Pause to score

As Alastair Cook played his 161st and final Test match we can be grateful to him and take a leaf from his book. He didn’t clock up 12,472 runs in Test cricket without having a special ploy. His secret is his pause. He uses it between every ball, almost imperceptibly. He turns away from the wicket, takes his eyes to a site not connected with the game and gives his mind a mini-rest. Not a complicated formula but one requiring discipline. It can benefit all who have to concentrate.

Described as a down-to-earth superstar, Cook has had an amazing run reaching almost every milestone in his cricketing career before anyone else. It’s that phrase ‘down-to-earth’ that I want to concentrate on. The world is badly in need of down-to-earth. Indeed it is fair to say that Trump’s election, apart from any hanky-panky there may have been by outsiders, was probably a cry for down-to-earth. His rhetoric initially was just that, until he lost the plot – which he quickly did.

Focus, we are told, is the secret of success. I agree with this but think we are mistaking focus for grinding, unrelieved attention. Even flying the latest, fastest fighter jet the focus we need is best achieved by a quite frequent seconds pause to ease the mind and re-focus on the job in hand. In my farming days I noticed that horses performed much better for frequent, short pauses as opposed to one lengthy break. An orchestra plays better for it’s between-movements rests.

It’s not simply activity that needs pausing, however, it is the mind. Our minds are curious, and still largely unknown, mechanisms. Like our bodies they respond to activity. And just as our body needs a pause from time to time so does our mind. Here’s how to do it for best results.

Combine a frequent mind-rest with getting up from your desk and walking about for a minute or two. Doctors advocate that doing so is good for the physique. So you can achieve two objectives at one go. Let your mind wander and your heart rate slow, however briefly, and you will notice your judgments are more common sense, more down-to-earth. There is something in the agility this requires as well as the pause it imposes. Agility is the skill most needed in the coming century.

Where, in the past, being a marathon runner was what was needed, today you need to be a sprinter. Your mind needs to be agile, to associate things faster, to adapt more quickly, to weave and duck with greater precision. The quickie pause is a good tool to make that work. What are the results of such a discipline? How does a quickie pause fit with today’s urgency and speed?

Have you ever played the piano? Most people have at some time, even if briefly. When you played what did you notice about the use of the ‘sustain’ pedal – the pedal that keeps everything humming while you figure out the next notes? If you were observant you would see that it makes you play more slowly. Since the music is ‘continuing’ there’s not such a need to hurry. So you are thinking more slowly. Secondly, you will see that you are playing worse than if you were beating it out fairly fast. I’m not suggesting that great playing is attacking the piano, just that it will be better playing.

Thinking is like this too. If you litter it will fillers such as ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘you know’ and ‘lah’ your thinking will be worse, and, incidentally, you communication, very much worse.Speaking very slowly is the same as using fillers – and even more irritating for listeners. You are using these fillers like the sustain pedal on the piano. Avoid this bad habit and your communication will immediately improve.

So here’s the paradox. Speed up your talking, avoid fillers but at the same time take these mini pauses and your communication will become clearer, crisper, briefer and more to the point. How does that work? You are forced to get to the heart of the matter and avoid waffling. When I look at the rubbish that is presented as propositions for consulting work, when I ‘word count’ them and grasp their length, I wonder that no government has introduced a word tax.

Faster, clearer, shorter thinking reaches the heart of the matter efficiently and swiftly. The solution becomes obvious – and credible. The ‘Purpose, Method, Results, Conclusions, Action’ approach still works. It’s just that it has to work faster today. And much faster tomorrow.

As the deluge of controls, developments, opportunities forces you to move with agility, have a frequent mini-pause to let your mind muscles refresh.

You will think better, act more rationally, engage with action.

Like Alastair Cook, you will be a superstar.

Good morning
John Bittleston

Terrific Mentors International has a programme called Mind over mind. It sharpens your thinking, your response, your ability to negotiate and your wit. Tailored to your particular personality, it makes you think fast, communicate better, convince more successfully. Interested? Please ask [email protected] or [email protected] or
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