Are You Stuck in Pause?

Pick a number between 1 and 100. Please don’t continue reading until you have your number.

Do you have your number? Good.

Notice how easy it was to make such a choice. You had 100 different options (assuming you picked an inclusive integer), and yet you didn’t even have to hesitate. Most likely your selection just popped into your mind automatically. Your subconscious probably made the choice for you.

You probably figured that one number was as good as any other. So you made the choice quickly and moved on to continue reading.

But you didn’t have to do that. You could have taken much more time to make this decision. You could have pondered all the different options by writing a list of those 100 possibilities. You could have defined some criteria for selecting the very best number. You could have made a top 10 list of potential candidates, then narrowed it to your top 3, and finally selected a winner.

You could have sought the advice of a friend or relative to help you make the choice. What number should I choose? Why should I go with 51 and not 95? Shouldn’t I give 17 another look?

In other words, you could have made this decision a lot more complicated than you did.

So why didn’t you? Why didn’t you pause to reflect on this decision much further?

We could say that the decision didn’t matter much to you. You didn’t have a reason to pause and reflect and make a more careful choice.

But another way of looking at this is that if you accepted what I said at the beginning of this article, then you probably didn’t feel good about continuing to read until you picked a number. If you vacillated over your choice, you’d have to stop reading to do so, and the article would remain unread.

And you probably figured that this article might contain enough value for you to be worth reading, so you didn’t want to slow down and get stuck for something as trivial as picking a number.

Well, you made the right choice. The number you picked doesn’t matter at all. But by choosing a number, you’re free to read the rest of the article. There’s no value in picking your number, but there may be value for you in what comes after that. You understood that it’s better to keep moving than to get stuck at a decision point, and of course you were right about that. It is indeed better to keep moving.

Now consider what happens when you pause to reflect on a choice elsewhere in your life. When you do this, you essentially put this part of your life on hold. You can’t progress further until you make that choice. You’re stuck in limbo. You’ve turned off the flow.

What if the choice seems really big and important? What if you’re deciding whether to leave a long-term relationship or whether to quit your job and pursue a whole new career? Surely you have to pause and reflect at some points.

Regardless of the apparent magnitude of the choice, the effect is still the same. Until you decide one way or another, you’ve put that part of your life on hold. It’s just like being stuck in the first paragraph of this article, not being able to read beyond it till you pick a number.

When you pause some part of your life like this, you halt the flow in that area, and you constrict the flow in your life overall. Since you haven’t made a choice one way or another, you’re holding everything up. You’re like a poker player who can’t decide whether to call, raise, or fold. The whole game gets paused for all players until you decide, with the other players trying to be patient at first, then impatient, then annoyed that you’re holding up the game. Eventually someone will ask to put the clock on you, thereby increasing the pressure for you to decide and forcing a default decision if you don’t.


Is any part of your life currently stuck on pause? Are you frozen in ambivalence, not having made a real decision yet? Are you essentially wait for life to “put the clock on you” and make the decision for you?

Many people play this waiting game. They get stuck in pause mode for so long that life eventually must decide for them. Their spouse finally quits the paused relationship. Their company finally lays them off for being too mediocre for too long. Or they discover they have a serious medical condition after years of putting their health habits on pause.

I understand and acknowledge that some decisions seem a lot more important than others. But there’s a difference between actively deciding and being stuck in pause mode. When you decide, you’re using some process that you seriously believe will move you towards a resolution. This process could be as simple as a random choice, or it could involve reading, researching, talking to others, and carefully weighing options. But the key is that at some point, this decision-making process must end with an actual decision, followed by acting on that decision.

I’ve fallen into the trap of putting some part of my life on pause numerous times. It’s often difficult to recognize when I’ve done this. Almost always the pause button was pressed to avoid dealing with some kind of fear or resistance to what might happen if I make a real decision. Maybe I’m trying not to hurt someone. Perhaps I don’t want to take a particular risk.

Consciously choosing to maintain the status quo isn’t the same as having the status quo continue simply because you’re in pause mode. Consciously choosing to be in your current relationship is much different than merely allowing it to self-perpetuate when you’re unsure about breaking up.

One of the great privileges of life is your freedom to choose. Don’t surrender this gift just because you face some challenging decisions. If you keep hitting pause, life will pass you by in the most boring and uninteresting ways, and you’ll eventually wonder where all the time went.

Instead of being stuck in perpetual pause mode, un-pause these stuck areas of your life, and get moving forward again. Make a decision today, and start taking action on it.

Even if you make what seems to be a poor decision, that’s still better than remaining stuck in everlasting pause mode. If you keep flowing forward with real decisions and real action, you’re going to learn a great deal. Your decisions will become smarter, and your actions will produce more desirable results as you gain wisdom. You don’t gain much wisdom while life is paused.

Sometimes even the most difficult decisions can be made rather quickly. For more on this, see the article How to Make Smart Decisions in Less Than 60 Seconds.

How do you escape pause mode? You do this by finally making a decision, just as you chose a number at the start of this article. The reason to make a decision is that pause mode is boring and stagnating. You can only get to the good parts of life when you leave pause mode and enter action mode once again. It’s the knowledge that life is only interesting, rewarding, and fulfilling when you’re in motion that can motivate you to finally leave the dead and lifeless limbo of pause mode.

You chose a number because you didn’t want that decision to prevent you from reading the rest of this article. It wouldn’t have made any sense to get stuck in the first paragraph. Similarly, it doesn’t make any sense to keep some part of your life stuck in pause. Fascinating, worthwhile, and deeply rewarding parts of life await you. They’re meant to be lived and experienced, not feared and avoided.

You’re here to learn, explore, and grow. Surely you know that by now. The wondrous flow of your life comes to a screeching halt when you enter pause mode. It’s understandable that you may have had your reasons for doing this, but if your ultimate reason boils down to fear, that’s not a good enough reason for staying stuck. You can be afraid and still decide and still move forward. People do this every day.

If you allow yourself to remain stuck in pause mode, eventually you’ll regret it. You see… life has already put the clock on you while you’re waiting. It’s counting down the seconds till your life ends. If you don’t get out of pause mode now, you’re being robbed and cheated. Your precious life is being stolen from you minute by minute. Don’t lose another day to this thief of life. If you can decide now, then decide now. Worst case, flip a coin.

What’s the opposite of the pause button? It’s the play button. When you’re stuck in pause, you’re missing out on so many playful, joyful, fulfilling moments that life has to offer.

Remaining stuck in pause is essentially the same as choosing death. And that, of course, is a very weak choice. Death will happen anyway. There’s no need to run down the clock and hasten its arrival.

When death finally comes, let it catch you living. Press play!
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