P is for The Pause Approach To Helping People To Reflect Before Proceeding    


Many people now recognise the benefits of pausing during their daily lives. Taking time to reflect can help them to see the big picture and make better decisions. They can rehearse what they are going to do next and then move forwards.

This article explores yet another aspect of pausing. Educators, mentors and coaches often use pausing as a way of helping people to reflect and develop.

Good educators, for example, sometimes use this approach to enable learners:

To clarify what they want to learn in a session.

To clarify what they have learned so far and what they want to learn next.

To clarify what they have learned – or relearned – in a session and how to apply these lessons in their daily lives and work.

Such educators develop a certain rhythm in the way they speak, pass on knowledge and help people to learn.

Some speak quickly, give lots of ideas and present the knowledge in an exciting way.

Some bring the learning to life by using many different examples and learning exercises.

Some speak more slowly and, as a by-product, create pauses that enable people to let the learning sink in.

Different educators may use different methods, but they have one thing in common. They know the value of pausing and giving people the opportunity to clarify what they have learned.

Some academic institutions now also encourage their students to take time out to reflect. This can help young people with both their academic work and wellbeing.

The University of Sheffield, for example, provides advice on these themes. Below is an excerpt from their website. You can discover more via the following link.


Pause & Reflect

You might think that the absence of activity is a sign of time being wasted. Actually, to fully improve your wellbeing, it is really important to pause and take time out to reflect.

This reflection needs to be intentional and considered. It is better if you build in a regular time, perhaps once a day, when you can stop and try and make sense of what is going on.

You may find it challenging to make time to pause and reflect. After all, you lead a busy student life and there is a lot going on. The internet and 24 hour television means it is possible never to be still with your own thoughts.

Some of you may actively seek to always have distractions in your life because you worry or fear being on your own. It is really useful though to learn to tolerate your own thoughts, even the difficult ones as calm reflection will help you to understand there are different ways of thinking and being.

There are simple ways you all can make time for reflection. It could be that you walk into university and use that time to consider what is going on in your life. Exercise is another opportunity for you to have some time to think.

With regular practice of relaxation exercises we can reap a whole lot of benefits including improved concentration and memory, better academic performance, reduction in anxiety and worry, less reactivity to stressors.

Looking back, can you think of a person who used the pause approach to enable a person or a group of people to clarify their thoughts? They may have been a teacher, mentor, coach or perhaps a friend.

What did they do to create a pause? They may have simply created a natural break, given an exercise in which people could clarify their thoughts or used another technique. What were the benefits of them taking this approach?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a person you have known who used the pause approach to help a person or a group of people to collect their thoughts.

Describe the specific things they did take these steps.

Describe the specific benefits that happened as a result of them taking the pause approach.

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Pausing to clarify a person’s will

Coaches also use the pause approach to establish a person’s will before helping them to learn a skill. Let’s consider one example.

Many years ago I was asked to coach a rising star in a multi-national company. His manager gave me the following message.

“Dave is potentially brilliant. He is a great sales person and is liked by his customers.

“One problem, however, is that he upsets his internal stakeholders. He refuses to keep them informed about the progress he is making towards his targets and also behaves badly in meetings.

“Dave does reach his targets he also causes collateral damage in the business. Would you be willing to meet him for a session?”

Normally I only work with people who take the initiative to set up coaching sessions. On this occasion, however, I agreed to meet Dave.

He and I met for an initial chat. After a few minutes I invited Dave to reflect on whether he would be interested in developing. I explained the approach to him in the following way.

“People in the company believe you are a brilliant sales person. They also think that you have the ability to lead part of the business.

“This involves continuing to build on your strengths. Many of your clients, for example, see you as a trusted advisor. It may also mean applying these same skills to manage your internal stakeholders.

“Looking to the future, you will always be able to get a job in sales and make lots of money. If you want to lead a business in this company, however, it may also mean learning how to manage your stakeholders. If you are interested, we can work together on developing this skill.

“As you know, your manager has asked us to meet. I only work, however, with people who want to learn. Bearing this in mind, you have several options.

“You can say ‘No,’ to the coaching sessions.

“You can go through the coaching sessions but carry on in the same way.

“You can go use the coaching sessions and apply the practical tools to manage both your external and internal stakeholders.

“Take a few minutes to reflect and consider which route you want to follow. Let me get you another coffee and then you can let me know your decision.”

He decided to work on managing his stakeholders. Dave already knew how to manage his external customers. He simply needed to apply these skills to his internal customers.

Dave went on to have a fulfilling career and become VP of Sales at the head office in San Francisco. He now teaches his people about the importance of managing upwards as well as managing their customers.

Pausing to improve performance

During the 1970s I worked at several universities that were doing pioneering work in sports psychology. Many techniques they used involved helping athletes to develop by using mental training.

Some other techniques encouraged the athletes to take more responsibility and focus on constant improvement. This was particularly important in team sports, because the old style approach was for the coach to bark out orders and micro manage the players.

One technique was to use the pause approach during practice games. The athletes might be playing a volleyball or soccer game, for example, and we would call a longer time out.

The players in each team were invited to take a drink and relax. They then shared ideas and made flip charts on the following themes.

Constant Improvement

The specific things we are doing well are:




The specific things we can do better and how are:




Action Plan

The specific things we want to focus on
doing in the next part of the game are: 




The athletes developed the habit of thinking for themselves during competitions. The approach embodied the philosophy of what is now known as ‘Leaders creating other leaders, not just followers’. People become more self managing and able to make better decisions on the field.

Pausing to clarify other things

There are many other ways to use the pause approach. Here are some examples.

Some people make a habit of clarifying their assets. They set aside time to count their blessings or, for example, keep a Gratitude Journal.

Some people revisit their life goals. Focusing on their lifetime picture of success, they clarify the specific steps they can take towards it in the next week.

Some people use the pause approach to help others clarify their learning. At the end of a workshop, for example, a facilitator may ask the participants to do the following exercise.

Three things I have learned
– or relearned – today are:




They then do a final exercise in which they ask each person to share one of these ideas with the group. This helps to solidify the learning and also leaves people with a feeling of success.

The pause approach can bring many benefits. It can enable people to recentre, refocus on what is important and rehearse what they are going to do next.

Different people choose different ways to apply the approach. They may choose to think, walk, meditate, exercise, potter around or whatever. Some people proactively set aside time to pause. Some pause when their system breaks down and they fall ill.

Looking to the future, can you think of a specific situation when you may want to use the pause approach? You may want to use this to help yourself, another person or a group of people.

How can you use the pause approach in this situation? What might be the steps you could take? What might be the benefits of taking the time to pause?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to use the pause approach to help yourself, another person or a group of people.

Describe the specific things you can do to take these steps.

Describe the specific benefits that may happen as a result of taking the pause approach.

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