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Think Before Reacting: How to Use Your Mental Pause Button

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“Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.” ~Buddha

I used to be the queen of putting my foot in my mouth. I’d say the first thing that came into my head without thinking.

My intentions were always good and I’d never deliberately offend or hurt anyone, but it landed me in trouble more than once.

Being so reactionary also played havoc in my relationships. I was defensive and quick to answer back. I did a lot more talking than listening.

This spread into other areas of my life. I’d put food into my mouth faster than my brain could stop me; I’d impulse buy and make split second decisions before thinking them through.

After a difficult breakup I turned to yoga as a way of finding regular doses of positivity during an otherwise very bleak period.

The yoga studio was run by some very wise yogis who also offered workshops on positive thinking, mindfulness, and self-development.

They had a great bookshop and soon, instead of watching mindless TV, I was engaging with inspiring people and reading life-changing books.

On the same day that I attended a workshop on happiness, I met my husband-to-be. Two girlfriends dragged me off to a nightclub that evening.

He says he was attracted to me immediately. I guess I was radiating some kind of positive aura, as I hadn’t dressed up or done my hair and makeup like my girlfriends had!

Thankfully, by then my personal growth had led me to a greater sense of self-awareness.

I’d discovered my internal pause button.

Living life more presently and becoming mindful resulted in a natural slowing down. It opened my mind up to the art of just being.

Learning to press pause means listening and assimilating before opening my mouth. I often hear a voice in my head saying what I would have normally voiced out loud, but in the few seconds I allow myself to pause, I realize it doesn’t need to be said at all.

I’ve become a mindful eater and spender and now realize that most decisions in my life don’t have to be immediate. I relish in the joy of pondering.

Here’s the manual for operating your internal pause button.

1. Recognize the trigger.

Notice when sensations are building inside of you. Maybe it’s a rising heat in your body, a pulse in your head, a knot in your stomach, or a tightening in your chest.

Recognize these triggers as signs to activate your internal pause button.

In an argument, notice your ego rising up to defend its position. A simple awareness of the ego is enough to tame it and send it crawling back into its hiding place.

2. Press pause.

Mentally say, “pause,” as if you’re reaching for that remote control.

3. Take a deep breath.

Getting a quick hit of extra oxygen to your brain helps you compose your thoughts and brings you into the present moment.

4. Observe.

For interactions with people, just hold off and listen. There’s no rule that you have to say anything immediately. Notice the thoughts that go through your mind and simply observe them without attachment.

To curb impulse eating or spending, rewind to a goal you’ve set yourself around this kind of situation or a mantra you’ve created. Fast forward to the best possible outcome. How do you want this to pan out?

Again, allow yourself to simply observe the thoughts that pass through your mind.

5. Press play.

Now you’re ready to act. Mindfully.

You may be thinking, “Sounds great in theory, but in the heat of the moment all of that is going to take too long!”

Yes, it may feel like that at first. If you’re hard-wired to react immediately, it’s a case of reminding yourself that it’s ok to wait.

Giving yourself even a few extra seconds before reacting can make a difference. Pressing the pause button gives you a chance to rewind, make a good choice, and then press play again to continue in a better way.

It puts the power into your own hands to make good decisions and take control of your life. You gain deeper relationships and learn so much more by talking less and listening more.

Just because you think it doesn’t mean you have to say it.

Photo by Chris Waits

Profile photo of Kelly Pietrangeli

About Kelly Pietrangeli

Kelly Pietrangeli is the creator of Project Me for Busy Mothers, helping women find a happier balance between the kids - and everything else. Mixing practicality with self-awareness, Kelly helps mothers get on top of their endless to-do’s and see life beyond the laundry pile. Grab her free Life Wheel Tool for discovering what needs your focus first.

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  • Lovely and cultivating. “A simple awareness of the ego is enough to tame it and send it crawling back into its hiding place.” ~ This is true of so many things inside ourselves, when we move outside of habit and reactivity we gain immense control over much of the negativity we thought was “out there”.

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    Thank you. It was Eckhart Tolle’s ‘A New Earth’ that inspired me be aware of when my ego’s coming out to play – and by simply recognising it (“I see you!”) it loses its grip…

  • First of all, the title is absolutely great! It really stopped me in my tracks. But what is said is this article is excellent and not said enough in our society. I just made a note yesterday to start studying mindfulness more.

    Sometimes I struggle to be “present in the moment” but I think it is also great to just stop and make sure you are living your life in a way you want, just as you said. Great article!

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    Thanks so much Robyn 🙂 We’re all just beautiful works in progress, huh? xx

  • Isolde

    Thank you I will use the word pause to keep my reactive emotions in check. Great article

  • Lauren Matheson

    As far as impulse buys, i knew a woman once whose mantra there was “I didn’t need it when I woke up this morning”. I use “if i still need it tomorrow, it’ll be here”, and if it’s not, well, see mantra 1!
    Now i can’t remember the details, but I read somewhere that in a particular aboriginal culture answering immediately is a sign that you were formulating your answer while the other person was still talking, so you must not have been listening. (That’s probably true for any culture, we just value speed so we ignore its cost.) The long silences that are a normal part of conversation for them are awkward for us, so I try to indicate that I’m thinking – often I say “okay, let me think about that” – before responding. I can be very helpful with my children; I’m less likely to give a reflexive no.

  • Dee Wise

    Thank you for this post. This process has been possible for me through mindfulness as well. I follow Jon Kabat-Zinn. The less I judge myself, the less I feel prone to judge others. Curiosity about others came further forward in my personal interactions. I have more peace in my heart as my true self confidence grows through becoming, accepting. and loving who I am. I appreciate that you put some practical steps one can take to keep on this path.

