The Power of Pause: A Mindful Approach To Elevating Your Leadership

Corina Santoro

VP, Product and Customer Experience, Milady

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The Power of Pause: A Mindful Approach To Elevating Your Leadership

Hello everybody. I am excited and honored to be with you here today. My name is Corina Santoro. I’m the VP of Product and Customer Experience from Milady and I have a very important, and I think you’ll find powerful message to share with you today on the power of the pause. Let’s jump right in because I know it’s been a long day, so I want to start by sharing a quick video. See if you can relate.


Hey, long time no see. We went to college together. Remember me? We should grab a coffee or a tea, would be nice to catch up. Wouldn’t you agree?

Oh, for sure, but I’ll have to check my schedule. The thing is I’m quite successful. My workload is monumental, lately on a whole nother level, wall to wall, back to back, no time to stall, got to stay on track. Wall to wall, back to back, always on call, cut me some slack.

I would totally hang out with you. I’m just so busy.

Totally get it. I know how that goes. When works for you, wouldn’t want to impose.

Oh, don’t worry. I’ll let you know, but it could be a while before we go. It’s just not easy being a pro. I’ll do my best even though it’s been wall to wall, back to back, got to stand tall or you don’t get check. Wall to wall, back to back, too busy for y’all. I ain’t no hack.

I would totally hang out with you, dude. I’m just so busy.

Corina Santoro:
All right. You get it, right? How many of you can relate to that? Try to get to the right thing here. How many of you can relate to that? I mean, I think all of us are just like, “I’m so busy,” right? So let me now share my slides with you.

All right. So grind and hustle, conquer and dominate. Greatness only comes before hustle in the dictionary. Work for it more than you hope for it. Grind and shine. Hustlers don’t sleep, they nap. Wake up, kick ass and repeat.

How many of you can say, “This is me”? Better lie you, right? Go, go, go. Do, do, do. How many of you, if you are honest with yourselves, actually kind of thrive on that culture, thrive on that, “I’m going all the time. I’m doing all the time”? Some of us do.

Hustle Culture

Many of us were raised in an age where work-life balance wasn’t praised. We live in a society that worships business. We wear it like a badge of honor on our chests. We go to work. We do. We’re sick, we work through it. [inaudible 00:03:14]. Get in your car and go to work. Your kid has a game or a school function? Go to work. For a long time this is an ethic that was praised, the do it all, the never stop, the be it all, the have it all. And many of us just fall prey to this hustle culture to be constantly working harder, faster, and stronger.

How many of us sort of feel like that on the inside? How many of you, when you get to the end of a day where you have been going, going, going, do you get home and you can’t really focus on anything? You’re not present for your spouse, you’re not there for your kids, you’re distracted, you’re spent. If you rewind a few hours, when in that day were you your best self? Was it at three o’clock? Was it at noon? Was it 11:00 AM? Was it 2:00 PM yesterday?

Look, there are moments in time when we need to hustle. I am not here to knock the hustle. I personally had to go to therapy to learn how to pause. But what I am here to tell you is that you cannot do it endlessly. It is hurting your leadership. It is hurting your growth.

And I know, you might say to me, “Okay, I get it, but I can’t afford to slow down. I have so much to do. I’ll get left behind when I slow down. I feel guilty if I’m doing nothing. I feel bored if I’m doing nothing. It’s a source of pride to be like, ‘I can do it all. I can have it all.'”

I want to tell you, I get that. I raised three boys as a single mother while working. Let me tell you that busyness and that whirlwind that went into keeping my life together while utterly exhausting was absolutely a badge of honor that I wore. I was like, “Yeah, I’m doing this.” But I’m older and wiser now. So I want to talk to you a bit about what happens when you stay in that fast lane, what happens to you as a leader and the impact that it has on your business.

Hustle Culture Side Effects

Decision Fatigue

The hustle culture side effect number one is decision fatigue. And I’m sure that you can all relate to this, because as leaders, as educators, as admissions professionals, how many of you are making decisions all day long? I bet a lot of you, right?

