The Powerful Pause

The Powerful Pause

The Powerful Pause is when we consciously take a break in the action. It gives us a chance to settle the nervous system, come out of fight-flight-freeze, and gain clarity.

The powerful pause respects that the situation and the people involved (especially ourselves!) matter enough to bring our best qualities and real skills to the engagement. We can’t do that if we’re stressed, triggered, overwhelmed, angry, wanting to run, or feeling like we can’t say NO.

Suppose you like using the pause button when watching a video or listening to a recording. In that case, you are likely going to LOVE being able to use the pause in an argument or discussion or when a big decision is needed.

  • Meditators benefit from a slight “pause” between the stimulus and the response. In that pause – even if only milliseconds – there is choice. Tapping also helps develop that inner pause.

  • When we say, “Stop!” we can frustrate those who need a change or decision right away. “I need a brief pause” says this is important while also allowing us to tend to biological imperatives! If our emotional system is flooded, we cannot think straight.

  • People who activate the Powerful Pause feel more free and clear in their decisions. They do less harm to relationships, too, because they learn (the hard way?) that when they are defensive, frustrated, or not feeling understood that plowing forward without a break doesn’t result in lasting Agreements that Work.

Keep from Losing It

We’re human, so we have a primitive brain. Its job is to detect threats, and it can get confused. Another human being upset with us can feel like an attack! Even if they are not upset with us, our mirror neurons can cause a flood in our nervous system and blood chemistry that makes it impossible to think clearly.

Of course, not being able to think clearly never stopped people from continuing to argue, right? As the tension rises, so does the activation of our defenses. This significantly impacts people who are highly empathetic and sensitive or who have unresolved trauma.

The Powerful Pause is a real skill… which means it needs to be developed and practiced. To “keep from losing it,” we’ll want to Pause well before our primitive brain has hijacked the whole body. That means building awareness of the early signs of triggering in our body and pausing then.

When Tensions are Rising

Maybe we’re not the one being triggered (yet). We’re noticing, though, that the other(s) are losing their grounding. Tensions are rising. Body language is showing defensiveness. People are cutting each other off. Personal attacks are beginning.

"Let’s take a Pause here."

If you care about emotional well-being, asking for a pause or insisting on one can change the interactions that follow profoundly. The more we practice pausing in little ways, the more skillful we’ll be at noticing and asking for pauses that bring people’s power Together – rather than inflicting their powerful emotions on others.

As a Common Practice with Friends and Family (Including Kids)

You can reach an Agreement before having a difficult conversation that either or both of you can call a Pause at any time. You can reassure that the person(s) and the topic are important, and any Pause isn’t to sidestep… it’s there so the power can flow towards agreement and mutual respect – avoiding the kind of damage that can happen if triggered people keep going without a pause.

The more we cultivate this in friendships, families, workplace, and community, the more we establish that what matters to the heart deserves grounded, peace-filled engagement. The powerful pause supports that being possible.

Useful Questions

  • If that situation did NOT go the way I’d hoped, what was the earliest moment when a powerful pause might have helped?

  • What signals does my body-mind give me when I really could use a pause?

  • If a friend sees me do ____ or say ___, would I be open to them suggesting a pause at that point?

  • Am I open to other people asking for a Pause? If not, what beliefs do I have that stop me from seeing a pause as a good and useful practice?

  • What do I think ___ will say if I ask for a pause (or say I am going to take one)? What EFT Tapping can help prepare me for that reaction? What words would I like to use to reinforce my decision to pause and benefit the relationship at the same time?

  • What if I could ask myself to Pause before engaging with someone rather than after already engaging? What benefits might that provide if it were appropriate to do so?

  • Do I need a minute to collect myself? Can I ask for that? Can I give myself the gift of a minute?


