Pauseability

A man is riding a horse that is galloping quickly.

Another man, who is standing by the side of the road, shouts at him: “Where are you going?”

“I don’t know,” the man shouts back. “Ask the horse!”

This story may be quaint, but it pretty much sums up life for most men. Think about it… it’s true.

I mean, we are always busy doing something, right? And yet we don’t know why we do the things we do!

And it took me a long time before I realized I, too, was sleepwalking into life.

I thought I was doing everything I was supposed to do.

I worked hard at school. I found a job. I had toiled away for several years until I got promoted. Then, I switched to a job which gave me more money and a fancy title. And even better, it came with a corner office.

It was the first day at my new job. I remembered sitting back in my chair, feeling on top of the world. “I’ve done well,” I told myself.

And then my smile slowly faded away. A small voice inside me whispered back:

“Zan, have you, really?”

Maybe it was my conscience speaking. I didn’t know. It was a rare moment that had called for honest introspection.

“Is this what you really wanted?”

As doubt began to creep into my mind, something on my table caught my eye.

It was a “One Zen Story A Day” calendar, left behind by the guy whom I had replaced.

And the Zen story for that day? The man on the horse.

The Man On The Horse? It Was Me.

Like the man on the horse, I had hurried from one place to another, thinking I was going somewhere important. But I wasn’t.

By chasing one opportunity after another, I thought I was going upwards in life. But I wasn’t.

The truth: I was selling myself short. 

I was taking the easy path, the path of the least resistance and risk. And yet, I thought it was the right path to take. Why? Because it was the path that most people took.

Deep down inside, I realized one thing. If I had continued down this path, it would lead to a life of regret, emptiness and despair.

A moment of clarity had washed over me. It was as if I could see things clearly for the first time.

I looked around.

The things I had lusted over – the corner office, the sexy title, the fat paycheck – were the same things that had enslaved me.

These things had held me back from doing what I was truly meant to do – the things that would give me meaning and true joy.

I had created my own prison. And at that moment, I knew that there was one thing I had to do.

I had to break free.

The Biggest Problem of Our Time.

The reason I am writing this is to urge you to do the same thing – to break free.

When I was 18, I remembered telling this to Mr. Buckley, my English teacher in high school:

“Sir, I want to go to a top university. After that, I want a job that pays me well. I want to be the CEO of a big company. I want to be rich, important and famous.”

Mr. Buckley, in his timeless wisdom, replied:

“Zan, it’s jolly good to do what you want to do. But one day you will have to do what you were meant to do.”

I didn’t quite understand what he said. I do now.

We think that what we want to do is what we are meant to do. But those are two different things. Confusing between the two is a mistake, and one that makes us unhappy and unfulfilled.

Why?

Because deep down, we all know that we are meant to do.

What we are meant to do is to pursue our Life’s Task.

What’s the “Life’s Task”?

You possess a kind of an inner force that seeks to guide you toward your Life’s Task—what you are meant to accomplish in the time that you have to live.

Robert Greene, “Mastery”

The Life’s Task gives us purpose, one which is true to our inner leanings and inclinations.

The Life’s Task lies beyond goals and achievement. It goes deeper than that. It’s an accomplishment on your own terms, based on what’s important to you, not others.

The Life’s Task is about who we really are. And it frees us from what other people expect us to be.

And most importantly, within our Life’s Task lies our potential. This is our potential to be what we are meant to be (not what others think we should be).

The unfortunate thing is that most of us never pursue our Life’s Task.

Instead, we get distracted. We stray from the path that we are meant to take. We chase after things that don’t matter. We squander our precious potential.

And this is a huge problem. In fact, this could well be the biggest problem of our time.

Understand this:

There are invisible cuffs that are chaining you to a certain path in life. It’s a path that others have chosen for you. And it’s a path which takes you away from your Life’s Task.

You must break free.

It won’t be easy. To break free, you will need more than willpower and motivation. You will need to know ONE thing, something which most men don’t even know it exists.

This is the knowledge that I will share with you today. This is a long read, but it will be worth it. You must stay with me until the end. Promise me because this is important.

You will find out about what is really holding you back from your Life’s Task. (It’s probably not what you think it is. It will surprise you when you find that out.)

And then, you will discover the ONE thing, the ONE skill that you must have to break free from what’s holding you back.

Are you ready?

Good. First things first, however. To break free, you must first see what is imprisoning you.

What’s Imprisoning You?

In two words: “Default Mode”.

