Pause tool

Our minds are full of thoughts that whizz past in all directions in our heads. Some of these thoughts may be helpful for our well-being, but others may be unhelpful. Happy thinking is about applying tools to deal with the latter. However, it would be very difficult to meaningfully interact with such “speeding” thoughts. To engage with a thought, one needs to first “pause” it so that it can “hear” one speaking to it. It’s a bit like when a child is crazily running around in a room, to speak to the child meaningfully, one will first need the child to cease running and become still. In the case of the child, one may shout her name loudly, “Shelly!”,  and this would, at least briefly, make her pause her running around. Once one gets her attention, one may be able to engage with her, “Shelly, it’s time for dinner!”

So how can one get the attention of a thought that is speeding along? The answer is to use one’s inner voice. As soon as one senses an unhelpful thinking pattern occurring in one’s mind, one can use one’s internal voice to say as strongly as possible, “Pause!” What this does is to temporarily “freeze” the thought, so that one’s mind can engage with it before it continues to cause more unhelpful thoughts to be generated.

Let me explain this concept using an example that we used before when discussing the unhelpful thinking pattern, “catastrophic thinking”. In that example, a person called Susan has a teenage daughter who is fifteen minutes late returning home from school. Susan, with her catastrophic thinking, is straight away thinking of only the worst possible outcome, “Oh no, my daughter must have met with a road traffic accident and may be bleeding to death at this very moment.” At this point, this thought is unhelpful because there is no information to say that an accident has actually happened, and there are so many other less serious options such as the school bus being stuck in traffic. Susan’s mind is simply “assuming” that an accident has happened, without having any evidence to suggest that assumption. 

Susan’s incorrect assumption is making her unnecessarily worry. However, she is aware that she suffers from anxiety and she has some suspicions that her thoughts are probably unhelpful. So her first step is to pause the thought, and she does this by using her internal voice and saying to her mind, “Pause”. This briefly pauses her unhelpful thought, “She must have met with a horrendous road traffic accident.”

Now if this was all that had to be done for unhelpful thinking patterns, i.e. just saying “pause”, wouldn’t that be great? A few “pauses” and everything would be fine! As you have probably guessed, there are a few more steps needed. That is, once an unhelpful thinking pattern has been paused, one will need to use a few other simple tools to deal with the thought, and I will explain those tools in subsequent sections of this website. The concept of the pause tool is to simply pause a thought for a few seconds, giving just enough time for other tools to be used on the thought. If one did not do anything after pausing a thought, the thought would soon “unpause” and continue being unhelpful to the person. 

Some of you may think, “Why not use the word ‘stop’ instead of the word ‘pause’, as the former is a much more commanding word?” The reason is, perhaps like humans, thoughts do not ‘like’ to follow orders! Let me demonstrate this using a simple psychological experiment that we can do right now. Are you ready? Ok. I am going to give you a super easy task now. For this task, you do not even have to move a finger! Here is your task: “Please DO NOT think of a white rabbit.” I am sure you will agree that it is quite an easy task, where all I have asked you to do is not think of a white rabbit. However, I am quite sure that most of you would have failed this simple task and would have thought, at least briefly and vaguely, of a white rabbit! This is a very common finding and highlights how telling your thoughts to go away (e.g. by saying stop”) does not work, and even can have the opposite effect. That is why I named this tool the “pause tool” rather than naming it the “stop tool”.

The pause tool may appear simplistic, but once you combine it with the other tools that I will explain to you later, you will realise that it is actually quite powerful. The aim of the pause tool is to simply hold an unhelpful thought just long enough for other tools to engage with it. Don’t underestimate the power of your inner voice!

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