Changing Health Behaviors: Pause, Observe, Choose Compassion

The word change means to make different, to alter or modify and is often viewed through the lens of creating improvement. When it comes to changing health-related behaviors, we have considerable difficulty moving from the first stages of identifying a health-related behavior we would like to change or alter, to adopting that behavior as a consistent and permanent way of life. Cue the deep sigh!

Interestingly enough, there may be a stop along this bumpy road of health behavior change that can support and inform long-term change--let’s call it the “powerful pause”. A pause is described as a temporary inaction; imagine it as a holding open of the mind in a moment before the development of a response. This powerful pause can preempt any thought, delivery of words, action, or physical movement, providing a moment of respite that makes space for the critical next step, that of observing.  

When we move from pause to observe, we allow ourselves to become aware in that moment and with that awareness we uncover we have a choice or a decision that is ours to make. If, for example, the chocolate cake on the counter is calling to you emotionally, but you are well-fed and in the process of improving your health by decreasing body fat to reduce your risk of obesity-related diseases, the pause and observation will inform your ultimate action. If we study the attributes of a mindful eater, they have the propensity to observe their thoughts, emotions, responses, and actions around feeding and that can lead to a deeper level of self-understanding and self-care.  This is not to say that there is one correct response to the chocolate cake scenario; what does exist is a knowing response birthed from a pause and an observation of what you are doing and why.

In the pause and then observe, we can often learn more about ourselves deepening our self-understanding from a place of compassion and empathy. Self-compassionate people are more likely to choose positive health behaviors and are resilient and able to cope with challenging situations. Self-compassion encompasses the ability to approach failings and short comings from a nonjudgmental, caring perspective with the knowledge that all humans are imperfect and will suffer.  Self-compassion is reinforced following a pause, as we have a moment to non-react, observe, and move towards a better understanding.

We can cultivate this ability to pause by practicing it in a multitude of moments across our daily lives.  Think heated discussions, disagreements, and strife and how much that powerful pause and observation would reduce the stress of that situation and maybe even impact our choice of behavior.  Likewise, think acts of kindness, service, giving and expressing gratitude; all of which improve our health and well-being and can be born after that powerful pause and observation that one of these beautiful opportunities of positive expression is at hand.  Health behavior management can be viewed as an act of self-care and compassion, bolstered by our ability to pause and observe ourselves and our responses. The more you practice the "powerful pause" the easier it gets. Use it here, use it there, use it everywhere!!