The Default Mode is how most people live their lives. It dictates what they do without requiring much conscious thinking.

The Default Mode lets us live on autopilot. It can, however, be insidiously dangerous.

The Default Mode makes us take the easy path in life. We look around and find that everyone else is also taking the same path. Since everyone is doing it, so it must be the right thing to do, surely?

Wrong. The Default Mode is why we slip unknowingly into lives of quiet desperation and squandered potential.

In the Default Mode, we do things not because we consciously choose to do them. We do things unthinkingly because we can do those things without thinking.

The Default Mode are the invisible cuffs that are chaining us, stopping us from pursuing our Life’s Task.

When you are on the Default Mode, you are not running your life. Something else is.

The Default Mode Is Not “Good” Or “Bad”.

I need to clarify this, however. The Default Mode is not an entirely “bad” thing.

In many ways, it’s an essential part of our nature. Without it, we simply can’t function as humans.

How so? Well, for one, the Default Mode provides structure to our lives. It does so by giving us routines and habits.

Routines and habits free us from the need to think about every little thing that we do.

It makes sense, right? I mean, it would be a nightmare if we have to ponder over every little thing, from brushing our teeth to tying our shoes or making coffee.

So, the Default Mode is good for small things. And by small things, I mean the things that do not cause tremendous harm even if we screw up.

The problem starts, however, when we go on the Default Mode even for the big things. You know, big things like what a man should do with his life.

And when we go on the Default Mode even for the big things, then what happens?

Remember the story of the man on a runaway horse?

It’s a cautionary story about the man who is on the Default Mode for the biggest thing in his life:

His Life’s Task.

How The Default Mode May Lead Us Down The Path To Despair.

Under the Default Mode, we are never in control of our own destiny; something else is. This means that we are at the mercy of things outside us.

We will do the things that others want us to do. Every moment, we get yanked left and right by whatever demands our attention.

When we live on the Default Mode, we find it hard to say no.

We are unsure because we don’t have our Life’s Task to anchor our decisions on. And so, we let other people decide what we do with our precious time and energy.

Like the man on the runaway horse, we will go wherever the horse brings us.

We will never end up where we want to be. Why? Because we have never decided where we have truly wanted to go.

So, do you understand why I consider this the biggest problem of our time?

Now, here’s the thing. Unless we snap out of the Default Mode, we are marching hand-in-hand towards a tragic demise. And it will be one marked by misguided priorities and wasted potential.

I knew this, because I was once the embodiment of this problem. I was on the path of misliving my life until I had the epiphany that I was not doing what I was meant to do – pursuing my Life Task.

For the modern man, the danger of misliving is real.

Who Cares? (I Do.)

Alright, I might be getting carried away. My concern about an entire generation of men marching into an apocalyptic hellhole of despair may be too alarmist to you.

I might have overdramatized things a little. You may not worry about our collective fate as humans as I do. And that is fine.

So, let’s ignore that for a second and start talking about you.

Look, I don’t know you. And I don’t know how you found me.

And yet, since you’re still here reading this, there’s one thing that I know for sure, and it’s this:

We are kindred spirits.

We are similar in many ways.

Like me, you’re hungry.

Like me, you want more.

Like me, you feel you deserve more.

And yet everything in life seems to go against you. Nothing seems to work out the way you want. You don’t know why.

I’m here to tell you this: It’s not your fault.

You are struggling because you’re missing one thing. Yes, only one thing stands between you and the life of your dreams.

There is ONE thing is the key that will finally unlock the path to happiness and fulfillment for you. Master it and you will cruise through life like an open highway.

What’s this one thing?

The Man’s Worst Enemy Is His Own Mind.

Before I show you what the “one thing” is, here’s what you need to understand:

It’s not complicated, and yet the best way to get the complete picture is not for me to explain it. You have got to see it for yourself.

And to do that, we will first have to go straight to the source of everything that makes us who we are:

Our brain.

The human brain is quite extraordinary. It learns new things and creates new ideas. It solves problems and foresees new ones so we can avoid them. It stores our memories and lets us visualize the future. Pretty remarkable.

Cognitive scientists, however, will tell you a different thing.

As it turns out, we are really not that smart. In fact, the human brain has tremendous flaws and limitations.

This may sound crazy, but it’s true:

Mother Nature has wired your brain with a “flaw” – with the purpose of deluding you.

That’s right. You may be living in a sea of illusions, a world created by your brain to keep you in fantasy land.

