Slow Down Enough to Find Your Freedom

find your freedom in the pauseBetween stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.     –Viktor E. Frankl


How often do you respond to people and situations without even thinking about it?

How often do you repeat the same old arguments with your partner?  Sometimes the topics change and sometimes they’re the same but they all end up heading in the same direction.

Do you ever wonder why your life isn’t going in the direction you want or why you keep repeating the same patterns?

How do you respond to life?

Your answers probably have a lot to do with your responses to life.  Your responses are the moment-to-moment choices you make, usually subconsciously, to handle whatever is in your life.

Thinking about Viktor Frankl’s quote above, I lived most of my life thinking that there was absolutely nothing between stimulus and response.  I stub my toe, instant pain and a profanity or two comes out of my mouth.  My husband makes a comment that hits one of my buttons and I light up, get defensive, angry and attack or shut down – the beginning of another one of the same old arguments that never really gets resolved.

I did this for decades and wondered why my whole life kept repeating itself in cycles that I wanted so desperately to change.  Like many people, I thought changing where I lived or changing who I’m with would surely fix the problem.  But it never does. 

Wherever you go, there you are

No matter where I go, I always take myself with me.  And there lies both the problem and the resolution.

I lived in my problems for entirely too long because I expected people and things outside of me to fix the problems.  I defended myself saying, “That’s just the way I am.  Take it or leave it.”  I was looking for someone or something else to create my happiness.  How stupid could I have been?

It took me getting to the lowest of low points in my life where I felt like nothing I did was working.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted from resisting and trying to control everything and everyone around me to no avail.

Enter: The Pause

And then I gave up.  I stopped trying to control.  I stopped blaming.  I stopped defending myself.  And I was quiet for the first time.

I didn’t know what to do but I knew that I couldn’t do what I had been doing.

It was the first time that I slowed down enough to realize that there truly is a space between stimulus and response.

In conversations, we’re all so uncomfortable with the “pregnant pause” where someone waits a second or two too long before responding. 

When we break up a relationship, initially we want to jump right into a new one.  No pause there.

We need to learn to get comfortable with that pause both in conversations and in our life.  Slowing down enough to contemplate the stimulus before consciously creating our best response.  This can take anywhere from a second to many days (or years).

Utilizing The Pause

The other day I was in a bad mood.  My negative energy was rubbing off on my husband and he made a comment that used to be the beginnings of a fight.  As my lips parted to fire a comment back, I paused, bit my tongue and said nothing. 

What went through my mind in that split second was:  I don’t want to fight and if I say this next thing, we’ll be fighting.  That comment in my throat is just my defensiveness.  He’s being negative because I’m negative.  He’s feeding off of me.  I’m going to pretend that I didn’t hear what he just said because he probably didn’t really want to say it.  Wow!  Look what I’ve created with this bad mood of mine.  Better snap out of it and turn my day around.

Then I walked over to my husband, kissed him and apologized for being in such a bad mood.  I said that I was sorry for bringing his day down and asked if he could forget it ever happened.

And we both had a much better day.

I try my best to do the same with my kids but know that the stakes are higher with them.  Everything with kids counts.  There’s no forgetting about it.

When I let my emotions flare with them, when I don’t take that second to pause, the best I can do then is to apologize.  I explain to them that I realize that my actions were not acceptable.  I explain to them what I should have done and ask if they agree.  If they don’t agree, I ask them what they think I should have done (for my own future reference).

I know that young children don’t forgive and forget but I at least want them to know that I know I was wrong.  As they grow up I want them to know that those kinds of things aren’t acceptable for them to do.

I realize that we teach far more by our actions than our words but no one is perfect.  We’re all doing our best.

simple steps

For the rest of your day today (and beyond), see how many times you can slow down your thoughts and actions enough to consider if what you’re about to say or do next is in your best interest.

Are you about to defend yourself (“That’s just the way I am!”) when being yourself hasn’t led to the outcomes you want?

Are you about to make a purchase for something you don’t really need that will put you further in debt or otherwise stress your financial situation?

Are you about to say something that could be taken the wrong way by the recipient?  Is there a different way to say it?

