The Power of Taking a Pause

Pause author Rachael O’Meara talks about the importance of seizing little moments in your busy day to take care of yourself.

Woman Relaxing At Work g-stockstudio/Shutterstock

As someone who works in a fast-paced environment, Rachael O’Meara knows the importance of making the time to slow down. O’Meara, a Googler—as employees at the innovative company are known—and a transformational leadership and executive coach, has just published a new book: Pause: Harnessing the Life-Changing Power of Giving Yourself a Break. (Sign us up!) She filled us in on some of its main takeaways.

Parents: “Pause” is the title of your book. How exactly do you define a pause?

Rachael: Whether you’re a new parent or anyone else, a pause is any intentional shift in behavior. When we’re going through our day and go through the motions, we’re on autopilot. On the other hand, intention creates some conscious awareness, to lift your head up and say, “Hey, wait a second, what’s going on right now?” It’s a moment by moment choice. Let’s say you’re with your children and you’re doing something and you’re not particularly enjoying it—maybe one kid is having a tantrum—a pause can literally be a breath! You just put your hand on your diaphragm or your heart and inhale and exhale. And if your child is old enough you can have them do it along with you.

Parents: With kids we know it can be pretty hard to take a deliberate pause, or even to go to the bathroom alone! How else would you suggest a busy parent take a pause?

Rachael: It might be choosing windows of deeper engagement—to be present with your kids where maybe in another instance that might be harder to do. Digital device pausing, where there are certain times that phones and other devices are off limits, is one way to do that. You can create a rule for yourself: “Between those hours when I get home from work and before bed, my devices are off when I’m with my little girl.” Pauses don’t have to be huge shifts, but they’re incremental and create a net impact.

Parents: What’s the power in taking a pause?

Rachael: What comes to mind to me is the ability to tune in—that I can change something here and now. Maybe my pattern is usually not to do that—but today, I make the choice this time.

Parents: What would you say to someone who feels overwhelmed even by the thought of trying to make time for herself, whether to take a break or do the things that invigorate her?

Rachael: You can design what works for you—that’s the cool part. The awareness is the real crux: You do have a choice, whether you think you do or not. Your child is growing, and you can choose to grow right alongside your child. To incorporate more daily pauses, it doesn’t cost anything or take any more time—it’s literally one minute or two minutes. It may be as simple as while you’re feeding your baby in your lap saying, I’m going to breathe and connect with my child, and notice the uniqueness of his hair.

Parents: Moms often feel guilty about taking time for themselves. What would you say to that?

Rachael: My sense is we’re always going to tend toward guilt and shame, and this may be getting existential here, but the reality is we do need to take care of ourselves to care for others. Sometimes we do need to take time to ourselves, knowing we’re going to come back refreshed. It comes back to choice: “What best serves me right now? Maybe I don’t take a full day, but maybe I take an hour and walk around the park.” Everyone needs that self-care. You can feel guilty [about taking time for yourself] until the cows come home. It takes self-compassion to say what’s best for me right now so I can serve myself, because I can’t take care of anyone else until I serve myself.

Gail O’Connor is a senior editor at Parents