I’ll be honest, I think sometimes I don’t think I do it enough but I find it a bit annoying when others around me do not often stop to think about things before taking action. I’m talking about situations where people will leave bottles with the tops open on the table while working and moving around their laptops on the same table (yes it’s happened to me and yes I spilled a lot of water accidentally because I just did not stop to think). Or situations where rather than preventing something disastrous happening by spending a few minutes (say grounding yourself before doing electrical work or wearing gloves while hammering or drilling nails even though you may be working with Ikea furniture), you decide to go ahead, think that you will ‘be careful’ and that nothing will happen (which you will most likely be right 95% of the time).

So to help you and help myself consider when it is good to just pause and reflect, I wanted to share the situations where I have done so and why.

Before sending out an important e-mail

I’ve sent out e-mails with wrong participants. Typos in the very first word of the e-mail. Wrong conference call numbers. These could all have been prevented by taking a few minutes before sending to read over the e-mail, and then carefully consider what is inside and how it may be interpreted by the recipients. This is especially important for e-mails where you are asking for action from the participants. I doubt that very many people read through the whole e-mail but I’m sure they are more likely to read e-mails that are properly formatted and outline their requests in an easy to take action format vs. e-mails where you have to really dig to find the actions you have to take.

Before using the words ‘always’ or ‘never’

I have never been to Japan is a bold statement. Or I have always been a fan of Liszt. I’ve been guilty of saying the words ‘always’ or ‘never’ and then being called out on it right at that moment. It’s not a good feeling to be proven wrong and rather than making bold statements like those, pause, and consider whether you could ‘soften’ the language or make it so that you have a bit of uncertainty when making these kinds of statements. “I don’t think I’ve been to Japan before” or “Liszt has really good music”.

When you feel like you are spending a lot of your time on one thing

I try to be aware of what I am spending time on either on my laptop or on my smartphone or even what I do at home. I try to track how I am using my time and what apps I am spending the most time on. When I see reports that I have been spending a lot of time on certain apps (such as games or social media apps), I think about whether I should be spending that much time on those particular apps and then delete them from my phone (or at least hide them) to ‘get back’ that time I would normally spend. It’s also a good way of cleaning up the many, many apps on my phone or electronic devices and ensuring that the apps that I do have there are things that I want to spend time on (such as e-reader apps or Duolingo)

When I find myself on the side of the majority

I dont always change my mind but I find that if I am always on the popular side or the side of the majority (and sometimes I feel like I’m on the side because it feels safe), then I pause and reflect on whether I am actually playing it safe or whether I strongly believe that I am on the right side. Sometimes I’ll even choose the ‘unsafe’ option or choose an unpopular opinion or do something radically different as a way to get out of playing it safe and engage my “thinking on the feet” and “what can I learn from this different experience” side of things.

When you have been doing the same workout for a long time

Maybe you like running on the treadmill. Or you love getting those kettlebell workouts in. But if you haven’t been changing something about the workout (such as the weight or the repetitions), the workout gets boring and you may even not be getting the most gains. It’s certainly something to stick with working out but to run 5 km every other day for a few years – that would not make me feel like I’ve been improving slowly and surely.

Before making big decisions

I am not a fan of people who take a lot of time deciding on some of the littlest things in their lives. Where and what to eat. What books to read. I think that these decisions should be made quickly and without regrets – it should not take a significant amount of time or energy to make some of these decisions, especially if there are ‘safe’ options available that you know are good (vs. trying to figure out what the best option would be). You’re going to eat in another couple of hours. You can decide to drop the book if you are a few pages in and do not like it. But for those big decisions in your life such as buying a house, or choosing a spouse, you should certainly spend more time considering what you like, what you don’t like and thinking about what it means for your future.

After reading a chapter in a book

For the longest time, I often told anyone who would listen around me that I am an avid reader. “I average 50+ books a year”, I would say. But in reality, I remembered very little of what I had read. What use is reading if I don’t remember, much less apply what I’ve learned through these books. So now, as a little memory exercise for myself, I write book notes (and post them here) but I’ll also try to practice oral recall – I’ll say out loud what exactly I learned or took away from the book and how I can apply it to my life. In most cases, this will be in talking with friends and other like minded ambitious individuals but sometimes it’s just to myself, silently.

After waking up in the morning

Every time I wake up in the morning, I pause and think about how lucky I am to be alive. It’s my way of practicing gratitude and I think it helps me put a positive spin on my day ahead. Lots of things (lots of bad things), could have happened to me and I really do feel lucky that I am in good health, have a job, have a place to stay and have enough money to do the things that I really like to do.

After working out

I’m getting to that age now where my body just does not heal and recover as quickly as it used to. I remember spraining my ankle as a teenager, letting it rest and the next day, it would be completely fine. Not so for me nowadays. I may tweak my ankle and then feel like I am out for the whole week trying to recover.

So why do I pause and reflect after working out? I try to listen to my body. What aches or pains do I feel? What should I watch out for? What should I think about trying to strengthen if I feel weak in that area? What is important to maintain as I grow older? After getting in a solid workout, I figure out what I should do next to slowly improve my physical health.

When you have been feeling a lot of stress lately

Sometimes I’ll pause and reflect when things are going well but I find that I pause and reflect a lot more when things aren’t going so well. Or when I feel like I’m getting stressed out from work or from dealing with certain people. Or if I feel like I’ve been putting a significant number of hours into a project. I stop and think about what I am actually doing the work for. Is it for the money? Is it to do good work? Is it because I do not want to fail? I think about what is actually motivating me and then I either re-double my efforts, or figure out a better way. Sometimes there is a better way rather than trying to grind through something and if you do not stop and think about it, you may not figure it out.