Again, I know this may sound somewhat far-fetched. Bear with me. Later, I will explain why your brain behaves like this.

For now, here’s what you must know:

Your brain will often trick you into believing things that are false. And these falsehoods are what’s stopping you from living your life fully.

Wise men throughout the ages have known this.

Buddha taught about why we suffer – because we have cravings, making us attached to things. And cravings come from one source – the delusional nature of the mind.

Plato warned against “trusting the senses” because the mind couldn’t “experience reality completely”.

Heraclitus called self-deception an “awful disease” and eyesight a “lying sense”.

“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being.”

Byron Katie

Alas, the man’s worst enemy is his own mind.

Weird, right? After all, why would Mother Nature mess with our minds so much?

To understand why, we have to rewind the clock and see how the human has evolved over millions of years of his existence on this planet.

Your Brain Is Stuck In The Caves.

Humans have existed since six million years ago.

Civilization, however, only started 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. That’s a tiny fraction (0.03%) of the entire time that we have existed.

Modernity is even more recent. We can say that “modernity” has started during the Age of Reason around 1700. That was just over 300 years ago.

So, our time as modern men is about 0.005% of the time of which humans have existed on earth.

Humans have been cavemen far longer than being modern men

Staggering, right?

Interesting trivia aside, this explains why the brain works as it is.

You see, there is a mismatch between how the brain has evolved (for six million years) and the world that we are in, right now.

Simply put, the environment that we are in today is not what the brain has been designed for.

The human brain has not caught up with the rapid changes that have happened in our society. While we live in modern times, our brain still thinks we live in caves, hunting wild boars for food.

Strange, but true!

To understand how our brains work, let’s step back in time and think about our ancestors – the cavemen.

For the caveman, there are only two important things. The first thing is survival.

The mortality rate of our ancestors was tremendously high. The average caveman would die young – around the age of 35.

How could a caveman die? Well, in a few ways.

He could get sick. He could die from hunger. He could get clubbed by a rival caveman. He could get mauled by a tiger.

So, all a caveman does is to try to survive from one day to the next.

And if he does survive despite the odds, he’ll move on to the other important thing in his life:

To spread his genes.

When the caveman is safe and full, he gets horny. He will get the urge to find a suitable female to mate with. And through sexual activity, he will produce the next generation – little cave-babies.

So, to summarize:

In the caveman’s primitive brain, there are only two things that matter: survival and reproduction.

So far, so good.

Next, let’s dig in deeper on how the caveman thinks (because that’s pretty much how we think in the modern world).

The Caveman’s Default Mode.

Imagine you’re a caveman. You are out in the jungle with your mates, hunting woolly mammoths for food.

And then, something appears in your way.

Your brain sends a shot of adrenaline into the bloodstream, putting your body on high alert. And, in a split second, your brain runs through the following possibilities:

  1. This may be something I can eat.
  2. This may be someone I can mate with.
  3. This may be something that can kill me.

Then, in the next split second, it decides what to do. Or, to put it rather crudely, it asks:

“Should I eat it, fuck it, fight it, or run away from it?”

The brain needs to decide, and decide fast. After all, if it’s a tiger, one fraction of a second is going to be the difference between life and death for you.

Now, remember the Default Mode that we have talked about earlier?

Well, this is the Default Mode – the constant scanning for danger, feeding and mating opportunities – that the caveman operates in.

The Default Mode is the brain’s way to keep the caveman safe so that he can reproduce with the cavewoman of his choice when he gets the opportunity.

Why Your Mind Doesn’t Want You To Be Happy.

The human brain has one job: to keep us safe so we can breed.

And it does this job incredibly well. To keep us safe, nature has conditioned our brain to react quickly to whatever comes into our consciousness (“stimulus”).

It takes microseconds for the brain to react to a stimulus

Six million years of evolution has fine-tuned our brain into a lean, mean, lightning-fast decision-making machine. It takes only microseconds for us to react to a stimulus.

Make sense so far?

Good. There’s one problem with this, though, and it’s this…

The brain has not evolved at the same speed at which our world has changed.

Or, in other words, the brain has yet to catch up with our progress as humans. We have been cavemen for 99.995% of the time, remember?

As such, the caveman’s hyper vigilance has persisted into the modern age. And so, we still have our brains constantly poking us with the Default Question every minute of the day:

“Anything here to eat, fight, fuck, or run away from?”

Astonishing, right?

Now, what’s even more startling is this…

The brain will do anything to keep you safe, even if it makes you unhappy.