Are you about to check your email or Facebook again when you wonder why you can’t get much accomplished each day?

Are you going to skip your workout again because you’re “too busy” and wonder why you can’t get rid of that extra weight or why you have little energy?

In our response lies our growth and our freedom.



I’m honored to have my guest post, 5 Steps to Accepting the Beauty of Change, featured at Zeenat Merchant-Syal’s beautiful blog, Positive Provocations.  Hop over and leave a comment and let me know what you think!

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45 Responses to Slow Down Enough to Find Your Freedom

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  7. Nea | Self Improvement Saga
    Commented:  03/16/2012 at 2:47 pm

    What an important reminder, Paige. I try to slow down often throughout the day by setting intentions for the next thing I’ll be saying or doing. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.
    Nea | Self Improvement Saga recently posted..Focusing On Your Passion – The Road to SuccessMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/16/2012 at 3:10 pm

      Sounds like you’ve been practicing the pause for a while Nea. That’s awesome that you take the time to set an intention for each thing throughout your day. I’m sure it makes a big difference!

      Thanks and have a wonderful day!!

    Brian Johnson
    Commented:  03/16/2012 at 12:10 pm

    Thanks for the great post Paige! I personally love studying the science of the Automatic (unconscious) vs. the Reflective (conscious) mind and how people can harness the “pause” and learn more about themselves and what is potentially holding them back.

    I believe there is too much focus on forcing behavior changes without first becoming aware of what needs changing through stopping and listening. Your post is truly the essence of simple mindfulness that will begin the process towards a better life.
    Brian Johnson recently posted..Are These 4 Common Foods Making You Fat?My Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/16/2012 at 2:00 pm

      Thank you so much Brian! I know that you work with a lot of people with weight and body issues. Many of them have had great success with you because of your awareness of the importance of people’s emotional state and how it affects their physical state. Using that pause to consider whether we really want to put something in our mouth on a moment-to-moment basis makes a world of difference in our bodies and how we feel about ourselves.

      Thanks for the great comment!

    Nancy Shields
    Commented:  03/15/2012 at 11:09 am

    Wonderful article Paige and thank you – that much needed PAUSE – a time to reflect and thnk before we react. Sometimes in old ways and then the regret happens. Instead to take a moment to actually think about things and then speak is a wonderful place to be.

    My ex-husband taught me this lesson and now I know that I don’t have to respond quickly but instead take a breath and either respond or let the person know that I’m thinking of a response.

    In gratitude,
    Nancy Shields recently posted..WHAT’S REAL???My Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/15/2012 at 12:41 pm

      Whether that pause takes a second, a day or an hour, it’s so important to take it. And, as you said Nancy, if it’s for more than a second, let the other person know that you’re taking the time to respond thoughtfully. This also sends a message to the other person that they’re not going to get the same knee-jerk reaction from you. They’re going to know that your response comes from your heart.

      Great comment! Thank you Nancy!

    Gitana |Self improvement tips
    Commented:  03/15/2012 at 6:18 am

    It is the first time as I am visiting your site and I can tell you that I like the way you share your thoughts. They are really insightful. Thank You.

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/15/2012 at 12:36 pm

      Thank you so much Gitana! I hope that I can use my own experiences to help and inspire many others. Thank you for being here and I appreciate your comment!

    Commented:  03/14/2012 at 10:54 am

    It’s a bit of an evolutionary process to be able to slow down and take advantage of the space before our response. It’s a practice where we’ll never be perfect but the more we practice, the easier it gets.
    Maysel03 recently posted..How Not to Make a Wedding SpeechMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/15/2012 at 12:08 am

      Everything in life is a practice with no perfection. All we can do is our best, and that’s the best we can do and it changes moment to moment.

      Thanks so much Maysel!

    Commented:  03/14/2012 at 6:42 am

    Wonderful article Paige, I love the idea of the pause. I listened to a speech on Monday night about trying not to react to triggers which I am very guilty of but you have given me the solution. Fall silent – I love it!
    Ciara recently posted..9 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get Things DoneMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/15/2012 at 12:07 am

      Thanks so much Ciara! Pausing is the biggest cure for reacting.

