Five 15-Second Pauses for Your Mindfulness Practice

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

Have you heard of the mindful pause? It is a mindfulness strategy I introduced that focuses on taking action right away, tapping into your natural strengths. This approach clears the dust of your autopilot mind and opens you to see your inner potential in the present moment. Here’s a reminder about how to take a mindful pause and 5 mindful pause activities you can try throughout your day.

How to Take a Mindful Pause

There are two simple steps:

  1. Pause for about 15 seconds to feel your inhale and exhale.
  2. Ask yourself: Which of my character strengths might I bring forth right now?

What do You Need for a Mindful Pause?

Everything you need is within you already. A mindful pause involves:

  • Trusting yourself that a relevant strength will emerge
  • Being open to what might be possible
  • Metacognition to watch your mind and to see what surfaces to the forefront of your attention
  • Intuition, a sense of knowing what is there, within you
  • Courage to then “go with” the strength that surfaces

5 Mindful Pause Activities

This activity works like a home-run for me and many practitioners and educators (see several examples here). Because it’s so effective, I’ve developed a few more mindful pause techniques.

1. Signature Strength Mindful Pause

We use our signature strengths throughout the day, often without knowing it. This activity helps us remember who we are. It’s a natural energizer too.

  • Pause and breathe for 15+ seconds.
  • Mentally review your top 5 strengths, seeing each one in your mind’s eye.
  • Ask yourself: Which of these 5 strengths might I bring forth right now?

2. Role Mindfulness Pause

In any situation, we have a “role” we are playing. It could be the role of father or sister, of boss or of colleague. Maybe it’s simply the role of participant, employee or listener. Whatever the role, we could probably embody the role more deeply, genuinely, with greater mindfulness and strength, right?

  • Pause and breathe for 15+ seconds.
  • Ask yourself: What’s my role here, in this situation? How might I honor this role more fully?

This activity leads me in certain situations to try to be “the best nephew I can be” or “the best colleague” I can be in a particular situation. When we remind ourselves of the role we are in, our strengths use becomes more context-specific. We shift from mindless expressions of just being honest or curious or creative. We shift to mindful strength use. Our expression becomes more balanced, context-focused and role-appropriate.

3. Specific Strength Mindfulness Pause

Research shows that we can develop our character strengths. Despite our character being a stable part of our personality, recent studies are showing our personality can change through our deliberate efforts. This means that if we want to become kinder, funnier, more grateful or more creative, we can! So even if a strength isn’t naturally one of your top strengths, you can boost it with effort.

  • Choose any of the 24 character strengths you would like to use in the situation you are in or are about to be in.
  • Pause and breathe for 15+ seconds.
  • Call forth the strength you’ve chosen and breathe for another 15-20 seconds, knowing you have this strength within you and you’ve used it in the past.

4. Goodness Mindfulness Pause

To take on an attitude of goodness is to become “other-oriented.” Goodness can be expressed in a virtually infinite number of forms. For example, you might compliment a colleague, you might express kindness inward and be good to yourself, or you might express one of your strengths in a stronger way to benefit someone.

  • Pause and breathe for 15+ seconds.
  • Ask yourself the question. How might I bring forth goodness in this moment?

5. Just Be Mindfulness Pause

All-too-often we push ourselves to do more, accomplish more, be more. This can be a great attitude and approach but it has its limitations. Our minds also need to pause and “just be” with our experience – not having to change anything, not having to do anything. As Jon Kabat-Zinn has famously said: We need to bring the “being” back into human beings. Often, we are human “doers” above everything else. This activity reminds us of that wisdom.

  • Pause for 10-15 seconds. Feel the fullness of each inhale and each exhale.
  • Remind yourself that nothing else matters right now other than simply breathing and being there for your breath. Which mindful pause is the best fit for you right now?

Resources

Niemiec, R. M. (2014). Mindfulness and character strengths: A practical guide to flourishing. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

Niemiec, R. M. (2017). Character strengths interventions: A field-guide for practitioners. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press, and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

VIA Institute on Character: www.viacharacter.org

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