Aha Moments: How Pausing Helps Us Understand Our Reactions

emotional mastery life skills mindfulness relationships self awareness Oct 12, 2022

Last weekend, I planned to meet a friend at 7:45 on Sunday morning. I arrived a little early (growing up, I learned 10 minutes early was considered “on time,” but arriving “on time” meant you were just plain late). My friend pulled up on time (which means she was late). As her car slid into the empty parking spot, I could see her left hand holding her cell to her left ear, talking, laughing, and talking some more. Five minutes later, she opened the door, walked over to me while still chatting away, covered the speaker part of the phone, and whispered, “Hi!” “Hi,” I whispered back.

I did not tune into her mood or her joy. I felt irritable and impatient; I was stuck in my own reality, and I just wanted to walk, get moving, and get on with the day.

When she was finally ready to walk, yet another woman pulled her truck over to the side of the road to chit-chat with my outgoing friend. “Ugh,” I thought. “More time wasted talking.” My friend has non-stop energy and knows a zillion people, attracting people like bees to honey.

“OMG,” I thought. “We will be here all morning, probably until noon at this rate. I looked at my watch, but it was only 8:25. Why did it seem like I had waited for over an hour? We had plenty of time, but time was not the problem. I was just in a mood. It happens.

The best is yet to come: Impulsively, I made my way over to the truck and blurted out, “Shamika, you remind me of my mom. I love my mom, but whenever we were together, all the homeless people in the downtown area would claw their way to talk to her. She was the kindest soul ever, but we never got to where we were going. I’d end up leaving her with her friends and waiting at a nearby café!” (Wow, where did that come from?)

Joking with the woman in the truck, “And just to be clear, I am not insinuating you remind me of a homeless person….. HAHAHAHA.” I think she got the joke, but honestly, I was acting like a 5-year old child. That comment sort of ended the three-way conversation.

I’ve been working on emotional mastery, with Executive Life Coach Arda Ozdemir, using the POWER method (rise2realize.com) which has been transformational. But that particular day, everything seemed to fly out the window. That day, there was no Pause, Observe, Welcome, Earth, React.

There was only react. Well, back to the drawing board.

Once we were alone, my friend looked at me with disbelief, “What is with you today?” Nothing!! I assured her defensively. “Nothing at all.” And then the memories whooshed back into my consciousness, and the tears started to flow.

This was my Aha moment.

Thinking back to childhood, I remember my mom being uber busy, working long hours, talking on the phone and involved in a million trillion activities. Everything she did was to make a better life for her children.

My mom had to work full-time, as did my dad. With 3 children, a bunch of half brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all living in close proximity, neither parent had time to spare. But a 5-year-old doesn’t care about all that. A 5-year-old wants what she wants and, in its absence, creates coping mechanisms to make sense of the world.

When I heard my friend on the phone, taking her time, chatting with others, I went right back to my early memories and lashed out with repressed childhood feelings of loneliness and not feeling seen.

I had dreamed of having a mom who made me lunch, brought me to piano lessons, and waited anxiously as I walked in the door after school. A child understands neither the financial responsibility required to raise a family nor the expectations and responsibilities of adulting.

A year ago, I would not have had the aptitude to look for meaning behind my behavior. I went along, day to day, believing I was born emotionless, one-dimensional, superficial, and lacking in depth. I was not in touch with my authentic self (I did not even know I had an authentic self). I’m only getting to know her now. It’s a delightful process, like a treasure hunt. 

Working with Rise 2 Realize Life Coach, Arda Ozdemir, I’ve learned to pause and observe those emotional reactions – ideally – before they happen, connecting with and processing those repressed fears/feelings before responding. I’ve grown so much, but Arda reminds me that this is only the beginning, meaning this work is a marathon, not a race, and I’m okay with that.

Now, back to my friend. I shared my reflections, and she was open to hearing my truth. I apologized for being impatient and explained why I acted so rudely. To her credit, she reflected upon her own life and raised her tendency toward phone conversations with friends/work while her family was around.

To my surprise, she too experienced an AHA moment. She wondered, “Do her friends/family resent her talking on the phone when spending time together?” It was the first time she’d considered how her actions affected her loved ones. At the end of our walk, she planned to check in with them to get their feedback. My shared moment of clarity got her thinking about her own life and habits. How beautiful is that?

Ideally, if you can remember to be more present and pause before reacting, impulsive actions and words can be minimized. But, pausing is the first step, and it takes practice to get out of reactionary fight-or-flight mode. On the app Insight Timer, Arda has a helpful self-observation meditation which has helped me be more present: https://insighttimer.com/ardaozdemir/guided-meditations/self-observation-meditation-2

Try it. It’s not easy to focus the mind, but with practice, you get better. And, the silver lining? It only takes 2-3 minutes. So, take a moment to pause and figure out why you are acting/reacting the way you do. A little bit of self-knowledge goes a very long way.

Elizabeth Ouellette, Certified Rise 2 Realize Life Coach


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