      I love your latest post on procrastination! I can definitely identify with it!

      Thanks so much for visiting! Great to have you here!

    Evelyn Lim
    Commented:  03/14/2012 at 12:26 am

    I enjoyed this article tremendously.

    Ever since I started meditating, I have found it easier and easier to introduce the pause. I call it the “space between thoughts”. From allowing myself to slow down, I don’t react as quickly but choose to respond with a lot more thought. I also avoid making decisions when I am not ready or clear about what I truly want.

    Thanks for a great post!
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..How To Develop Courage By Overcoming Daily FearsMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/14/2012 at 11:49 pm

      It sounds like you’re definitely mastering the art of the pause, Evelyn. It can be incredibly powerful. And it’s wonderful that you’re waiting to make a decision until you know what you want. We usually feel pressured to jump into a decision without being clear, just for the sake of taking action. Thoughtful action will always lead us closer to what’s good for us.

      Thanks for your wonderful comment!

    Cathy Taughinbaugh | Treatment Talk
    Commented:  03/12/2012 at 4:16 pm

    Hi Paige,

    Great topic. We do want to fill in the gaps and not let a moment just be. I love this line – that there truly is a space between stimulus and response. We are programmed to jump from one thing to the next without any hesitation. It feels uncomfortable to be waiting for the next comment in a conversation or to the next relationship or next social outing. Meditation has helped me to slow down and be comfortable with silence and sitting still. I still get jittery from time to time, but do see the value in pausing and just listening to our breath. Thanks for a wonderful post!
    Cathy Taughinbaugh | Treatment Talk recently posted..How Did It Get So Bad?My Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/12/2012 at 4:53 pm

      Thanks Cathy!
      Yes, it’s not always easy to pause, even for a moment. Whenever I have a hard time slowing down, pausing or feeling OK in the quiet, I ask myself what I’m fearing. There’s something inside that my subconscious fears dealing with. As soon as I examine that and go deeper, my ability to sit still grows and those jittery feelings start to dissipate.

      So glad you’ve found the power of meditation. It can help with so many things.

      Have a wonderful day!

    Bobbi Emel
    Commented:  03/12/2012 at 2:04 pm

    Paige, great post!

    Oooohhhhh, this pause thing is one I am still working on! It’s a toughie for me but such a great way to practice mindfulness and being in the moment. It’s interesting to see what I react to – I only wish I were more practiced at seeing it in the moment rather than in hindsight! But thanks for your example of communicating with your husband; sometimes I have to apologize to my partner, too, about reacting too quickly.

    Sigh. Oh pausing breath, where art thou? 😉
    Bobbi Emel recently posted..Tiny miracles and bouncing back from anythingMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/12/2012 at 3:21 pm

      No beating yourself up on this one, Bobbi! Almost everything I talk about here is a practice. It took me a while to get to where I am and I continue to practice so that all the concepts flow more easily. We’re all a work in process. Start where you are and go from there. You’re aware of the practice which is much more than others can say.

      Keep practicing and smiling!

    Commented:  03/11/2012 at 11:42 am

    Paige: I love this post and the concept of pausing. It is actually something I try to put to use all the time … In fact, I labeled mine the “Time Gap”. I love that quote you shared from Victor Frankl. I had never come across that one before and it brilliantly explains how we should move through the day. Thanks for all the great information and wisdom.
    Sibyl recently posted..One Thing You’ve Got to Stop Doing To Yourself TodayMy Profile

    Fran Sorin
    Commented:  03/11/2012 at 4:16 am

    great post. when i first heard that the ‘pause’ could make a difference years ago …I questioned it. I tried it sporadically but didn’t practice diligently. I think Pema Chodron’s writings were when I had the ‘break through’ of ..’Oh yes…pausing is a spiritual act….and can make the difference between a wonderful and pretty bad day.

    Love your quote from Viktor Frankl…his philosophy of ‘if you have a why, you can figure out why’ says it all.
    Thanks for reminding what an inspirational individual he is.) fran
    Fran Sorin recently posted..Thought For Today – Ralph Waldo Emerson on SolitudeMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/11/2012 at 9:49 am

      I love Pema Chodron’s work! I still have The Places That Scare You on cassette – a classic.

