PUSHING THE PAUSE BUTTON OF LIFE FOR PRODUCTIVITY & CREATIVITY
“Learn to pause … or nothing worthwhile will catch up to you.”
-Doug King, Poet & Educator
Imagine that you have a magic remote control so that – when life got too overwhelming or you needed to replenish your energy – you could simply push the “pause” button. In a sense, you have the ability to do just that. All you have to do is make the choice to – pause.
Learning when and how to put the brakes on and pause in life can benefit you on a multitude of levels. By learning to pause you can renew yourself mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. By learning to strategically pause you can become more productive, enhance your creativity and make better choices.
Many people are not aware that putting in long hours without a break can actually work against you. In energy output, there comes a point when you trigger the law of diminishing returns. In a very real sense, you can overtax and drain your brain to the point where you become ineffective – and you’re not even aware of it.
Hitting the pause button also allows life to catch up to you. There is a certain aspect of your growth that only takes place when you put on your mental breaks. We learn the important lessons of life by allowing time for those lessons to sink in, to be absorbed into the stew of our subconscious experience and then emerge as insight.
For those of you who have read my previous articles and blogs know that I refer to the conscious mind and subconscious mind as a very small Rider (conscious) sitting atop a very large Elephant (subconscious). The Rider is the thinker, planner, critic, imaginer and visionary. In contrast, the Elephant reacts instinctively and can often be thrown into fear. The subconscious Elephant is also the center of our emotions, memories, instincts; it is the part of our brain where the mysterious creative process works its magic.
It is only the Rider – the conscious decision maker – who can choose to press the pause button. It is the Rider who can master the art of the pause to enhance creativity, renew energy and turn experience into insight.
Pause for Creative Thinking:
Neuroscience shows that during sleep and rest, the brain consolidates memories by reorganizing thoughts, much like organizing books in a library. This new arrangement can then produce ideas by extracting knowledge and generating new associations. And that half-awake period – right before you fall asleep or when you wake up – may also help you focus on a problem.
A very important part of the creative process is allowing time for new ideas, thoughts and solutions to emerge. We can proactively pause to encourage new ideas and insights to blossom. Therefore, it is necessary to make the conscious choice to push your pause button so that new input has time to incubate. Look at incubation as a process of putting new information into the slow cooker of the mind and letting it simmer, merge and combine with our present experience and then emerge as insight.
Pause for rejuvenation:
You want to be more dynamic in your productivity. However – to do that – you may have to do something that seems counterintuitive. Recent evidence compiled by brain scientists leaves no doubt that in order to effectively sustain your focus and keep your mental energy fired up, you have to pause for short periods of time. A growing body of research proves not only that taking regular breaks from mental tasks is important but also that skipping breaks can lead to increased negative stress and eventually – exhaustion.
Focused mental concentration, as well as using will power, is similar to working a muscle. Sustained use- without rest – will always create fatigue. I work out five a days a week but – if I didn’t exercise different parts of my body on separate days or did not rest between workouts – I would either hurt myself or fall down from utter exhaustion.
The challenge is that you may erroneously believe that sustained focus without taking a break actually works for you. It doesn’t – period. Studies demonstrate that prolonged attention to a single task actually hinders performance. Of course, this does not mean that if you are on a creative roll you must interrupt the flow.
We humans are designed to move and that, in itself, can press your pause button. You don’t have to jog or run up and down the stairs. You just need to stand and move around. Studies at the Mayo Clinic show that workers who remain sedentary throughout the day are impairing their health. James A Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic suggests people work in intense 15-minute bursts, interspersed by short breaks, in cycles that are repeated through the day.
Pause for Self-Reflection:
Not only does hitting the pause button enhance your creativity, increase your productivity and allow you to renew, purposeful pausing also gives you time to reflect. The great management guru Peter Drucker lived by his credo, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”
One of the main tenants of achieving success is to learn from mistakes, do more of what works, build on your strengths and turn experience into insight. Those who take time for self-reflection are more likely to live exceptional lives full of passion, energy and creativity than those who do not.
Every significant leader throughout history, in every area of life -every great painter, sculptor, composer, musician or artist – has practiced the art of spending time in solitude to play with and reflect on ideas and experiences. Some individuals pause by praying, while others daydream, meditate, attend a place of worship, listen to music, sit in a chair and close their eyes or simply take a walk.
How you push the pause button is not important but the preparation is. The gold of insight can be uncovered by asking yourself the right questions and – I cannot emphasize enough how important asking the right questions is. Good questions are at the soul of reflection.
Asking yourself powerful questions and then pausing allows your subconscious to reveal powerful answers. Each of the following questions can act as a trigger to insight. In order to show you how the process works, I have included some of my personal insights. You can also make up your own trigger questions.
1. What is my greatest strength?
My greatest strength is communicating with people. I use my pause time to reflect on how I might improve my communication and my relationships.
2. What is my greatest weakness?
My greatest weakness is not paying attention to details. I sometimes reflect on what I don’t do best. I think about how it turned out, what I learned and how I can I garner support to cover my weakness and enhance my strength.
3. What have I contributed to others today?
This is a question I ask myself every night before retiring. The answer gives me direction for the next day and gives me a moment to feel good about what I accomplished.
4. What has been my most significant experience today?
One of my great heroes was motivational speaker/author Jim Rohn who said, “At the end of each day, you should play back the tapes of your performance. The results should either applaud you or prod you.”
Experience is our teacher and it is in our daily experiences that lessons wait to be learned. Since we are constantly bombarded with all manner of experience, asking this question allows me to evaluate my most significant experiences and discover the lessons. I allow life to catch up to me.
5. What am I grateful for today?
Reflecting on what you are grateful for changes your brain chemistry and has an immediate and positive effect on your attitude.
6. What is the most worthwhile emotion I have experienced today?
The answer for me is always – love, but this question also gives me the insight as to when I might not have acted with love, learn from it and then let go.
7. What was the least worthwhile emotion I experienced today?
The answer to this question can be a constant learning experience. Mine is often frustration, bordering on anger, because I want things to move faster, processes to be completed sooner or small goals to be completed quicker than the world wants. In other words, I am often unrealistic about what I can accomplish or what others can accomplish in a realistic period of time. It’s a constant learning process about patience.
My hope is that you will fold these simple ideas into the fabric of your life starting today. I promise you that hitting the pause button on your life will give you a return on your time investment that will surprise, delight and amaze you. Pausing is a prerequisite to living an exceptional life.
James Mapes is the founder of Quantum Leap Thinking™, creator of The Transformational Coach™, expert on the psychology of “applied imagination,” best-selling author, highly acclaimed business speaker, consultant, seminar leader and personal excellence coach.