In fact, guess what? The brain doesn’t want you to be happy. This may surprise you, but it’s true.

Why does your brain not want you to be happy? Well, because when you’re happy, your guards are down. You’re relaxed. And you’re no longer looking out for the tiger.

And your brain doesn’t like this. Instead, it wants you to be hyper aware of your environment at all times – so that when danger looms, you won’t be caught with your pants (or, in your caveman’s mind, your loincloth) down..

And even there are no dangers, guess what? Your brain will imagine some – just to keep you on your toes. (So, if you’re wondering why you sometimes feel anxious for nothing, well, here’s your answer.)

We Are Modern Men With The Caveman’s Brain.

We no longer live in caves, nor do we hunt woolly mammoths for food. And yet, our brain thinks we still do!

We are controlled by the animalistic intuition honed by the evolution of our brain over six million years. And as such, we have inherited the caveman’s Default Mode into the modern times.

This can be problematic in two ways.

First, it makes us anxious.

The caveman’s around-the-clock cautiousness had kept him safe. We are, however, no longer living under constant threat or danger in our surroundings.

Second, our brain leads us to bad choices.

Choices made by the caveman are based on one thing, and one thing only: to keep him safe. He doesn’t think about how his choices will affect him later. The future is unimportant – because he will soon be dead anyway. (The average caveman would die by 35, remember?)

Our situation, however, is different. Many safe, short-term choices are bad for us in the long run. And because most of us won’t die by 35, these short-term choices will hurt us in the future.

How Your Brain Misleads You Into Making Bad Choices.

How are short-term, “safe” choices bad for us?

Well, here’s an example to show you how.

During our cavemen days, foods rich in carbohydrates were difficult to find.

So, nature had programmed the brain to crave for sweetness in foods. Why? Because this would drive the cavemen to look for sweet foods – foods that are rich in carbs – in the jungle.

What were these foods? Wild fruits and berries. Those were real delicacies for the caveman!

In the modern times, however, carb-rich foods are everywhere. Bread, pasta, cookies, cereal, soda, chocolate bars… you name them. We are no longer deprived of carbs like our ancestors.

Here’s the problem, though.

Our ancient brain still thinks that carbs are hard to find. And so, if we get the chance to eat some immediately, the brain thinks that we should. Better be safe than sorry (or, in this case, hungry), right?

Now imagine a sugar doughnut in front of you. The caveman’s brain wants you to eat it. And yet, you know that it’s bad for you.

How the brain “handles” the doughnut situation by default

This is an example of how our brain misleads us into making the wrong choices every day. We’ll follow an impulse with an automatic action – without pausing to think if the action is good for us.

Of course, you don’t have to fight your impulses all the time and live like a monk. Eating a doughnut once in a while may not be a big deal. I must, however, caution you this:

Your life is the sum of all your choices, big AND small.

Once you have given in to a temptation, you’ll find it harder to fight the next temptation. A lifetime of obesity and health problems could well start with a single doughnut.

And this is not only about food. This is true for everything else. Your work, your family, your relationships with other people, your relationship with your woman…

The Default Mode puts your life on autopilot. It leads you to make automatic choices, and many of these are bad for you.

Your Life Is A Series Of Choices Compounded Over Time.

Let’s examine the life of a typical modern man.

Our life path is quite predictable. It’s as if there’s a timeline that we have to follow to be accepted by the society.

To start, we go through about fifteen years of school. That’s where we spend our formative years, preparing ourselves for a productive, happy life ahead.

At home, we would find safety and assurance, sheltered by our parents. Similarly, at school, we have our teachers (and sometimes friends) to protect us.

When we start working, however, things change. Suddenly, we are unprotected and alone.

Working life is brutal and unforgiving. The workplace is where only the fittest will survive. People are ruthless in their greed and they will trample over anyone to get ahead.

In an ever-changing, dog-eat-dog world, it’s natural to crave for some sort of stability. So, what happens? We resort to living on the Default Mode – making choices that gives us some surety in a shaky world.

What are these “safe choices”?

For starters, we opt for a job that pays us well. It doesn’t matter if the work is uninteresting to us. It doesn’t matter if it makes us feel unfulfilled. And it doesn’t matter if it means putting up with people we don’t like.

We get seduced into a lie. Climb through the ranks! Get that raise! Make a dent in the universe!

But it’s all fake. We have no real accomplishments.

Fast forward a couple of years…

The pain starts to kick in. We sense that something is terribly wrong. We feel unhappy.