      It sounds like you and I were in the same place years ago, thinking we understood a concept, trying it out and it not working and finding out later that we really didn’t understand it at all. Untill that Ah Ha moment.

      Love your new gravatar!

    Noch Noch | be me. be natural.
    Commented:  03/10/2012 at 6:41 am

    when i did debating in school and university, my coach always said to me “pause, ther eis no hurry, you have enough time.” i think this speaks to my life as well. i run around too much. sometimes i need to take a pause. like you say here
    Noch Noch
    Noch Noch | be me. be natural. recently posted..a no-guilt-no-pressure friendMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/11/2012 at 12:38 am

      You had a wise coach Noch Noch! While we tend to run around thinking that there’s never enough time, in truth, there’s always enough time.

      Whenever my monkey mind starts to stir up fear in my head with some sort of “not enough,” my wise self usually asks, “What is enough?” My internal stress and fear can build quite a bit when I think about having not enough time, not enough money, not enough love or whatever. But as soon as I pause to really examine those statements, I find that there’s nothing to them.

      Exactly how much time is enough? One or two hours or days? I’ll just fill that time with something else and continue to stress that there’s not enough time. Silly me. The same with money. How much is enough? Enough for what? As soon as one want/need is appeased, another will pop up until I decide that I already have enough to be happy. And that’s all I really need.

      You’re doing beautiful work Noch Noch!

    Sylviane Nuccio
    Commented:  03/09/2012 at 6:58 pm

    Wow, I love this post Paige!

    As I was reading I got very emotional because what you said of you “having been” it’s exactly how I was as well. I have been attacked with words a lot as a child in school by stupid bullies and for years I had been aggressive with words to people when I felt that I didn’t like what they were telling me.

    This has been the big burden I’ve been carrying for a long time as a results of bad experiences where I was the victim. In turned I victimized some innocent people who didn’t always deserved it.

    My excuse was that I was hurt, but I realized that I couldn’t live my life turning people away because of having suffered at he hand of bullies years ago. I had to get a grip, so to speak, and take responsibility. When I did my life changed 🙂

    Thank you for this great post.
    Sylviane Nuccio recently posted..Letting Go Of Negative Emotions – Easier Said Than Done?My Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/11/2012 at 12:30 am

      So glad you were able to make that transformation Sylviane! As you found out, as soon as we stop playing victim or bully and take full responsibility for everything in our lives, everything changes for the best. There’s no reason to bring our past into our future without good cause. Slowing down enough to realize what we’re doing is the first step before making a conscious, new choice. Thank you so much for your comment. I know it will help others!

    Tess The Bold Life
    Commented:  03/09/2012 at 6:34 pm

    It took me a long time to learn how to pause. If I only knew it when the girls were teens. There would have been a lot more peace in our home;) Your posts are awesome.
    Tess The Bold Life recently posted..Nonresistance is the Secret to a Bold LifeMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/11/2012 at 12:26 am

      Thanks so much Tess! That means a lot to me.

      Some days I’m better than others in pausing with my little ones. My husband is a gentle reminder when I miss the opportunity to pause. It’s a constant practice. 🙂

    Mary Carol
    Commented:  03/09/2012 at 12:43 pm

    Hi Paige,

    I appreciate the way you share your personal story with us. How comforting to realize that our “teachers” are learning right along with us.

    I used to say that I lived life at two speeds, (1) flat out, and (2) faster. If I wasn’t on a helicopter heading to a meeting, I was juggling a full-time job and a part-time computer company. And raising two awesome kids by myself. Yikes! A serious illness stopped me cold, and I re-evaluated everything. A year of not being able to do anything is a great (though not recommended!) way to learn to slow down. I did jigsaw puzzles for a whole year, hundreds of jigsaw puzzles.

    The lesson held for twenty years, but then I over-extended again, and got sick again. Finally, I got it. Now my life consists of yoga, sculpture, meditation, salsa dancing, reading the occasional blog, and walking dogs. Life is good!

