Ruth Landstrom,Ph.D.                                                                                                                         

May 2008                                             Volume 2, Number 3

Do you keep going and going, doing and doing?  Do you judge yourself by what you accomplish?  If you're not actively moving forward, do you feel like something is wrong? 

Relax!  Doing nothing may be the best thing to do!


Pausing for Perspective
The first step toward change is often just stopping.  Stopping not only creates new options; stopping is a new option.  Just stopping our usual reactions has an impact on our lives.  Something new can happen when we let go of our habits, even for a moment.  You don't have to do anything in particular.  Just suspend what you usually do.

Many people resist stopping.  Inaction can seem like passivity and indifference.  Not doing anything can seem unconscionable in the face of pain and suffering.  

Of course, emergencies require immediate action.  But in other situations, pausing before action (including speech!) can allow us to experience what's happening and assess what's needed more carefully. When we stop, we recognize that the action we were about to take may be misguided.  We recognize that we may be biased.  We make room to consider other points of view.

In fact, it is certain that we are biased, painful though this is to accept!  Psychological studies have found that most people make excuses for themselves but find fault with others.  Most people also think that they're right and others who disagree are biased.  (If you, like me, read that and think that you're the exception, notice how self-serving that thought is!)  

In short, self-centeredness leads to distortions.  Habits blind us to other possibilities.  Moreover, emotions skew our perceptions.  Psychologists even have a term for the period of time when emotion colors everything we perceive -- the "refractory period."  During this period, we are incapable of taking in new information that is inconsistent with our dominant feeling.  Yes, that includes you and me. 

With this much possibility for error built into being human, pausing for perspective can be the most useful thing you can do.

Just Stop! (But How?)
Stopping is not easy.  It requires active restraint.  We are hardwired to act and react, automatically liking and disliking, going towards some experiences and pushing away others.  An emotional response can trigger a habitual reaction within seconds.  Stopping requires sitting on your hands and biting your tongue. 

It's a paradox: stopping requires action.  We have to step off the treadmill. 

Stopping also takes courage.  When we stop, we let go of control.  Who knows what will happen when we're not actively orchestrating our lives, even for a few minutes?   

Life coaching and meditation are both ways to practice stopping.   It's probably obvious to you that meditation is a kind of stopping, but coaching? 

It is easy to overlook the fact that the coaching session itself is a pause.  During that session, you stop the action to get in touch with your strengths and values, figure out where you're headed, and learn what works and what doesn't.  To find the time for coaching, you have to be willing to stop.
Coaching can also explicitly support our efforts to stop.  One of my first "action" steps with my own coach was to make time to do nothing.  

When do you need to pause?  What patterns hook you in your relationships?   Try just refraining from saying what you usually say. 

What actions compel you, so that you feel like you have no choice but to keep doing them?  Try giving yourself a little time, even just twenty minutes, without this agenda. 

What happens when you take time to stop?



Day to Day

The other day at the dinner table, I had a wonderful opportunity to pause and catch myself.  My son had just asked a question, and I had just started answering.  My teenage daughter then cut in, "You sound like you think you know everything."  

I instantly felt irritated, so I launched without thinking into a self-defensive tirade.  Right in the middle, I somehow managed to pull back for a split second.  In that little pause, I saw that she had hooked me.  She had gotten me riled up -- and isn't that her job as a teenager?  And what were the odds that my words would convince her that no, I was not a know-it-all?  (She does have a point -- like most parents of adolescents, I do often think I know a lot that she doesn't!) 

So instead of completing my self defense, which now seemed both futile and pointless, I just said, "You got me, didn't you?"  She smiled, the tension passed, and we went on with the original conversation.  

"When the urge arises in the mind/ To feelings of desire or wrathful hate/ Do not act!  Be silent, do not speak!/ And like a log of wood be sure to stay.

When the mind is wild with mockery/ And filled with pride and haughty arrogance/ And when you want to show the hidden faults of others,/ To bring up old dissensions or to act deceitfully,

And when you want to fish for praise,/ Or criticize and spoil another's name,/ Or use harsh language, sparring for a fight,/ It's then that like a log you should remain."

Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva, verses 5.48 - 5.50, as quoted in Pema Chodron,
No Time to Lose (Shambhala Publications, 2005), pp. 149-150


Habits and Happiness workshop

 Trusting Yourself
(even though you might be wrong)

Friday, June 13, 2008, 7 - 8:30 p.m.
Yoga for Well-Being
2 Industrial Drive
Florida, NY
The Habits and Happiness workshops are designed for those who want to bring the ideas of this newsletter to life.  These workshops take place on the second Friday of each month.  Each workshop includes a talk, meditation, and discussion.

Coaching and psychotherapy
Ruth is available for both coaching and psychotherapy in Warwick, NY and New York City.  Coaching is also available by phone.  Call 1-866-788-4526 or email to set up a free initial consultation.

I'd love to hear from you!  Please e-mail me your comments, questions and requests.  If you or someone you know would like to explore coaching or meditation, you can contact me for a free phone consultation at 1-866-788-4526 (1-866-RUTHLAN) or