Well, there is this thing that happens when we make decisions all day long. It is called decision fatigue. And in a non-scientific way, it basically means we’re making crappy decisions. Let’s unpack it a little bit. There was a real world study done with judges, and it showed that they were significantly more likely to grant parole in the morning when their brains were fresh than in the afternoon. 70% of the time in the morning they granted parole when only 10% of the time in the late afternoon for comparable cases. There was another study that has shown that forecasters become less and less accurate as the day wears on. And the scientific reason for this is that when we are running low on mental energy, our brains default to making the safer choice.

Decision fatigue looks like this in your brain and it describes how our decision making gets worse as we make additional choices and our cognitive abilities get worn out. It’s the reason we feel overwhelmed when we have too many decisions to make. It is the reason that we use cognitive shortcuts and we make somewhat irrational trade-offs. It’s the reason that sometimes we avoid making decisions all together.

When we can’t really decide when our brains are tired, we make the safe choice, the known choice, and we mistake this for making a smart decision. So when you’re in school and you never stop and you never pause and you go all day long and you’re making decisions all day long, putting it plainly, when you spend all day long in the fast lane, you are making bad, low quality decisions. Now imagine what happens when you do this 60, 90, 200 days in a row. What kind of impact do you think that has on you as a leader? What kind of impact do you think that has on your school? Think about that.

Status Quo

Hustle culture side effect number two, status quo. Now, I am pretty sure that none of us get out of bed in the morning and we say, “Ma’am, I just hope I am mediocre today. I hope I have no original or creative thoughts. I hope I keep everything nice and easy on the status quo.” Are any of you saying that to yourselves when you get out of bed in the morning? When you’re hustling through your day, are you saying, “Gee, I hope I’m mediocre today”? I don’t think so.

See, the reality and kind of the irony of this hustle culture that we tend to glorify is that it all but ensures that we will maintain the status quo. And why is that? Why that is because when our brains go, go, go, go all the time, it is the killer of creative thought. Being too busy leads to status quo thinking because when we are too busy, we choose the known and the predictable.

Pedal to the metal, which some of us thrive on, is not good for creative solutioning and original thought. Your brain needs time and space to have original thought. How many of you find that if you just like go for a walk or you’re in the shower, suddenly you see a solution to a problem? This is because when our brains are tired and constantly overwhelmed, all we do is choose the known and predictable. We desperately need a wandering mind that will unstick us from time so that we can learn from the past and we can see for the future. We need to give our brains time and space to see alternate solutions. We need to give ourselves time and space to see and create better paths.

I heard a speaker once who referred to this as you need to push your brain on Airplane Mode. So he said when he got on a flight, he never hooked up to Wi-Fi. That was his time to go into Airplane Mode, to let his brain wander, because that’s when we have that creative original thought that gets us out of status quo thinking.

I love this quote, “When our minds are overburdened with tasks, we have to put up with a high mental load, we consistently and quite effectively deliver finality.” I guarantee that none of you are desiring to deliver finality. That is not in your leadership goals. That is not the goal for your business. So when we are stuck in this hustle side effect culture that never pauses, we’re making bad, low quality decisions, and we’re maintaining our status quo. It keeps going.

Confuse Activity With Action

The third side effect of the hustle culture that I want to talk to you about is that we have an unfortunate tendency to confuse activity with action. So I want you to think of a day in your school, a week in your school as a story. And for a story to take place, there needs to be action. So let’s use a story. Let’s pretend it’s a murder mystery. We should not have murders happening in your school, so let’s just use it as a murder mystery because it’ll be an easy way to tell this picture. So for a murder mystery to take place, the action of someone getting murdered actually has to happen, right? Otherwise, there is no murder mystery.

Imagine you’re watching a play and it’s a murder mystery play and there’s actors on stage and they’re frenetically running around and they’re darting in and out and they’re singing songs and they’re well choreographed. But if the main action, in this case murder, never happens, all you’re left with is a whole bunch of activity that was actually quite meaningless activity.

When we are caught up in our day in this go, go, go lifestyle, when we never stop, when we never pause as leaders and we get to the end of our day, if we look back how much of what we did all day was actually meaningful, critical action and how much was just activity that we allowed ourselves to be spent on? And that phrasing is really important to me because these are decisions that we make. We might not consciously think that we are making them, but when we are stuck in this, go, go, go, go and never decide to pause, we are allowing ourselves to be spent on activities that don’t benefit us as leaders.

