Long ago I noticed how working parents truly struggle in achieving work-life balance. They get caught in a “pause-less” world of trying to do too much – while filling every gap with their handheld device. As a result, the first mini-skill that I teach parents is not some lofty purpose-finding or goal setting capability. 

We start by learning to pause.

When we pause, both our rational and emotional intelligence go up. Way up. We simply have more access to our best personal resources when our emotions don’t get ahead of us – or the best of us.  Here’s the deal, the deeper the challenge, the deeper the pause. Some pauses are for a moment (pause and breathe) – and some may take longer to process (pause and re-think).   

Here are some simple strategies for mastering the two pauses.

ONE.  Pause and breathe:  We start simple.  Whenever “something’s up” – we make a habit of pausing and taking a deep breath (or two). We know something’s up when we start to feel vulnerable, uncertain, or off-purpose in some way. We start to feel our attitude and emotions going in the wrong direction as we start to awfulize a recent health issue or find ourselves overreacting to a two-year old’s tantrum.

That deep breath – which takes only three seconds – is often just enough time to interrupt our impulsive and over-reactive instincts.  This I know, pausing – even briefly – almost always leads to a more positive response.

Over time we can create a new habit – where we instinctively pause and breathe to bring our best self to the situation.  As you breathe, count to yourself . . . One-thousand ONE, one-thousand TWO, one-thousand THREE. It will serve as a signal to the brain to slow down and gain perspective on how we truly want to respond. As we routinely pause and breathe throughout the day, we are rewarded with a sense of control that seemed elusive in our “pause-less” world.

TWO. Pause and rethink:  Sometimes a simple three-second pause is not enough time to deal with bigger challenges in our complex, time-restricted lives.  The following example tells it all. It’s about a friend of mine, Anna, who would rush home for work to be with her two young children.  She couldn’t wait to see them – but emotionally she was still at work as she tried to transition to home life.  Feelings of guilt and frustration ensued as she would find her mind still absorbed in some drama from her work day. 

After much soul searching, she finally landed on a pause routine that would give her the necessary separation between work and home.  Anna’s new response actually has three steps.  

  1. FIRST, she advances all of the unfinished items of the business day to tomorrow’s to-do list to create a sense of completion for the day.  
  2. SECOND, Anna created a rule that all leftover “emotional issues” (e.g., a tense moment with the co-worker or an unresolved issue with a boss) would be framed as positive as possible — and then held to the next day. It was her experience that a good night’s sleep would cut the problem in half – and would be much easier to tackle with a fresh start in the morning.  (She also knew that problems never got better by over-processing them on the drive home.)
  3. FINALLY, Anna now pauses at the front door . . .

“I always pause at my front door. I do not cross that threshold until I am mom . . . and it may require a walk around the block!”

When we pause, we bring out the best in ourselves and those around us. We now catch ourselves from making a “knee-jerk” correction with our kids.  Amazingly, they will naturally pause too – responding to our thoughtfulness and empathy.  A new rhythm takes hold in our parent – child relationship.   


  • Mike Morrison, Ph.D., is a globally known leadership expert with his fourth book, Small Voice Says, (co-written with his daughter Mackenzie) targeted for young children and their parents.  Mike is also the founder of the University of Toyota and helped to usher in the positive psychology movement (highlighting the good news in people).  He can be reached at [email protected].