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    Thank you for reading Isolde xx

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    You’re so welcome Dee. Thank you for reading and taking the time to leave such a lovely comment 🙂

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    I use the “let me think about that” with my children too! Gives me some time to figure out how to react! 😉 Thanks for your wonderful comment Lauren. x

  • Cat

    Thanks for the article. From a perspective of really rough moments or poor mental health situations, I think one tip that could have been made explicit is: Don’t hesitate to escape if any part of you feels like you should. For me, there comes a point where I cannot trust myself to do/say the healthy thing and my every instinct is seriously unhelpful. At that point, I know I just have to get out and handle what’s going on inside me first and foremost. I’m hoping that will change (eventually??) and I will gradually build a “tolerance” for the situations in which I inevitably start to feel angry, threatened or triggered in some way. You may feel resistant because part of you wants to keep engaging with the other person, or like you’re isolating yourself when you most need support/interaction… the truth is, the rougher the emotional ride, the more you need to get entirely alone and focused on your OWN support and interaction. I think once I’ve mastered that, then I can attempt to involve other people. 🙂

  • Petra Hangartner Alonso

    I think more people, especially now a days, need to follow this. We have become so self righteous, like we have something to prove. I am a RN and see a lot of negativity and believe me it wears me out mentally!! I tend to go lift weights or go for a run, but some days its not enough. The best therapy after exercise for me is watching mother nature (sunset and listening to the animals), she will always win in my eyes.

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    It’s wonderful that you’ve found ways to shake the daily negativity you encounter in your line of work Petra. Exercise is so good for that – and Mother Nature too 🙂

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    Thank you for reading and sharing your experience Cat. It’s a journey for all of us to discover ways to become the best version of ourselves we can be! xx

  • Great article! I try to remind myself, particularly when I can feel impulsiveness coming on, to think up one other thing I could do or choice I could make that is completely different from what I was about to do impulsively and what the outcome would likely be for both choices.

    Even if my first impulse turns out to have been the best course of action that reflexive check keeps me from doing regrettable things without thinking about it and being reactionary like you talked about. I like the pause button analogy too.

  • Kari Wilson

    This hits home. Deeply. Ive been so caught up in my own head for years and now im just learning to really listen and really talk. It has not been easy so far. In fact, its hard to say Ive made any improvement yet at all. Its ruining what I believe in my heart to be the best relationship Ive ever had and I want us to make it but I get so caught up I end up being so defensive and selfish its driving my partner away from me. Hes given me so much good advice, and hes still sticking it through…but with a child of his own involved Ive got to change something soon. I know this isnt who I really am inside, I want to be happy and be compationate and be the great listener I once was. The thing is when I slow down and take a deep breath I feel the change but putting my feelings into words is a whole other obsticle.

  • Great advice Kelly! I like what you said about “talking less
    and listening more.” One great way to
    practice listening is to be more interested and less interesting. When we are
    more interested on what other people have to say we have time to press the
    pause button –allowing us to think before we speak. Congratulations on discovering your internal
    pause button.

  • Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

    What a great article! It’s so relevant to my life right now – thank you. xx

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    Thank you Veronica. Yes, it’s true that people end up thinking that the one they’re talking to is more interesting if they were a good listener! Thanks for your great comment.

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    That’s exactly the thought process I’ve developed too Adam! It’s all about slowing down and allowing yourself to think about it first. Thank you!

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    It’s a process Kari and you’re already off to a flying start with the level of self awareness you’ve shown in your comment. Do you realise how many people are no where near your level self awareness? Keep breathing! You’ll get better daily.

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    Thank you Amy 🙂

  • Tan

    What a beautiful story! Your new energy even attracted your husband-to-be. This is great advice 🙂 I’ve already started recognising my triggers and mentally saying ‘pause’. Thanks so much for sharing x

  • Kelly Pietrangeli

    You’re so welcome Tan! Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave such a lovely comment 🙂

  • Klarissa Mae

    Great great blog! I always have whats called an internal dialogue. its where I check in with myself and ask why I am feeling the way I am feeling. That way I don’t have a reaction. I like your idea of the pause button too. Its something Ill def use with my clients.

  • Kristy Goodwin

    Thanks for your article Kelly. I love the step-by-step suggestions. I am trying very hard to be ‘present’ this year and live life according to my power word- simplicity. Your article provides simple guidance as to how to do this. Thank you.

  • Cheebs

    I need to put some of these tools to action. I’ve recently only become very much aware of being an angry and reactionary person. Took a long time. I’m 32 and a mother/wife. I’ve noticed with my 4yr old daughter who started school this year she’s starting to really struggle with her frustration and how to handle her emotions. It took me looking in the mirror and then a lot of tears. It breaks my heart to know my anxiety, just my tone in situations (I don’t often yell) is what she’s been picking up all these years. But my reaction to her… minor mishaps.. things children do, the simple things that yes… anger parents.. but my reactions have been to swift and an unthinking. Getting so angry with her I’ve seen her flinch back from me before, she’s even TOLD me I’ve scared her..

    It kills me to say that.. it kills me to think that I’ve made my baby girl feel that way towards/about me… I don’t want to be the monster under her bed. I want to change it.

    I have to beat this demon part of my self, to gain control of it so that my largest impacts on my daughter are not negative ones.

  • Sanz

    Very good article.
    I am still this way but I do realize that I am doing it all wrong.
    I’ll keep in mind all your points the next time I hit the reply button in my brain.