I was recently on a Groove (virtual co-working session) with a colleague who was navigating a stressful situation.
“I got sucked into the drama,” she reported after our fifty minutes of working time were up. “I didn’t even start working on what I said I would get done.”
She explained how she had spent the time writing out a lengthy response to an email. “Now I need to edit it down to something appropriate before I send it.”
The situation she was navigating was triggering and her draft response was a way for her to process it all. Now she had to separate her own thoughts and feelings from the point she wanted to make.
“I totally get how writing it out is useful, but also not something that’s good to share with others. When I’m in these types of situations I find it helpful to hit pause on it and step away. I like to go out for a walk or move around so I can get out of my head. It helps me gain greater clarity on the point I’m trying to make so I can edit my response accordingly.” I explained my own process to her.
“That makes a lot of sense,” she replied contemplatively. "I was going to try and push through to get it done but maybe I'll take a break instead."
I encouraged her, "I give you permission to hit the pause button! You might find you'll spend less time editing it down if you pause first."
This is a trick I learned after tracking my time. When denoting how much time I spent on certain tasks, I quickly realized there was a point where I would soldier on to no avail. My effort resulted in diminishing returns, which tended to add to my sense of frustration and aggravation.
Hitting the pause button in a triggering situation is different than freezing up.
Just like athletes need time to let their bodies recover from training, so do professionals' brains. This is especially true when we get fired up, as my friend had been. Stress hormones get released when we are activated, which prime our bodies to fight or flight. If not dispelled, that energy turns into tension in our bodies. What's more, movement also engages different parts of our brains so we can shift out of a reactive loop.
Our society tends to glamorize the thinking brain. I speak with professionals who often try to will their thinking brain to solve problems when they're stressed to no avail. This looks like perseverating at the computer long past productivity. In reality, what's needed is to get out of our heads and into our bodies.
So if you're grappling with a situation that's highly charged instead of pushing through, I give you permission to hit the pause button. Step outside, do some stretches, wash the dishes - do something to get out of your head and into your body. This physical activity will serve as a valuable reset - like when a device isn't working well and we reboot it.
The challenge will wait for you, the need is generally not as urgent as we tell ourselves it is. Afterward, you'll enjoy more clarity in your thinking that makes it easier to make meaningful progress.
What are some things you like to that help you reset? I'd love to hear from you!