Pause to respond

The Power of Pause


By Sabrina Hebeler, Leader Coach

I was once asked by my Studer Education coach, Dr. Janet Pilcher, if I could give one piece of advice to other executive leaders what it would be. Ironically, without pause, I stated “To learn and understand the power of pause.”

The power of pause is an essential component of building and maintaining our resilience muscle. We often conflate the idea of resilience with becoming immune to emotional stress or difficulty. Also, we often think that it means avoiding hard things or going through it alone when really, it’s quite the opposite. When we practice resilience, we lean into our challenges and process them in a way that moves us forward as leaders, and as teams.

Immunity to stress or difficulty Ability to process and navigate stress, trauma and difficult situations
Emotion or conflict avoidance Ability to face emotions and conflict with logic, knowledge, reality and vulnerability (Use of executive function)
Personality trait or genetic predisposition A learned and practiced skill
Going at it alone Leaning into support and resources for help when needed


The components of resilience can be boiled down into these concepts:

  • Building connection: Whether to purpose or people, our connection is the foundation for understanding and staying committed to a meaningful goal.
  • Fostering wellness: Focusing on the wellness of our minds, reflecting on and challenging our assumptions, and learning to regulate our emotions helps us to lead with response, not reaction.
  • Developing a growth mindset: Recognizing our emotions, triggers and failures as learning opportunities is important to move to action. Even more important, is for leaders to role model the navigation of hard things.
  • Owning our power: Build out the capacity to recognize and own the power we have in choosing our reaction. Rather than be victimized by our surroundings, we can use the executive function within our brain to check fiction against fact and ultimately create better solutions.

In the book, The Resilience Factor, author Karen Reivich states, “Resilience is not all or nothing. It comes in amounts. You can be a little resilient, resilient in some situations but not others. And, no matter how resilient you are today, you can become more resilient tomorrow.”

With any skill or muscle, we recognize that to build and maintain it requires intentional awareness, focus and development. Ensuring that when needed, it will carry us through. It takes practice, reflection and more practice.


Now, let’s bring it back to the power of pausing. As we build the mental exercise routine to become resilient, it always begins with a pause. When we are faced with chaos, unexpected decisions or new challenges, it’s helpful to lead with a response, rather than a reaction.

Pausing allows us to:

  • Reflect on the challenge at hand
  • Understand the why, who, what and how
  • Connect to our purpose and values
  • Promote our ability to lead through developing a solution versus own the solution
  • Approach the challenge to grow and improve

There are many tactics to help us practice pausing, including connecting to purpose and leader rounding. A great place to start is this simple fact or fiction exercise. Use the following steps as a guide through the exercise:

Step 1: Step away or separate yourself from the challenge.

For Example: If you read an email with an unexpected decision that creates a significant challenge – get up and go to a different room if possible.

Step 2: Using a mechanism to make notes, create two columns; one titled “Facts”, one titled “Fictions.”

Step 3: List all of the facts; the items you know absolutely to be true.

For Example: The governor has added additional classroom restrictions, or I am being assigned to a third task force for safety.

Step 4: List all of the fictions; or the items that our minds help create out of fear or other emotions.

For Example: We aren’t going to be able to get through this. I’m going to lose my job. Or “insert audience name” is going to hate me.

Step 5: After creating the lists, cross out or delete all of the fictions. Why? Even if it feels like they are true, they are not.

Step 6: Review the facts and begin to plan a response using that information only.

The “Fact or Fiction” exercise is similar to scenario planning however it’s intended for an individual, immediate response while including an emotional processing component.


Looking around, we recognize that our normal has changed and continues to change. As leaders, we have great responsibility to inform, influence and make decisions that set us up for an even better future. To do this requires us to be resilient, every day.

Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept it and try to put something together that’s good (or even better).

– Karen Reivich

Tomorrow will always present us with new challenges, moments of chaos and uncertainty. Leaders who intentionally develop a mindset of resilience will be well-equipped to guide their teams in turbulent times. Build connections with other resilient leaders across the country and invest in your potential by joining us at one of our upcoming events.

subscribe to insights button

Start typing and press Enter to search

Mother is stressed while helping son with homework