This diagram is a helpful representation of our direct perceptual experience of the world via our senses (the left-hand) and our conceptual experience of that world – the way we label every experience as good or bad, right or wrong, like or dislike and then think about it, judge, analyse and compare it.
Design: Karen Liebenguth
Source: The Compassionate Mind, Paul Gilbert
Be less X and more Y
When you feel stressed and overwhelmed, you spend most of the time in the band labelled x – the upper part of the triangles – in your head; conceptualising, overthinking, problem solving, analysing and worrying.
Your ability to think and problem solve is of course important, but when you feel overwhelmed, you tend to overuse this part of your mind and this mental activity keeps you trapped in the same loop of overthinking.
Pressing the pause button can help you to redress the balance and move further down the triangles into the band called Y, into your direct sensory experience.
Pressing the pause button can help you to redress the balance
The present is a gift
When this happens, you are in the present moment, a place in which you can create some space to breathe, to be, to gain a broader perspective on things and to have more choice about how to respond to what’s happening.
There is a connection here between the doing and being mode of mind.
The doing mode of mind tends to operate in the upper part of the triangles.
The being mode tends to operate in the lower part in which you are aware of all of your experience through your senses.
In the present moment … you can create some space to breathe, to be, to gain a broader perspective
Thinking like fine wine
Thinking is included in the being mode of mind but when you are here in the present moment, your thinking becomes more fruitful, more embodied.
You can go about your tasks with greater ease and clarity of mind.
This will have an impact on how you relate to others and improve your adaptability to change as well as your capacity to understand and hold complexities.
When you are … in the present moment, your thinking becomes more fruitful, more embodied
The paradox of pausing
When we feel stressed and overwhelmed, we don’t like it and we want to do everything to get rid of the stress and so we work harder, do more.
We tense the body and contract the mind like a tight fist which makes things worse.
What we really need to do is pause.
That’s the paradox because it feels counterintuitive.
When we pause, we can move from a contracted to an expansive state of mind and reduce stress.
When we pause, we can move from a contracted to an expansive state of mind
Wake up to your auto-pilot
To pause, to stop doing what you are doing, in itself is not difficult, but remembering to pause and actually stopping can be a huge challenge particularly when we are on auto-pilot and faced with the huge demands of our job.
So the first step is to wake up to your auto-pilot.
No time to pause? The opposite is true.
Remembering to pause and actually stopping can be a huge challenge
Permission to pause
You start to have more time because you spend more time in the present moment rather than in a mode of mind focusing on the next job to do and the next.
A crucial thing here is to give yourself permission to pause regularly and to tell yourself that it is okay and vital to pause.
Everything can change in the pause
When you pause you have an opportunity to become aware of and connect to your inner experience (lower part of the two triangles): bodily sensations, emotions, thoughts, impulses.
This 3-step Pausing practice creates space to be:
- Notice with an attitude of kindness and curiosity when you feel tight and contracted – this is a moment of awareness and coming out of auto-pilot
- Pause, stop doing what you are doing (emailing, social media, speaking on the phone, writing a report etc.), feel your feet on the ground and have your fingertips touching each other to help you come out of your head and into your body (you can do this anywhere without anyone noticing – at your desk, in a meeting, while giving a presentation)
- Take three deep breaths (or more) – notice the aliveness and expansion of the body on the in-breath and the release on the outbreath
Notice the difference when you’ve completed the steps of the practice.
Give yourself permission to pause regularly and to tell yourself that it is okay and vital to pause
A helpful habit
I recommend that you do this practice regularly and often as it trains the mind.
Pausing will then become a helpful habit, something you do as an integrated part of how you go about your working day.
It does not take much time. This practice can be done in just one minute or longer.
Notice with an attitude of kindness and curiosity when you feel tight and contracted
Remind yourself and others to take a pause
Find a creative way of reminding yourself – an alarm on your mobile phone, a Post-it Note on your screen or desk or find a peer and remind each other to take a pause.
You can download the free app Insight Timer to access Karen Liebenguth’s guided Pausing practice (and other short mindfulness practices for the workplace): https://insighttimer.com/kliebenguth
If you enjoyed this, read: Practising mindfulness through times of uncertainty