Pause and Reflect—Why Every Big Decision You Make Should Begin Here

Read time —
6 Minutes
Last updated
January 18, 2024

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As a starting point in any decision, you would struggle to do better than pause and reflect.

You see, haste brings error. It brings emotion, it brings impulsiveness, it brings chaos – none of which are welcome when deciding.

Taking the time to pause and reflect really can make all the difference. If you asked me what’s the one piece of wisdom everyone should take from the hundred plus articles here on The Resolve Blog, it would be to pause and reflect before deciding.

It is as simple as that.

If you took this first part of making effective decisions personally and ignored the rest, you’d be in a better place. Forget mental models or cognitive biases – although being aware of them certainly helps. Taking the time to pause and reflect opens the door to making great decisions.  

Not taking a moment to pause and reflect can often be disastrous.

In 2013, three hundred and ninety-eight people died by trying to cross the road. A study revealed the highest causes of death or severe injury came from a failure to look properly. 

There are plenty of other examples I could offer where we suffer from not taking the time to pause and reflect, so why don’t we?

What Happens When we Don't Pause & Reflect?

When we don’t pause before deciding, we end up making quick decisions. Choices made quickly inevitably stem from our intuitive way of thinking. Intuitive thinking stems from one of our two systems of thought. System 1 and system 2 – allow me to explain.

Daniel Kahneman authored a book called Thinking, Fast and Slow in 2011. The book held a detailed explanation – supported by experiments – of how we think and decide on what to do.

System 1

System 1 is the part of our brain where we make decisions quickly. We often decide without even being aware of it – we are barely conscious of our choices. Best explained it means we:

  • Decide quickly
  • Allow emotions to influence our choices
  • Use previously learned responses to automate our behaviour

Without a pause, our brain looks to act quickly.

If the situation is different, and most of them are, then the brain looks for a similar learned response. It then uses that experience to dictate how we decide what to do.

System 2

Whatever system 2 is, system 1 isn’t. It means with system 2 we are slow, more rational, and highly aware of our thinking. In summary, it means we:

  • Think logically
  • Take our time
  • Consider the pro’s and con’s

Our brains, like us, don’t like to do hard things. Thinking the way system 2 does is hard. Hence, why system 1 will always try and take control. It's easier for the brain – and it likes doing easy things.

Making big or important choices means you should be pulling on the strength and character of system 2. But we are lazy, we don’t like thinking. We like to daydream and procrastinate our way through life, our minds a fog of spiralling thoughts.

So, every given time we’re faced with a choice – we will opt to take the simple path. The system 1 path of thinking, because it's easy.

Pause and Reflect—Your Pathway to System 2 Thinking

When you stop and take a pause, you stop your mind engaging system 1 and reacting without conscious thought.

Of the three hundred and ninety-eight who died when crossing the road in 2013, how many of them could still be alive if they had engaged system 2?

Instead, system 1 took control. They used earlier learned behaviours to judge the speed of the oncoming car, the road conditions, and their footwear. Speed is a variable, something our system 1 misses because it’s logical. The conditions have changed which leads to the poor decision to cross the road.   

The pause, the reflection, the assessment of risk that follows are logical traits of system 2 thinking. By taking a pause, we open our minds to a unique way of thinking – a lifesaving way of thinking.

Pause and Reflect

Understand this; I’m not proposing you pause and reflect for hours on end as you internally debate the various aspects of crossing a road.

We are more intelligent and smarter than that.

But we are prone to not taking the time to pause and reflect in situations where the variables have changed. In this instance, we should be re-evaluating the information we have before deciding.

This means opening our minds to using our system 2 for thinking.

The title declares the moment of ‘pause and reflect’ to be the starting point of every great decision. Consider the inverse of a great decision – a bad decision. How would you prevent this from happening?

The answer is of course to stop and consider your position. Don’t be impulsive when the circumstances have changed.

As I mentioned at the start, if I could offer one thing as a ‘take this and nothing else’ lesson, it would be to pause and reflect.

Written by

Darren Matthews
I'm the founder of The Resolve Blog. Through its articles, newsletter, and tools, The Resolve Blog helps you master your decision-making.

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