by Ryan M. Niemiec, PsyD
Helping professionals—such as a coaches, counselors, educators, or managers—are always on the lookout for new tools to help others overcome challenges, find peace, and be at their best. In leading people in thousands of mindfulness groups, thousands of meditations, and numerous mindfulness workshops/lectures/retreats there is ONE practice that has emerged as a practitioner favorite.
I call it The Mindful Pause. It is two simple steps:
1. Pause and feel your in-breath and out-breath for 10 to 15 seconds.
2. Conclude with a question: Which of my character strengths will I bring forward right now?
The Mindful Pause is a tool that every practitioner can use at one time or another, whether to get ready for a meeting or in a session with a client, group, employee, or student.
Sixteen years ago, I practiced this for one minute per day. I found that when I practiced the Mindful Pause on Mondays—when I routinely had a difficult all-day meeting with difficult people (that I dreaded going to!)—my Monday was focused and energized. My character strength of perspective emerged and I quickly reframed my views of the individuals. I looked to the bigger picture when I felt irritated. I joined the conversation rather than stewing in discomfort. I also noticed that each Monday that I didn’t practice for one minute, I found myself more stressed, easily confused, and more reactive.
I regularly use the Mindful Pause before speaking with clients. Many strengths emerge such as humility, curiosity, and self-regulation. When self-regulation emerges, I give extra attention to observing and managing my emotions. I self-regulate my attention by following my breath in and out as I dial a phone number or activate Skype; I continue to follow my breathing as I greet the client.
Using the Mindful Pause with Clients
Here’s how these practitioners use this simple yet powerful technique.
David Giwerc, ADHD Coach, Educator/Trainer: When my clients with ADHD get stuck in dealing with their emotions or in procrastination mode, I teach them the steps of the Mindful Pause. Some examples of strengths that have enhanced their energy, meaning, and emotion management include:
Social intelligence/emotional intelligence to name their feelings
Curiosity to call a friend to find out what’s going on in their life
Kindness to express a message in a caring, supportive manner
Humor to handle a “heavy” conversation;
Perspective to see the big picture and change the direction of the conversation.
Debra Morin, management consultant: I teach mentees to use the Mindful Pause to become present with their heightened nerves before speaking in public. Bravery and perseverance are often the character strengths that emerge enabling my mentees to come across as more polished, confident, and self-assured.
As corporate mentors at Apps Associates, we use the Mindful Pause when preparing to work with mentees. Pausing to slowly breathe and re-orient to the present moment enables us to become fully available for the coming conversation. The character strength of self-regulation often arises which we then call forth to help us maintain a focus that is free from distractions.
Susan Peppercorn, career coach/trainer: While coaching a client who is particularly self-critical, I used the Mindful Pause in the meeting to help her identify her strengths she could use to quiet the gremlin on her shoulder. While pausing, she recognized her signature strength of kindness/compassion and realized she needed to turn this strength inward—to practice self-kindness/self-compassion.
As principal of Positive Workplace Partners, I used the Mindful Pause before a coaching session with a client who has ADHD. I was reminded of my signature strengths of self-regulation and love, which cued me to be empathic, patient, and non-judgmental when this individual got off track during our discussion.
Cypress Walker, positive psychology practitioner: I use the Mindful Pause to prime myself before I lead group workshops. Different strengths emerge depending on the group’s focus but often it is judgment, zest, and leadership that arise and I use to re-center myself and lead the participants.
Joanne Travers, parent intervention specialist: When I work with parents raising children with hearing differences and disabilities, I use the Mindful Pause and the parents often report the strength of self-regulation coming forth. They say they are more focused and peaceful. They then return to their children with a clearer mind.
Cindy Stack, consultant/leadership coach: I used the Mindful Pause before coaching a client and my character strengths of love of learning and curiosity quickly surfaced. I used these strengths in the coaching session to ask my client exploratory questions and learn about how they are reaching new aspirations in their life.
Donna Miller, professor/executive director, positive psychology coach: When I use the Mindful Pause with my students, they report perspective and self-regulation arise and then report they are less reactive and more peaceful. Some students have reported to the dean that they are transforming their lives because of it. I believe this is because the students feel a sense of personal power when they make choices based on their strengths and inner wisdom.
Laurie Curtis, coach: I had a client who was struggling with insecurity about a new business and intended to take the approach “fake it till I make it.” I taught her the Mindful Pause and she realized her strength of creativity would allow her to expand possibilities in a confident, authentic manner and that she wouldn’t be “faking” after all.
Follow-Up Questions for You
What character strengths emerge for you in this practice?
What positive actions have you taken in your life as a result of this practice?
How might you use the Mindful Pause in your professional and personal life?
To enhance the effectiveness of the exercise, do you need to select a cue to remind yourself to pause?
This post was adapted from an article originally published on PsychologyToday.com.
Learn more from Ryan in WBI’s Mindfulness and Character Strengths in Coaching course. This course, which offers ICF CCE credits, is designed to deepen your knowledge and practice of mindfulness and character strengths, and learn how to apply this influential work in your coaching.
Ryan M. Niemiec PsyD, education director of the VIA Institute on Character, develops VIA’s courses, reports, and programs, and helps professionals around the world apply character strengths personally and professionally. He is the author of Mindfulness and Character Strengths: A Practical Guide to Flourishing (with 10-track CD) and co-author of Positive Psychology at the Movies and Movies and Mental Illness. Ryan is an award-winning psychologist, certified health coach, international workshop leader, and faculty member for Xavier University in Cincinnati and the University of Pennsylvania. He is the creator of Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP), the first structured program for building character strengths, and an adapted MBSP for a track on the web/app-based platform Happify, called “Awaken Your Potential.”