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Press Pause and 'Mind the Gap'. Friday July 19, 2013

When I teach people how to think clearly under pressure, I talk about the need to 'press pause'. Most people's minds go blank under pressure because this is the natural reaction of their nervous system to a perceived threat. Our brain is designed with a fight-or-flight-or-freeze response to danger, just as we see in Nature. Under pressure, the logical part of the mind is by-passed and we react instinctively.

This helps get us out of danger, but it is not always appropriate - sometimes we need space to think, to gather our thoughts, and give a considered response.

Our nervous systems are filled with tiny gaps between the nerve cells. This is where a message is passed from one nerve cell to the next - allowing us to think. It is the structure of communication. It doesn't take long, but it does take some time for the message to cross the gap. In fact it reminds me of the encouragement to 'Mind the Gap' that I hear on the London Underground.

If you are feeling under pressure, you need to 'mind the gap' and 'press pause'. This is a helpful hesitation - empowering you to 'respond' to situations rather than give a knee-jerk 'reaction'.

The best way to 'mind the gap' and 'press pause' is to take a brain-break. This means to walk away from the situation for a couple of minutes - long enough for your mind to fill the gap with fresh inspiration. Worrying at something and throwing more effort at it is often counter-productive. Press pause and then press play again, and notice that life plays out in a fresh way.

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Anonymous Fri, Jul 19th 2013 @ 8:17am

Brilliant advice. Thanks. I like the analogies

Anonymous Fri, Jul 19th 2013 @ 12:50pm


Marie-Jeanne Fri, Jul 19th 2013 @ 2:19pm

I have an advice-seeking question:

What do you do if someone says something (e.g., in a car) that triggers an intense stress response, and you know that you need silence (and, likely, space) to process the content, acknowledge the communication, learn from, and remember it -- but then when you remain silent as a precursor to calming down and processing, the speaker becomes frustrated, expresses strong feelings about your lack of acknowledgment, and begins asking questions?

I am very easily triggered; and in this kind of scenario (in a confined space) all I want is to get away from "the noise," and I often respond impulsively in an attempt to get silence. But since my mind has become overwhelmingly muddled, I'm not connected to my response, it's typically inappropriate, and the situation escalates. At times it escalates to such an extent that I do not know how to return to and process the original comments.

I would greatly appreciate advice. Fri, Jul 19th 2013 @ 2:46pm

Many thanks... I live my life in analogies! Fri, Jul 19th 2013 @ 2:47pm

Thanks for the encouragement! Fri, Jul 19th 2013 @ 3:00pm

Hello Marie-Jeanne
Thanks for your questions.
I use a range of "pause" techniques to buy myself time - though I appreciate the challenge of being put on the spot in a confined space where there is no obvious escape.
You mind, even under pressure, can think really quickly - it needs just a little time. This means that you won't need to buy much time.
Physically, I touch my finger to my mouth. Even in the car, the other person will notice this, and it is an universal symbol for thinking. For many people, it is also subtly associated with being told to be quiet in the library! A gentle touch of the index finger to your lips may buy you a few seconds. Of course, it depends if you're driving!
I'm lucky in that I wear glasses. If I'm not driving, I can take off my glasses and put the arm of the spectacles to the lips. This not only says, "I'm listening" with a bit of "Shhhhh!" too, it also suggests that nothing is going to be added until I put my glasses back on!
In addition to these physical strategies, I will also reflect back what the person has said - using as many of their own words as possible. This shows I've listened, but more importantly, it helps me answer the right question. When put under pressure, we can all respond quickly, but all too often, we address the wrong issue.
This will give your mind seconds to recover, and it will also run the issues through your mind twice - since you are reflecting back the information.
Thirdly, I use a rule-of-threes to respond. My mind has got into the habit of giving an ABC or a 123 pattern answer to challenges. This is a strong way of making a point or structuring an answer and the three ideas weave together.
In my response here, I've used this principle 1) the physical suggestions, 2) the reflective listening, and 3) the rull-of-threes. Any one of my suggestions may have been useless in an of itself, but giving you three options multiplies the chance that you'll find something helpful.
I really empathise with your dilemma and hope this helps.
Kindest regards
Lex Fri, Jul 19th 2013 @ 3:04pm

I also apologise for my bad grammar!

Eileen Sat, Jul 20th 2013 @ 9:10am

What a great response with good advice. Thank you Lex!

Marie-Jeanne Sat, Jul 20th 2013 @ 2:17pm

Thank you very much for your response, Lex. I appreciate it very much. I can't say I look forward to trying it under stress, but I am beginning my practice NOW! :)

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