that’s our relationships, our health, or the mission of our work.
With that as the understanding, I like to think of self-care as a rebellion against the forces of overwhelm, distraction, 24-hour news, traffic, twitter, and general feelings of chaos that seem to be infecting our daily lives. I personally find that metaphor so helpful in shifting how I feel my own self-care: from feeling like just another item on a to-do list (to get guilty about if you don’t do it) to something to revel in, be proud of, and look forward to. Plus, rebels are sexy.
So, how to fight for the rebellion?
There are a number of tools in the toolboxes of self-care and balance, and I plan to explore some of them in greater depth in future posts. For today, I want to touch on one that’s perhaps the simplest, and one of the most effective, tools we have: pausing.
That’s it. Hit pause.
It sounds simple and it is, but it contains such complexity and power that I want to dig in a little bit and explore.
So what to I mean by pausing? At its most basic, it is: stop whatever you’re doing, close your eyes, inhale for five seconds and exhale for five seconds. Feel what that feels like. That’s it. Do it again a little later.
Mix it up if you like – instead of closing your eyes, focus them on one thing (the sky works well.) Take two breaths. Do a little stretch. But don’t overcomplicate this – the point is to bring yourself out of the past or the future and into the present.
So much of our time is spent somewhere else on the control panel (play, fast forward, skip, rewind) that we very often forget that it’s the pause button that we need most. We can jump all the way to the end, start over, back up, speed up, or just get swept away in the “play button” mode of letting our lives unfold. Each of these characteristics of living has value, and can serve us. But I’d argue that the benefits of building a practice of pausing, or as a client put it to me recently, even a “policy of pausing,” can be incredibly energizing, and ultimately improve our ability to live and work the way we want.
So what’s so good about this tool?
- It helps re-center us in our bodies, which are often way more aware than even our minds are of what’s creating stress and where it’s living inside of us.
- Counterintuitively, by just slowing down, we can shift ourselves into a lower gear where we get more done with less effort. It can make us more efficient and help us make fewer mistakes.
- Pausing can help us quickly re-calibrate our internal measures of how much more we can take on. It can make it easier to say no—a huge challenge and an important skill, especially in mission-based work.
- With a well-developed practice of pausing, we can become better leaders. We create the space to make decisions not from our impulses and fears, but based on our values. We have the space to develop a full and clear view of the situation, and the energy to explain our thinking and get buy-in from those we're leading.
Together, all of these benefits build on one another. Much in the same way that what we’re rebelling against – overwhelm, distraction, ever-increasing pace and ever more-limited space—can build on one another to throw us off. The beauty of pausing is that, even though it’s an act of rebellion against these things, it works completely differently, by restoring your sense of presence, balance and centeredness.
Give it a try for a few days. Experiment and pay attention. Let me know how it goes.