How lawyers can fuel their brain

How lawyers can fuel their brains

4 ways to master the power of pause

By Nicola Gates, Neurophyschologist


Just stop. A simple pause can make a profound difference to how effective we are in any situation or circumstance. In fact pausing will allow you to be reflective and wise rather than reactionary.

There are two primary reasons why a pause is so powerful. The first is the switch to efficacy from economy, and the second, related to the first, has to do with clarity. The brain has very high energy needs (it has the highest oxygen and glucose requirements of any organ at rest) and is costly to run. To reduce expenditure our brain delegates a lot of activity to automatic mode which is less “expensive” than strategic goal oriented functioning.

The problem is this habit is not always effective. We can delegate too much, or we get “locked”’ into certain patterns of responding, rather than actively thinking and being purposeful. As a result of being automatic we may need to perform tasks again, correct mistakes or make amends, but importantly this generalist approach is limiting. We are not doing our best.

By pausing and disengaging from automatic thoughts, behaviours and emotional responses, we empower higher order cognitive processes such as creativity, solution generation, strategic planning, and decision making. In other words we operate from the chief executive suite rather than the automatic process line.

Four ways to develop the art of pause

1. Breathe
Consciously focus on your inhalation, count it, pause, then exhale slowly counting, pause and repeat. This will interrupt the emotional filibuster and clear your mind.

2. Be Present 
Observe what is actually in front of you right now, without attaching history or projecting future fantasies.

3. Create White Space in your Diary 
Schedule in time to think, reflect, or contemplate as this facilitates deep thought in which the brain can be creative, crystallise concepts, solve riddles, link up ideas – basically do its best work.

4. Disconnect
Give yourself a break from the constant barrage of stimuli (music, podcasts, social media and emails) which constantly engage the mind. Give your brain down time – chill out and let your brain get off the grid – it will thank you for it with improved performance.The pause is also restorative. This temporary brain “downtime”allows us to check-in on, and regulate, our emotional responding. By stopping we can determine if we are managing our emotions or whether our emotions are tyrannising our thinking.

Finally, pausing reduces stress reactivity! By returning us to an optimal operation mode, this gives us clarity. We free our mind from “noise” (excessive emotional responding) allowing clear thinking space, ideas and thoughts to connect, new insights to emerge, and solutions to come forth. Pausing allows us to be actively conscious (or fully awake in philosophical terms) to focus our attention upon what is required – be it a legal conundrum or managing interpersonal relationships.