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Practicing Pausing (STOP)

•Goal: Pausing is key to increasing our ability to choose how we respond.  When we do not insert a pause between a stimulus and our response we may wind up just reacting which limits our choices.   For example, if someone interrupts us we may immediately react feeling that they were rude, and we may say something in return that is aggressive or unkind.  However, if we pause for a moment and notice that we’re feeling upset, we can then consider why the other person may have acted as they did, and then decide what the best response might be.  It might be the same as if we hadn’t paused, but it also might be different. At least our response was a choice, not an automatic reaction.
•Technique: The key to pausing is to have a way of reminding ourselves to do this. One way is through remembering the acronym STOP.  This stands for:
  • S- Stop. Remember to pause.
  • T- Take a few breaths.  This gives us time to notice the stimulus.
  • O- Observe your present state without judging it.  What are you feeling or thinking in this         moment? Whatever you are feeling is ok.
  •  P- Proceed with awareness.  Having paused to notice what’s happening, we can then choose how to respond, rather than just reacting automatically.
Present the evidence: Slowing down in this way expands the range of options that we have in any situation.  It also allows us to acknowledge how we are feeling.  This leads to improved emotion regulation, as we can respond to emotions rather than react. As stated by Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning “Between 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.”
•Suggestions for use: Take the opportunity throughout the day to practice this, slowing down to choose how to respond to others and to different situations.  Answering e-mail can be a good place to practice this, noticing reactions to certain e-mails, and then pausing to consider how best to respond.  Many of us have examples that have not turned out so well when we have not done this.
•Barriers and how to overcome them: The biggest barrier to doing this is not making it a regular part of what we do.  One way to overcome this is to make it a part of your routine.  Opportunities include before going into a closed room, using knocking to remember to STOP, or using every time you use hand gel to practice this, pausing while rubbing on the gel and letting it dry (the UVa Compassionate Care Initiative is promoting this as “gel in and breathe”).