    My image for not reacting too quickly in the moment is the bear. I imagine myself tilting my bear-head, sniffing the wind, taking my time, and then lumbering off. Whatever I might say or not say needs to fit within that scenario.

    Bear hugs for your words of wisdom and for your wonderful self,

    Mary Carol
    Mary Carol recently posted..Random QuestionsMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/11/2012 at 12:04 am

      I certainly have some lessons to learn from you Mary Carol! My life frequently feels more like your previous life, although I know better. We are definitely both teachers and students for each other.

      I love the bear image! That certainly helps to slow things down and allow for reflection on whether things serve you or not. I think I’ll use that one. Thanks so much!!

    Commented:  03/09/2012 at 3:25 am

    The first time I read the quote of Frankl, I know this is going to be a great article.
    Cari recently posted..animal costumesMy Profile

    kelli cooper
    Commented:  03/08/2012 at 9:56 pm

    Hi Paige
    This was a great post! Personal development covers a lot of stuff and lots of nuggets of wisdom and I believe that this is one of the most profound. Out of habit, we just react to everything outside of us when what we need to be doing is taking a moment and responding or in some cases, not responding at all! This is one of the things that I work on most probably and while I do not always succeed, I am getting to a place in my life where I am honoring that space and really observing what is happening in my mind when I feel those initial feelings and thoughts arise. The uncomfortable feelings and thoughts may still persist in some cases, but making that point to observe them and dissect them removes that extra layer of discomfort we may feel simply because we are upset at being upset.

    We always have that choice on how to respond to what is happening around us.
    kelli cooper recently posted..A Majority Opinion Does Not Always Mean the ”Right” OpinionMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/09/2012 at 12:50 am

      You’re so right Kelli. It’s a bit of an evolutionary process to be able to slow down and take advantage of the space before our response. It’s a practice where we’ll never be perfect but the more we practice, the easier it gets. I’m so glad you’ve discovered the magic of this process. Noticing what comes up inside without judging it is key.

      Thanks so much for being here!

    Betsy at Zen Mama
    Commented:  03/08/2012 at 8:52 pm

    That is one of the main premises for my book… changing your reaction to the people in your life! Thanks for this great reminder! I’m also trying to slow down this year and it’s slow coming about because I just seem to keep too busy.

    Also, I was amazed to see that you had quoted Viktor Frankl here. I just heard of him recently in a TED video by Jane Fonda about the last 1/3 part of life (which I highly recommend). I looked him up on google and he was amazing. Now I seem to see his name everywhere!
    Betsy at Zen Mama recently posted..Where Do You Find Your Inspiration? 10 Ways To Find Your Inner MuseMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/09/2012 at 12:45 am

      I know exactly how you feel, Betsy. Sometimes I wonder if my intuition told me to create a blog about slowing down and being mindful because that’s one of the biggest lessons that I need to learn. Like you, I keep “too busy” and constantly have to remind myself to slow down, be present and stop worrying about getting everything done. It will never all be done and many of the deadlines that I stress about are ones that I created for myself. No one else in the world even knows about them much less cares about them.

      Viktor Frankl was a truly amazing man. I highly recommend his better-known book: Man’s Search for Meaning where he writes about his experiences as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps in WWII. He basically says that a person can be stripped of everything in life but no one can take away the ability to choose our attitude. And it was his attitude that saved his life.

      Good luck with your book!!!

    Vidya Sury
    Commented:  03/08/2012 at 8:18 pm

    Hello, Mirror! 🙂 I just know my day is going to go better for visiting you. I like your thought process sequencing, arriving at solutions. Slowing down IS the name of the game today. I’ve been through each of these myself – and am grateful for the self-realization that comes from absorbing these gems of wisdom.

    You, Paige, are a jewel that shines brightly. Thank you.

    And I just did the “Pin a quote” 😀 – so much fun. You have a wonderful day, wise one!
    Vidya Sury recently posted..Taking Time To Smell The FlowersMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  03/09/2012 at 12:36 am

      You’re so funny Vidya! Maybe we were sisters in a previous life. 😉

      Thanks for the “pin!” I still haven’t had time to figure that whole thing out.

      Thank you so much for spreading your beauty here and everywhere you go!


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