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Weekly 3: The power of pausing

Summary: Create space for better decisions. Take advantage of how your brain works. Let your silence

Idea Journal Weekly 3

April 7 · Issue #81 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Create space for better decisions. Take advantage of how your brain works. Let your silence speak for you. (~4 min read)
Note: Idea #2 is taken from a previous issue and we’ve included it here because it fits well with the core theme: the power of pausing.

#1. Make more conscious decisions
Meditation expert Leo Babauta writes on his blog that pausing can be a simple answer to many of our problems.
As Babauta points out, it’s often easy for us to act on negative urges when they arise: the urge to procrastinate, the urge to skip a workout, the urge to send an angry email, the urge to be rude, the urge to criticize someone unnecessarily.
But what if we learned to pause when such an urge comes along?
What if we took a moment to look at the urge itself instead of automatically acting on it?
Babauta writes that when you do this, the urge no longer controls you.
Pausing allows you to look at the urge more objectively, and creates space for you to consciously make decisions that might make you healthier and happier.
#2. To learn more effectively, use the Pomodoro Technique
Professor and bioengineering researcher Barbara Oakley points out in her book Mindshift that the brain has 2 operating modes: 
  • Focused mode: this mode is activated whenever you consciously turn your attention to a given task or material – most of your energy goes into intense focus.
  • Diffuse mode: this is when you’re not focused on anything in particular – most of your energy goes into other, more relaxed networks (e.g., when you’re standing in the shower, going for a run, or looking out the window of a car).
To help you learn more effectively by taking advantage of how the brain works, Oakley recommends using the Pomodoro Technique, originally developed by productivity expert Francesco Cirillo.
Here’s how to use it in 2 steps: 
Step 1: Remove all distractions, digital or otherwise, set a timer for 25 minutes, and then focus as hard as you can on what you’re studying or working on.
Step 2: When the timer goes off, let your brain relax for a few minutes: for example, go for a short walk, chat with friends, listen to your favorite song – do anything that makes you feel “comfortably distracted.“ You’re not completely conscious of it, but this is the crucial step that gives your brain “a chance to consolidate the material you’ve learned” and is key to making creative connections.
For Oakley, the Pomodoro Technique is powerful because it trains your ability to focus, acknowledges the inevitable temptation to procrastinate, and includes built-in periods of relaxation that are equally important for learning. 
It’s like first completing “a focused workout in your mental gym, after which you head to the mental spa,” so that the overall experience is both productive and enjoyable.
#3. Replace “umm” with silence
Communications expert Scott Berkun writes in his book Confessions of a Public Speaker that using “filler words” like umm and uhh in normal conversation is acceptable and even encouraged: “You’re letting the people you’re talking to know you are not done speaking.”
But repeatedly saying umm or uhh when you’re giving a presentation or a speech reduces the impact and effectiveness of your message.
As Berkun notes, nothing kills your power over a room as much as a lack of silence.
When you constantly fill the air with sounds, the audience members’ ears never get a break. And if what you’re saying is interesting or persuasive, the audience will need moments of pause in order to digest your points.
The trick is to replace filler words with silence. Just when you’re about to say umm or uhh, make a conscious effort to pause and embrace the silence.
For Berkun, this is a simple and effective way to improve your presentations and speeches.
He suggests that you take inspiration from stand-up comedians: “… about 20-30% of their time on the microphone is spent in silence, often just to let the audience laugh and enjoy the last thing said, or to provide a pacing break to set up the next thing they want to say.”
Quote of the Week
“Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.”
- Psychologist Rollo May in his book The Courage to Create
Idea Journal
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