Why? Because deep inside, we have a sense of our own potential. It’s hard to look at yourself in the mirror when you are guilty of letting your potential rot.

And we start to wonder how it all went wrong.

When You’re In A Hole, Stop Digging.

So, what went wrong?

Well, we now know the root of the problem, don’t we? The cause of our misery is simple – our caveman’s brain. It makes you live on the Default Mode – where you make safe choices over the good.

Now that we know what the problem is, let’s talk about how to deal with it. Before we proceed, however, let’s take a step back and think about how we usually deal with problems.

My friend Mike wants to shed a few pounds. He comes to me for advice.

I say to him:

“Mike, do these three things. Cut your carbs. Eat more meat. Lift weights every day.”

Well, that’s quite a simple plan, right? And yet Mike doesn’t do them. Why?

“Zan, I know those are the things I should do, but there’s something stopping me, and I don’t know what.”

The problem is NOT about knowing WHAT to do.

The problem is about NOT doing the one thing that we should do even BEFORE anything else.

As the popular saying goes:

If you find yourself in a hole, here’s the first thing to do: Stop digging.

Trying to jump out from a hole while digging deeper at the same time is foolish. The smart thing to do is to stop digging first.

I say to Mike:

“Before you start a binge of steaks, eggs and deadlifts, there’s ONE thing that you must do. Skip this ONE thing and you’ll have a mountain to climb. Master this ONE thing and you’ll be cruising on easy street.

What’s this ONE thing?

The ONE thing is your ability to pause your brain’s impulses.

Your brain wants you to eat that slice of pepperoni pizza. Your brain wants you to bite that cookie. Your brain wants you to sleep in and skip gym for the day. Your brain wants you to “take it easy”.

Rise above your impulses and kill them. Silent your caveman’s brain. Put it at its place.

AND THEN do what you’re supposed to do – eat meat, lift weights, all those good things. You’ll find that everything becomes easy.”

Makes perfect sense, right?

Now, if you look around, the same applies for everything else in life.

Every choice that we make starts from the impulse that we get from the caveman’s brain. And if we can stop these impulses from leading us to the wrong choices, we have power.

Master the ability to loosen the grip that your impulses have on you. This is the ONE thing that will multiply everything you do thereafter, many times over.

To summarize:

Put your impulses on pause. It’s the first and foremost self-improvement skill to master before you do anything else.

Default Mode vs Deliberate Mode.

Let’s do a quick recap:

  1. There are two paths in a man’s life. The first is the path to superiority and fulfilment, leading to happiness. The second is the path to mediocrity and squandered potential, leading to despair.
  2. We want to take the first path, but usually we end up with the second.
  3. The reason is that we make unconscious choices that lead us down the second path, the path to mediocrity. We call this the “Default Mode” of living.
  4. We live on Default Mode because that is how the brain has evolved to work.
  5. The brain’s job is to make sure we are safe. To keep us safe, the brain has to react quickly. We have developed an instantaneous reaction to threats.
  6. In modern times, we rarely get into life-threatening situations. However, our brain continues to scan for potential dangers, creating anxiety.
  7. And because the brain wants us to be safe, we automatically make choices that are safe for us. Many of these choices, while they keep us safe for the short-term, are not good for us for the long-term.
  8. The choices we make add up, leading to the life that we have.
  9. While the brain does a spectacular job at keeping us safe, it does so at a tremendous cost: our happiness.
  10. To be happy and fulfilled, we must override the Default Mode.

Now here’s the thing about overriding the Default Mode: it’s hard. In fact, it could well be one of the hardest things that a man will ever do in his lifetime.

You should, of course, expect this. After all, you are fighting against the caveman’s brain that has evolved to what it is today for six million years.

It’s a tough job, and yet the payoff is tremendous once you pulled it off.

When you succeed at overriding your Default Mode, then something magical happens.

Your caveman’s brain no longer controls you.

Your emotions will no longer grip you.

You can choose what to do consciously and purposefully.

You will get to do what’s right, not just what feels right.

And when you’re in that state, you’re on the Deliberate Mode. (That’s the opposite of the Default Mode.)

So, how do you override your Default Mode and get into the Deliberate Mode?

By slowing your reaction down and keeping your impulses at bay.

Sound familiar?

Pauseability (Or, How To Override Your Default Mode.)

Pauseability is the ability to pause a reaction to a stimulus.

Remember this diagram?

How the caveman’s brain works – stimulus triggers reaction

Visually, you can imagine Pauseability as the space between reaction and stimulus.

