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Daily practice: take a pause

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

One of the most important things anyone who’s had weight loss surgery can learn is the power of finding that space.

The quote above is often ascribed to renowned psychologist Viktor Frankl - while it’s not a direct quote, it does sum up Frankl’s learnings from the death camps of WW2.

And while might seem a bit high-brow, it’s at the heart of all change.

Why this tiny space is key

You’ll hear lots of people bang on about learning to be mindful. We now know from oodles of research that regularly practising mindfulness and meditation teaches you how to create those tiny spaces.

Over time, you’ll start to find these tiny spaces occurring in your life, and they have an enormous impact.

Let’s say you have a craving for a slice of cake. It has been triggered by emotion in response to a comment by someone, but when you don’t have that space, you don’t know this - you just go and get the cake and feel some relief.

But if you can give your consciousness just a moment, perhaps half a second to come online, it gives you the option of making a more considered choice in what you want to do next.

You might be able to stop and feel that emotion, maybe name it, and watch it wash over you. It can be frightening when it’s a big feeling, but like a wave, it will rise, peak, and then wash away. And you’ll be ok.

It might be once you pause and consider, you decide to eat the cake - and that’s ok. But every time you pause, you give yourself the chance to make a change. The more chances you give yourself, the more opportunities you get to change your life.

I’ll talk more about this in upcoming blogs. I’m also writing a book to help guide those who’ve had (or are thinking about) weight loss surgery based on the work we do at Tiaki-Whaiaro.

But for now, try this little exercise – it takes 2 minutes and you can do it anywhere.

  • Stop what you’re doing and check on how you feel. Start at the top of your head and work your way down your body, noticing what’s going on for you physically. Are you slumped? Is your face and jaw tense? Is there a feeling of heaviness in your chest? An unsettled feeling in your gut? Are your legs tight?

  • Stand up and walk outside, ideally to a spot where you can see a vista of some sort. It doesn’t have to be anything amazing – just somewhere you can see up into the sky or down the street for a distance. Take your time to slowly look around. Move your head as you look, not just your eyes, side to side, up and down. Look as far as you can and take in what you see. It might be grey clouds, a bright blue sky, birds singing, the thrum of cars driving past. Take in your surroundings as an observer – there’s a cloud, there’s a bird, vs commenting on it.

  • Consciously take in four or five deep breaths – breathe in as deeply as you can, then breathe out through pursed lips, so your out-breath is slower and longer than the in-breath.

  • Go back inside, go back to what you were doing, and check back in with your body. How is it feeling in specific places? Overall?

This is how it went for Nadene when we practiced it one day on Zoom. She was feeling anxious about an upcoming appointment, which mostly manifested as a heavy feeling in her chest. She had been sitting at her desk working on her computer for several hours trying to ignore it but she couldn’t shake it off.

When I asked her what else she could feel in her body, she also noticed her shoulders were tense and she was clenching her jaw.

So I asked her to step outside for a minute or two. It was a beautiful day and she’s fortunate enough to work from home, so her view was a lot of green grass and a big blue sky.

After approximately two minutes of slowly, deliberately looking around as far into the distance as she could, and taking long, slow breaths in and out, she came back inside to talk to me.

The heavy feeling in her chest was still there although it was less. But the biggest difference in her body was it felt lighter overall, with much of the tension feeling like it had lifted.

This exercise is a somatic experience, where your body sends signals to your mind that you’re safe. You’ve checked your surroundings, you’re got oxygen flowing through you and the result is a physical release of tension. However, you’ll often also find a release from the fixation on something that’s playing through your mind.

This is one of the key learnings from working with weight loss patients over the last 15+ years. Many of those living in a bigger body can’t hear the little signals their body is sending to them. Diet culture has spent decades - most likely your whole life - telling you to be strong-willed, staunch, and stern with yourself so you’ll succeed. It doesn’t work, and it also trains you to not listen to your body.

For example, some people don’t know the feeling of true hunger - they think they feel hungry, but actually it’s something they’re creating in their brain (known as ‘head hunger’).

Some don’t know the feeling of true fullness and often go beyond it, until they’re stuffed and uncomfortable.

Some people mistake thirst for hunger so they eat instead of drinking fluids.

As Nadene learned in her experience, the body is often holding signs of tension or even pain. She wasn’t aware of it until she stopped to listen to her body and feel what was going on. For others, they can’t feel or hear the signals until their body is so filled with pain that they can’t continue, or something breaks.

Learning how to come into your body, to listen to it and care for it, is one of the keys to changing your life.

Copyright: Kate Berridge,, 2023


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