Your Physical & Mental Well-Being Decline

The fourth side effect of hustle culture, which we all have experienced, is our physical and mental well-being decline. We get burnt out. We get stressed out. We get anxious. I think we can all agree none of us are powerful leaders when we’re acting from a place of stress and anxiety.

Getting Caught in The Hustle

So as leaders, we get caught in this hustle trap. And look, I’ve admitted to you at the start of this, I loved the hustle. I thrived on the look at all I’m doing and I was doing okay. I was. My life was not falling apart. But, when I look back on that period of time in my life, I can confidently say that it was the time when I grew the least. Until I learned to pause, I was stuck doing the same things. I was stuck thinking the same way. I was stuck responding with the same programed responses, without any growth.
When we do not take the time to pause as leaders, we default to making bad decisions because our brains are worn out. We maintain the status quo because we don’t have the time and the space for anything better. And like it or not, we confuse activity with action. And top it all off, we’re generally stressed out, anxious and burnt out.

Your Time & Energy Are Finite Resources

Your time and your energy are finite resources. This hustle culture that never allows us to pause, it is not driving your success. It is not allowing you to grow as a leader. It is not enabling you to reach your full potential, to reach your vision. It is sucking all of those things out of you and delivering the opposite. So today I am here to tell you that…

Powerful leaders pause.

I want you to write that down. Take out a piece of paper, write it down, powerful leaders pause. You got it? All right.

Breaking Down the Pause

Let’s take a few minutes to break down the pause because it’s easy to say we need to pause, but what does that actually mean? What does that look like in practice? I am a very like tell me exactly how to do it kind of person. Let’s do that.

So a pause can be, but it does not have to be ours. Now, you will, if you are not accustomed to pausing, if you’re early on in your pausing journey, you’re going to have to schedule it. It is not going to happen naturally for you. But as you learn the pause, let’s talk about what that might look like. So someone says something that elicits an emotional response in you. You pause, you take a deep breath, you reflect on your reaction before you respond.

You’re in the middle of your busy day and you dash off an email to quickly make a decision. You pause before you send it. You walk away and do something else. You come back 30 minutes later and you re-read it. Was it still the right decision? Was it worded effectively? Is an email the best way to deliver that decision? You’ve given yourself space and time to have some distance from that reaction.

Maybe you’re providing feedback on lesson plans or a program idea or a process. You pause and reflect on your words before you offer that feedback out of your mouth.

You head into a team meeting with an agenda of must get done items for business outcomes that you have to achieve, and you’re greeted by a team who is clearly not emotionally ready to receive your message. You pause. You reflect on what might be a better way, a better place, a better time to handle that situation, to get the outcomes you need.

Or maybe you didn’t. Maybe charged into that meeting and you went away with it anyway and it went horribly wrong. Well then, you might spend the last 30 minutes of your day not frantically crossing off your to-do items, but pausing to reflect on what could have been done differently to get you different and better outcomes.

For any of you that have studied growth mindset and change, we know it is the process that we used that got us the outcomes that we got. Transforming your leadership is centered in this pause.

Why The Pause Works

Now the pause works because it takes us out of autopilot mode, it helps us see clearly and it creates space and time for us to reflect. Now depending on where you’re at in your pausing journey, you’re going to need longer, more structured pauses. That’s just the way it is. But powerful leaders pause.

I want to take a little bit of a deeper dive on the reflection part of the pause because quite frankly, the reflection part is where the magic happens. The pause is the vehicle that enables the reflection. The reflection is the engine that actually drives your growth. Because when you pause and you give yourself that time to reflect, whether it’s a one minute or one hour, that is where you’re able to transform your leadership. You cannot grow if you don’t reflect. You cannot grow if you don’t take yourself out of that autopilot mode. You cannot grow if you don’t allow yourself, the space and the time to stop making low quality, poor decisions that perpetuate your status quo.

Now let’s think about this. Let’s think about the world around us. Animals hibernate. Dolphins will regularly arrest one half of their brains so that they’re always able to make those smart decisions. And we all know how smart dolphins are. If you’re baking bread, it has to rest, it has to grow, it has to rise before you can bake it. To become a butterfly, the caterpillar has to become a chrysalis first. We are surrounded by the reality that nothing can achieve its full potential without a pause. And yet in our day-to-day lives at work, we just press on assuming that in some way we’ll be different than the entire world around us. That is madness. And then we wonder why we aren’t achieving our full potential as leaders. I am here to tell you today powerful leaders pause.