So, let’s add that into our diagram:

Pauseability

Why is this space important?

Because this space where you will find freedom. And this freedom will let you make the right choices for happier, more fulfilling life.

And you will get this freedom when you slow your reaction down.

People often say to me:

“Zan, why would I want to slow down? I want to be alert and instinctive, like the caveman. And some anxiety can be good for performance.”

Well, is that true?

Anxiety is how the brain motivates us to act. And that can be a good thing. It may, however, also cause us to make mistakes. In many situations, anxiety will only hinder, not help you.

People who learn martial arts know that this is true. When they see a fight, they know who is going to win: the calmer one.

My years of learning Karate had taught me one thing: the skill of keeping still would win me fights more than all the fancy punches and kicks I would ever learn.

Professional athletes know this, too.

As a kid, I remembered watching Chicago Bulls facing off the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989 on TV.

The Bulls were down by one point (99-100). With only three seconds remaining, Michael Jordan made a buzz-beating shot to win the game (101-100).

It was probably one of the most nerve-racking moments in the history of sports. The pressure was undoubtedly intense on Jordan. And yet, he made that shot with tremendous surety, grace, mastery and calm.

Once you start noticing, you will see this everywhere in life.

The man who wins is he who keeps calm while everything rages around him.

And Pauseability will give you the gift of calm in the midst of chaos.

Pauseability Is A Mind Muscle. Use It, Or Lose It.

How can we develop Pauseability?

Well, we can think of Pauseability as a muscle inside the mind. And like any muscle in the body, use it and it will get stronger.

Strong Pauseability gives you bigger space between your reactions and your impulses

As your Pauseability muscle gets stronger, the space between your reaction and your impulses become larger. And with this enlarged space, you’ll find it easier to parse your impulses and choose your reactions.

So far, so good?

Next, let’s look at how we can put this idea into practice.

Consider Tom.

Tom is hungry. He finds a sugar doughnut on the kitchen table (the “stimulus”). His caveman’s brain sends him an impulse to eat the doughnut.

Tom has not developed his Pauseability muscle. In Tom’s brain, the distance between the stimulus and reaction is short. So, his reaction quickly follows the stimulus, giving him little space to think if the reaction is appropriate.

Tom eats the doughnut.

When Tom sees a doughnut, he eats it

Consider Harry.

Like Tom, Harry is also hungry. And like Tom, he finds a doughnut.

Unlike Tom, Harry has worked on his Pauseability muscle. So, in Harry’s brain, the distance between stimulus and reaction is longer than Tom’s.

Harry’s reaction to an impulse is not automatic

This distance gives Harry the space to ask himself two questions before triggering the reaction:

  • What if I eat this doughnut? What happens?
  • What it I don’t eat this doughnut? What happens?
Figure 4: Harry uses his Pauseability to examine his reaction options

By pausing his response, he exercises Pauseability.. And he will get to choose between the Default Action (“eat it”) and the Deliberate Action (“not eat it”).

  • What if I eat this doughnut? I will enjoy eating it, but later I will feel guilty for giving in.
  • What if I don’t eat this doughnut? I will feel great and proud of myself for resisting the temptation.

He chooses not to eat the doughnut..

Harry chooses not to eat the doughnut

Each time Harry exercises his Pauseability muscle, it stretches into a new length. The distance between impulse and reaction gets longer. His Pauseability gets stronger.

Next time, when he’s hungry and someone offers him a doughnut, it becomes easier for him to refuse the offer.

Make sense?

Now here’s what’s interesting about Pauseability:

It is a single mind muscle that cuts across everything in your life.

This means that if you have developed strong Pauseability in one area, you will get to use it in other areas. (Once you have resisted a temptation, it’s easier to say no to all other kinds of temptations.)

Let’s revisit our friend Tom.

Tom wakes up on a Saturday at 6.30am. It’s raining. Instead of hitting the gym, Tom feels like sleeping in.

As we have seen, his Pauseability is weak. His caveman’s brain tells him to stay in bed. And so that’s what he does.

Tom’s reactions are triggered automatically by stimulus

What would Harry do in a similar situation?

Unlike Tom, however, Harry’s Pauseability muscle is strong.

In a similar situation, Harry’s Pauseability gets activated:

  • What if I skip the gym today? What happens? I will feel nice for now, and then guilty later for breaking the promise I made to myself.
  • What if I don’t skip gym? What happens? I will feel uncomfortable for now, and then proud later for keeping the promise I made to myself.

