Expand your perspective by disrupting habitual reactive patterns.

Reactive patterns, like blaming, complaining, fearfulness, excessive criticism, aggression, passivity and defensiveness need vigilant attention. They won’t shift by themselves. They need to be guided by your ongoing awareness. The pause-observe-reflect process does just that.

Keep in mind that initially there may be some resistance to these steps, since they challenge the momentum of ongoing reactions. This resistance to change is natural. It’s up to you to put your arm around any resistance to potential change. By doing this you demonstrate internal leadership. This sets you up to manage yourself in responsible ways so your reactions don’t mismanage you.


The first step is to simply pause. Pause and step back from a task, activity or reaction long enough to get perspective on what is going on and what you are doing. This disrupts the reactions and creates space for another perspective to enter.


After you have paused, you have the ability to observe. True observation is unbiased and non-judgmental. Try it right now by taking just 30 seconds to simply look around you and notice what you see, as a neutral witness, without commentary. Suspend judgments. Observe in an objective way.

If you slip into a judging or angry position against yourself, simply note that you aren’t observing from a clear, neutral position yet. If you are harsh, scared or angry with yourself it means you are still in the grips of reactivity. Continue to step back until you can see or observe what is going on clearly.

The goal is to observe with kind, warm and curious acceptance. You may need to step back over and over again. Practicing neutral observation will not only give you valuable data and allow you to see recurring themes but will bring a sense of calmness and equanimity.


After you have found a neutral point of observation, you can start to reflect on what you see. When you reflect, you open to new possibilities and perspectives. These can be creative, brilliant and meaningful but often disrupt what is familiar.

Reflection allows the space to wonder, inquire, explore and to let possibilities roll around. Often, insights and realizations occur spontaneously. Guidance, intuition and vision are also more likely during a period of productive reflection.

In the following example, Timothy illustrates how stepping back to pause, observe and reflect can lead to powerful realizations and the ability to solve long-term problems.

Timothy was the Director of Strategic Planning for a private university. He had been struggling for months to pull together the conflicting priorities within the university system, discover what tied the diverse views together and to come up with a consensus regarding educational direction for the university.

He was “in the weeds” and was approaching a crisis as the deadline for the strategic plan loomed. One weekend, he took time away from his 60 hour a week schedule to drive to an important family gathering. During the solitary 3-hour drive, he turned the music off and just drove, leaving his mind free to roam.

At the end of that time, he was in awe of how much he could now see and understand. He identified where the glitch was in terms of mutual understanding and developed the seed of what would be an inspiring vision for the university.

Timothy realized he needed to pull away like this on a regular basis even in the face of a deadline crisis. It was incredibly centering and the most productive time he had spent in 3 months. And took only 3 hours!

The pause-observe-reflect process can be used in a spontaneous, unstructured way, as Timothy did in the example above. But it can also be used in a much more structured way, as suggested below.

Action Steps

1. Identify 3 reactive patterns or problematic behaviors (e.g. irritability, defensiveness, avoiding conflict, being hypercritical, unreasonable expectations, harboring resentment, argumentativeness) that you want to monitor. Write them down in a small notebook you can carry with you.

2. As you go through the day, note each time you catch yourself slipping into one of the patterns you’re focusing on.

3. At the end of each day, pause for just a few minutes. Look back over the day and search for times your target patterns or behaviors were activated.

4. Reflect on what triggered the patterns.

Barbara Bouchet
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