So I want to acknowledge that when we are facing an endless list of things to do, the idea of pausing can feel very much like doing nothing. And it is hard to convince yourself to do nothing when you are so busy.
But far from doing nothing, creating a habit of pausing is very possibly the most valuable thing that you can do as a leader. It is very possibly the most powerful tool that you have available to you. And if you want to really tap into this tool, then I’m going to ask you today to commit to carving out one time in your week each week that you dedicate to pausing and reflecting to start your pause journey.

I’m going to be really honest with you. I already told you I had to go to therapy to learn how to pause. I had to start. My therapist had to start me with setting a timer for five minutes. Five minutes is all that I could handle of sitting still and reflecting.

So you can start. If I can do it, you can do it. Because what I am here to tell you is that when you schedule that dedicated time, when you commit to it, you will see over time that you will start to build this pause muscle. Over time, it will start to become a reflex and it will begin to transform the power of your leadership. Powerful leaders pause.

Some Methods of Reflection

Some of us need a little help to structure that pause. Even if it’s just five minutes. We need a little help. Like, “What should I do with it? I just don’t want to sit there and do nothing and feel anxious because now I’m doing nothing.” So I want to walk you through a few tools that you might find valuable as you start out on this pause journey.

Gibb’s Reflective Cycle

Here we go. The first tool is called the Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle. This was developed by Graham Gibbs in 1988 to give structure to learning from experiences. It offers a framework for examining experiences and given its cyclic nature it lends itself particularly well to repeated experiences, allowing us to learn and then plan from things that went well or didn’t go well and use it again. So the Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle is description of the experience, feelings and thoughts about the experience, evaluation of the experience, both the good and the bad, analysis to make sense of that situation, a conclusion about what you learned and what you could have done differently, and then an action plan for how you would deal with similar situations in the … Works, right, framework.

What? So What? Now What?

Some of you might say, “That seems like a lot of work.” I get it. So you might prefer the what, so what, and now what approach for reflection. So this one was developed by Driscoll in 1994, and it’s based off of these three simple questions. It provides one of the simplest frameworks for reflection. And basically you ask yourself, what, what was the experience of the situation? So what? What are the implications of that situation? And now what? What is the action plan that I’m going to put into place? Any of us can take five minutes to ask ourselves three questions. Powerful leaders pause.

The Four “F’s” of Active Reviewing

Another one you might like is the four Fs of active reviewing. So this was designed by Dr. Roger Greenaway, an expert on training teachers and facilitators. And by working through the four levels of this model, you will have critically examined the situation, what you want to review and reflect on, and thinking about how you’ll use it in the future. So those four Fs are the facts, an objective account of what happened, the feelings, your emotional reaction to that situation, the findings, the concrete learning that you took away from that situation, and the future, structuring your learning so that you can use it for the future.

The CARL Framework of Reflection

The last one, if you still need another one, is the CARL framework of reflection. This was adapted from a job interview technique where you structure each of your answers according to a different aspect of the model. It can be easily be used to guide a reflective process based on experiences. So C is for context, briefly describe the context of your experience, A are for actions, what actions did you take, results, explain what happened as a result of your actions, and then learning, identify what you have learned.

The Powerful Pause: Talk to Milday Today!

I want to leave you with today. I don’t care what reflection method you use. You can find another one if you don’t like any of those. But I want to challenge you to schedule 30 minutes a week to dedicate to that pause, to that reflection time. We value what we schedule. Put it on your schedule. If you want to be a better leader, pause. If you want to be a better teacher, pause. If you want to be a better spouse, a better partner, a better friend, a better employee, pause. Give yourself the space and the time to pause, to sit and reflect, and you will see growth and transformation begin to take place. You will learn how to become more of a reflexive pauser so it doesn’t always have to be scheduled. Powerful leaders pause.

Aristotle says it well, “Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives, because it is choice, not chance that determines your destiny.” And I’m going to ask you today to choose to pause.

Thank you. I hope you found this powerful. It was my honor and pleasure to share it with you. Have an awesome day.