Harry jumps out of bed and heads to the gym.

Harry uses his Pauseability to overrule his automatic reactions

How To Exercise Your Pauseability Muscle.

Pauseability works for every decision you make – small ones and big ones.

(In technical terms, Pauseability is fractal. It means that it works on every scale – from small to big.)

Here’s a “Big Decision” example:

  • What if I continue with my job? What happens? I will get paid for now, but later I will regret not pursuing my true purpose in life.
  • What if I quit my job and pursue my dreams? What happens? I might face some difficulty for now, but later I will be happy for being true to myself.

Will it make sense to “use” Pauseability for big decisions only?

No.

Remember: your Pauseability muscle is the same for both small and big decisions. So, using Pauseability for small decisions is a great way to exercise it.

Each time you exercise Pauseability – for big and small decisions – you strengthen it. Over time, choosing the deliberate choice over the default becomes easier as your Pauseability mind muscle becomes stronger.

That is what we call “Situational Practice”. You will get to practice Pauseability whenever a situation calls for it.

“Deliberate Practice” is another way to improve your Pauseability. This is when you exercise your Pauseability muscle by examining your thoughts deliberately.

What’s the difference between Situational Practice and Deliberate Practice?

Let’s use the “muscle” metaphor again. One way to build stronger muscles is to be in situations where you need to use your muscles to get things done.

For example, let’s say you’re a bricklayer. You will need physical strength and endurance in moving and laying the bricks. So, as you do your job, you will get stronger over time. This is Situational Practice.

Another way to build muscles is to exercise them deliberately.

Lifting weights at the gym is an example of this. And as you continue to lift with higher intensity, you will get stronger over time. This is Deliberate Practice.

Easy to understand, right?

Building Pauseability Is A Zig-Zag Process.

Experienced weightlifters know that progress is not linear. Building muscle needs a “phased”, zig-zag approach.

Muscle building goes on a zig-zag path

Sometimes, you go balls-to-the-wall with high intensity and focus. At other times, you lower your weights, focusing on your technique and form.

To build muscle, both phases are equally important. The same goes for building Pauseability.

The Activation Phase is where you make tremendous gains in Pauseability strength. This is the “balls-to-the-wall” part of your training.

The Consolidation Phase is where you solidify your gains in Pauseability strength. This is the “focus” part of your training.

Train the Pauseability muscle in two-phased cycles: Activation and Consolidation

Next, let’s tie this up with the idea of Deliberate and Situational Practices.

In the Activation Phase, you build Pauseability with the Deliberate Practice. In the Consolidation Phase, you build Pauseability with the Situational Practice.

Clear so far?

Good. Now, let’s dive a little deeper into the two Practices. We’ll start with the simpler of the two – the Situational Practice.

There are a lot of opportunities in our daily lives where we can exercise Pauseability. Situational Practice is about using those opportunities to strengthen the Pauseability muscle.

It starts with being aware of the impulses that bubble up into our consciousness. Stimulus triggers an impulse, which in turn triggers a reaction.

Remember the Pauseability diagram earlier? We can tweak it and add impulse between stimulus and reaction, like this:

Impulse is triggered by stimulus, and in turn triggers reaction

The second step is to be aware of what we would usually do in response to the impulse (we call this the Default Action). Finally, parse the impulse and decide on the reaction.

Back to our doughnut example earlier:

  • Stimulus: The doughnut.
  • Impulse: Eat it. It’s yummy!
  • Parsing: What if I eat this doughnut? What if I don’t?
  • Reaction: I’ll pass, thanks.

Our daily lives provide many opportunities for Situational Practice:

  • Stuck in a traffic standstill? Pause.
  • Somebody annoys you? Pause.
  • Your woman gives you a shit-test? Pause.
  • Getting distracted from work? Pause.
  • Tempted to eat junk food? Pause.

The gains you will get from Situational Practice are incremental. Dramatic improvements in Pauseability comes from Deliberate Practice which you are going to learn next.

Activating Pauseability Via Deliberate Practice.

Deliberate Practice is an exercise of “thought watching”. It involves spending time in a quiet space, detaching yourself from your thoughts, watching them from a distance.

To do this, first, empty your mind. Your mind will start wandering on its own. When you become aware you’re drifting away, redirect your attention back to the present. Repeat.

How does this activate Pauseability?

Here’s how. An impulse comes in the form of thoughts. They will stir up a cocktail of emotions in you as your impulse grows stronger. And these emotions are what forms the reaction to your impulse.

