Did you once love your job but now loathe it? Do you feel burnt out? Did you recently receive a poor performance review or some other negative feedback at work? Do you spend too much time with technology? Does your family feel like they are competing for your attention (because you’re always on your phone or computer)? Have you been through a major life event, change or challenge? Are you contemplating a new opportunity like a trip, different career or creative project?

According to Rachael O’Meara in her thoughtful book Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break, these are the telltale signs that you need a pause. In 2011 O’Meara created her own pause. She took a leave of absence from her job at Google. For the first time in her life, O’Meara received negative performance reviews and needed to reassess. She was exhausted, confused and drowning in self-criticism.

Today, she’s a leadership and executive coach. And she still works at Google but now on the AdExchange sales team, a new role she took after taking her pause.

O’Meara defines a pause as “any intentional shift in behavior that allows you the space to experience a mental shift in attitude, thoughts or emotions that otherwise would’ve have occurred.” She also clarifies that a pause isn’t about pondering. That is, the aim isn’t to think more.

Rather, it’s to step away from your daily life. It’s to step away from your daily thoughts. “A pause is about taking a time-out to create the space for your inner voice to be heard and to align your actions with that voice in order to lead a more meaningful, fulfilled life.” It’s a time to discover or rediscover your yearnings, your strengths and your values.

Your pause might be a month-long vacation. It might be a week-long retreat. It might be a weekend stay-cation. It might be a technology free Saturday. What your pause looks like will depend on your resources, ability to take time off and your intentions. Either way, according to O’Meara, a pause consists of these three steps:

  1. Writing your rough draft. In your pause journal, write about how you’re feeling right now. Write about your fears. Write about your thoughts and beliefs. Write about what you’re yearning. Write about how you want to spend your time during your pause. Your rough draft might be a few pages long. Or it might be a paragraph. It might be a few bullet points. The length doesn’t matter. What does is that you write from your heart. What matters is that you write something that you truly think and feel—even if you’re afraid to write it down.
  2. Setting an intention. Ask yourself: “What do I want to get out of this moment, afternoon, day or pause?” This is a “vision for how you want to be and how you want to feel while pausing.” Here are some examples: Before getting out of  bed, you intend to be fully present with everyone you interact with. You intend to meet, smile and speak to three strangers before noon.
  3. Creating your plan. Avoid being too rigid or specific with your plan. Leaving it open facilitates exploration. Also, the key to planning your pause is to listen to your inner voice. Really listen. Deeply listen. For instance, maybe you throw yourself into planning and staying busy during your pause. But when you really listen to your inner voice, you realize that this is the exact opposite of what you need. All the doing and going is simply a distraction from your sadness. Instead, you plan to be present with yourself. You create a loose schedule to write morning pages, take an afternoon walk and visit a place you love in the evenings. When planning your pause, imagine what your ideal pause looks like. Ask yourself: What would I consider to be a successful pause? (And be very specific with your answer.) Imagining that it’s 2 years from now, what advice would I give myself as a plan?

You also can set several ground rules. Because, after all, some structure is important. O’Meara’s own ground rules included: making her bed when she got up; leaving the house by 10 a.m.; spending 30 minutes max online; and spending an hour a day outside her house to learn an activity she wanted to learn.

To discover your strengths, do some self-reflection, ask others and consider taking Tom Rath’s StrengthFinders 2.0 assessment.

Lastly, O’Meara suggests thinking of your pause as an experiment. It’s “an opportunity for enrichment and lively adventure.” In one experiment, she took a Bikram yoga class on a mini trip to Austin, Texas. In another experiment, she started a weekend job as a bike tour guide—which ended up being “one of the most fun and rewarding jobs” she’d had in a long time.

What are you yearning for? What will your pause look like? What experiments can you take? 

Photo by Steve Halama.