Related Concepts

Co-Regulation, Be Calm and Confident, Primitive Brain

Contributors: @Rick @Glenn

We invite you to share your experiences and wisdom:

  • Life examples where this concept has played a role
  • Other useful questions
  • Links to audios, videos, books, and courses to add to our shared understanding of this concept
  • Memes, quotes, and inspiring images

This is really great Rick! I wish I had remembered to Pause the other day when I was having a discussion with a friend that became more heated as we continued. In fact, I really could have Paused prior to engaging in this particular conversation because I was already quite certain what his response would be to my thoughts from already knowing his thoughts on the topic we were discussing. That preemptive Pause would have allowed me the opportunity to realize the very likely outcome and I could have chosen to simply sidestep the whole engagement.


…and thanks for adding that as a question in the wiki top topic… I added you as a Contributor at the bottom.


I saw this on Facebook today. I enjoy spotting examples of Concepts For Thriving ‘in the wild’. For me it’s one of the easiest and most useful ways of putting these concepts into practice… by simply noticing them when they show up in writing or conversation or maybe a TV commercial. If I can attune myself to noticing them around me ‘in the wild’ then it’s more likely I will be naturally able to behave in accordance with them myself it seems to me.

This is a nice description of The Powerful Pause I think.

"I’m just feeling upset, but I need to hide my face so people won’t see,” my four year old cried.
“I understand. Do you want to sit with me or do you want to hide by yourself?” I asked her.
“I just want to be by myself for a minute,” she answered.
And so I let her. She laid her head down in the booth to hide her face and I ate my chips and salsa. I didn’t yell. I didn’t whisper threats. I didn’t demand that she pull it together when the other restaurant patrons looked our way.
She was clear about what she needed. I let her have it.
The food came. She ate. Half way through she said, “I’m still feeling a little sad, but I think I’m feeling a little better.”
I smiled and said, “I’m glad.” There was no need for more words. She didn’t need a recap of her behavior or extra attention on her need for a reset.
She needed a minute, you guys.
Sometimes I need a minute. Sometimes we all need a minute. Sometimes we’re hangry or tired or frustrated or disappointed. Sometimes there’s no obvious reason- we just need a minute and I’m not sure when we all decided that it’s not okay to need a minute.
So, hey, if you need a minute then ask for it. Say it clearly. Put your head down or excuse yourself or take a deep breath. Do what you need to do. If you need a minute, take a minute.
And if your person needs a minute, respect that need. Sip your tea and dip your chips. Let your person have a minute, because when loved ones can say what they need and those needs are honored, trust is built and love is strengthened. - Henrietta Nemeth


I just need a minute.


You got it…take all the time you need…



I was sharing some painful challenges with a friend and didn’t even realize I was going down a spiral until she interrupted, just by saying my name: "Rachel … " That’s all it took for me to pause, and breathe, and it was soooo helpful. I’m so grateful she broke into my rant like that!


That’s a very good thing to point out Rach. We’ve been pretty much talking about The Powerful Pause as self-initiated and aimed at ourselves but we can also respectfully help others to Pause when it seems like it could be helpful like your friend did with you. Good one!!


Beautiful stuff @rick @glenn!


The Gottman Institute

Jan15uatarpy 1o2 at 4:12139c 8Plo0e0M ·

"One of my favorite strategies to teach people is that they’re actually allowed to pause difficult conversations. The Gottman Institute’s research illustrates how we can become emotionally flooded and actually completely unable to communicate properly during emotionally charged conversations. This is why the whole “don’t go to bed angry” advice is actually super flawed. You can and should take breaks when you’re overwhelmed and talking about something hard.

I know some of us want to finish convos like NOW and we want a resolution. So, when someone asks you to table a conversation or to take a break, it can really create anxiety.

Whenever you decide you need a break, it’s important to address it, make it clear, and give some type of security that you will be returning to the conversation later. The goal here is to create safety, calm down, and come back to it later. This isn’t the strategy to use when you want to avoid talking about something and brush it under the rug.

If you need more time than you initially said, fine. Tell them! What’s important here is that you’ve stated your need, used the time to regulate yourself and gain clarity, and then returned to the conversation to either continue or let them know what you may need."

Learn how to love smarter by taking a break. Read more on the Gottman Relationship Blog:

Illustration and copy by Whitney Goodman, LMFT (Whitney - sitwithwhit)