The Pause That Refreshes

The world’s most successful soda company first introduced this marketing slogan more than 80 years ago. If you ask me, they were way ahead of their time.

More and more I’m recommending to clients and keynote audiences to take time out of their busy day to pause and refresh. Only I’m not referring to drinking carbonated beverages as a way to quench a thirsty body. I’m talking about taking time to pause and refresh their brains.

These days, few things are more important for business leaders than pausing to think about what we’re doing. Otherwise, we end up reacting to everything that comes our way rather than proactively focusing on what we need to do to get our organizations where they need to go.

The faster the world goes – and it moves faster every day – the more we tend to shortcut the process of thinking. To keep up with this frenetic pace, we have trained ourselves to believe that we always need to be doing something. So we feel more comfortable running in any direction (often without our team in the same race) than we do pausing to make sure we’re running in the right direction, with our team aligned and running with us.

For example, we run into meetings unprepared, unsure of what is on the agenda or even what the meeting is supposed to accomplish. We forego feedback because “they will figure it out.” We limit research or exploration into what others are doing, or have done, that we could leverage. The list of all the different ways we run with no real direction goes on and on.

Reacting rather than thinking does not support achieving our vision of winning. Yet we do it anyway because thinking is much more taxing than responding instinctually or with our other senses. To give rational consideration to ideas and plans requires more effort and willpower. Above all, it requires slowing down to actually use our brains versus giving in to intuition. This doesn’t mean we avoid trusting our gut some of the time. But when every decision or action results from intuition rather than rational thinking, the quality of the results significantly declines.

Running the Right Race

The solution lies in an activity that the best athletes, musicians, and craftsmen (and women) do all the time – practice. The more technology enables us to move faster in most areas of our life, the more critical it becomes to practice thinking each and every day. Practice creates the habits and ways of working that allow us to slow down just enough. Good intentions won’t cut it. We have to “do” to re-wire our brains, and that starts with practice.

How can you carve out time each day, throughout the day, to conduct “practice drills”? These drills might only take 30 seconds to ponder “what if?” or imagine another perspective, or get clear on your limiting constraints so you can move beyond them.

Try using a 3-minute timer to remind yourself to start each day focused on winning and moving towards it. Three minutes seems like forever when you get quiet and ponder how to make sure your day, your time, and your energy are directed on the right things that move you closer to your destination points.

Put sticky notes on your desk or PC, reminding you to pause and ask one “what if?” question. For example, what if we could solve our customer’s #1 problem better than anyone? What would it look like? Or, what if we started this business over from scratch? How would we serve our customers differently and better? Don’t worry about coming up with an answer right away. Just ask the question and ponder it for a few minutes.

Send yourself an email. Set your smart phone to ping you several times a day. Take a walk at lunchtime. On the drive home from work, instead of mentally reviewing the day, think about what could be instead of what is. Find an idyllic spot to just sit and watch a sunset. The cues you can use to prompt yourself to begin practicing thinking are limited only by your imagination.

Once you get in the habit of pausing to think, here are some good ideas to noodle over:

· Pick one “fact” you know to be absolutely true about your customers, competitors and markets. Then ask: Is this still true? How do we know?”

· Consider how to change a negative work situation into a positive. Too often, we focus on what we can’t do rather than what we can. Instead of thinking, “That will never work,” ask, “What if our assumptions are wrong? What if we did it this way?”

· Engage in possibility thinking. For example, “If we could do this, how would it affect our ability to add value to our customers in new and better ways?”

Running fast all the time disrupts our ability to focus. Instead of zeroing in on our highest-priority activities, we spread our attention over too many tasks that may or may not support helping the organization win. So it also helps to set aside time each day to think about nothing. Sit in a quiet place, relax, focus on your breathing, and just let the mind quiet down.

Our brain tells us we don’t have time for such nonsense. In reality, it only takes a few moments to disconnect from the sensory overload. The trick is to build those moments into our daily routines, so that pausing to mentally decompress becomes a welcome habit rather than a bothersome chore. You’ll be amazed at how even a few moments a day can refresh and recharge your brain.

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