By pausing your wandering thoughts and bring your attention back to the present, you’ll do two things:

First, you’ll build your ability to recognize an impulse as it bubbles up into your consciousness. And second, you’ll break the chain between the impulse and the automatic response to the impulse.

This practice will build your ability to put an impulse on pause – which is what Pauseability is about. With Deliberate Practice, you will loosen the grip that your impulses have on you.

“Zan, Isn’t This Meditation?”

“Well, Zan, Deliberate Practice sounds a heck lot like meditation to me!”

There are some similarities. Deliberate Practice, however, is different in one important way.

Meditation is somewhat passive.

A meditation guru will tell you to sit and let your thoughts flow. And you are not supposed to judge your thoughts. Instead, you should let them come and go.

Deliberate Practice, on the other hand, is active.

You’ll watch your thoughts consciously and direct your attention where you want it to go. This is a forceful process in which you exert control – the control over your impulses.

And unlike popular meditation, Deliberate Practice requires you to judge your thoughts. After all, Pauseability is an exercise in discerning the good impulses from the bad. You can’t tell if an impulse is good or bad without judging it, right?

The process of Pauseability activation goes deeper than popular meditation. Deliberate Practice requires radical self-reflection, an active examination of what we think. And this goes beyond meditating in a quiet spot and letting your thoughts wander.

The Pauseability Practice Cycle.

Next, let’s see how we can put Deliberate and Situational Practices to work in our daily lives.

Here’s what I recommend: schedule your Deliberate Practice shortly after you wake up in the morning.

There is a reason for this. Exercise your Pauseability muscle early and you will find it easier to use it throughout the day – in your Situational Practice.

(It’s the same reason lifting weights is better in the morning. You will keep burning fat throughout the day.)

Once you have activated your Pauseability muscle, then you’re ready to face the day. You will find ample opportunities to use Pauseability as you go through your day.

I use a simple tracker to measure my progress in my Situational Practice:

An example (of a real!) Situational Practice tracker

You would have completed a complete cycle by the end of the day (Deliberate Practice in the morning, and Situational Practice throughout the day). You then repeat the cycle the next day.

And that is how you build your Pauseability muscle in a nutshell.

The Pauseability practice cycle

I have written a short book that describes Pauseability activation in finer detail. This includes a free online resource that I use daily. Read the book here.

How Do You Know If You Have Mastered Pauseability?

Quote by Hong Zicheng, a philosopher who had lived in 16th century China:

“Calm in quietude is not real calm. When you can be calm in the midst of activity, this is the true state of nature.”

You have mastered Pauseability when you can be still – even in a chaotic environment. You tune out distractions with little effort. You can read a book comfortably in a rowdy cafe. You can step to the plate and bat the ball with rock-solid confidence – when 10,000 eyes are on you. You are calm even when the world is disintegrating around you.

On a deeper level, something even more drastic happens. And because you have new power in your life, it may overwhelm you.

This may sound devastating, but it’s true (and I want you to prepare for it).

Pauseability activation should ruin your current life as it is.

It should make you quit your job. It should make you dump your woman. It should make you stop eating certain foods. It should make you change who you spend your time with. It should make you change how you spend your time. It should make you like spending more time with yourself.

Sounds extreme? Yes. After all, I am not promising you anything less radical than changing your life.

By spreading the gospel of Pauseability to the masses, I am delivering that promise with utmost surety and conviction.

Pauseability Gives You A Second Shot At Life.

A man has two lives. The second starts when he stops living by default and starts living deliberately.

To move away from the path to mediocrity and squandered potential, he must do one thing:

He must break from the Default Mode.

The Default Mode is how his caveman’s brain conditions the way he thinks and behaves. It causes him to react to his impulses automatically. To break free, he must develop Pauseability – the ability to pause his reactions to impulses.

Pauseability gives him the power to override the Default Mode. It lets him switch to the Deliberate Mode – where he chooses his thoughts and actions deliberately.

The Deliberate Mode puts him on a path in line with his true purpose – his Life Task. It’s a path leading to superiority and fulfillment. And that is a man he achieves happiness – by living authentically according to his true purpose.

Pauseability is not particularly deep or exotic. And yet, it’s the first thing that a man must master before anything else. It’s the bedrock on which every other skill gets built on.

With Pauseability, you will get a second shot at life. It will give you the power to do what you are meant to do, not what people think you should do.

With Pauseability, you will live a life true to your purpose – a life by deliberation, not by default.