Erika Rasure Ph.D.

Destination in Mind

How to Ensure a Time-Out Isn't Time Wasted

Understanding how (and when) to take a step back for personal growth.

Posted May 30, 2018

Progression toward personal change and improvement is not only an exercise in challenging the status quo but also an exercise in reaffirming, restoring, and reigniting our disembodied sense of self. The concept of who we are and what higher purpose we are supposed to serve can become distorted as we strive to overcome life's personal, professional, and societal challenges. We are left gasping for air, which requires us to take a step back from time to time. This step back, or “time-out,” is often precipitated by questioning your life choices and can leave you feeling tired and overwhelmed. You may also feel unmotivated to do anything about it, only compounding the weight of the world you now feel on your shoulders. There are three strong indicators that this retreat is necessary:

  1. You might be agitated at home or work, speak less kindly to those around you, and react more quickly and impulsively. You may not feel valued or heard. These are the external symptoms that begin to reflect in your personal and professional life when you feel conflicted and confused on the inside because you feel you have lost control of your situation.
  2. You desire change yet cannot articulate that desire in a constructive, nonaggressive way to others and especially to yourself. You are sensitive and defensive; something is off, but it doesn't even make sense to you.
  3. There is a loss of will to stand up for your values, beliefs, and the pursuit of your ideas. You are almost standing still, stagnating with no breath or movement—waiting for something or someone to inspire you again.

Sometimes, it's pure exhaustion, burnout, or failure to meet important personal, professional, and financial goals that drive us toward needing a timeout. More likely, however, the way you feel is a direct result of your domineering and inflexible nature—your need to control. It's the exact reason you have to put yourself in timeout. But it's not the same way a toddler takes a timeout—in fact, it's quite the opposite.

Children view experiences with wonder and an eagerness to learn, rather than being bogged down by the self-imposed mental constraints of adulthood. Children are flexible, forgiving, and compassionate, and most of all, they expect the unexpected because no one has conditioned them otherwise. It's a challenge in itself to take time to rest, contemplate, and actively prepare for whatever comes next because we no longer see things through the eyes of a child. Active preparation begins with setting the simple expectation of setting no expectations, and acknowledging your timeout as a time of pure reflection and self-care can be a tremendous gift: permission to give up control.

An effective start to your retreat begins by acknowledging not only that you have created your own prison but also that you are the only person who has the power to set yourself free. Hitting the pause button with a sincere and authentic desire to learn from your timeout ensures three things:

  1. You gain new perspective on situations that were previously unclear and can effectively begin to formulate a plan to move forward in a positive direction.
  2. You achieve a renewed sense of clarity and focus with an inspired mind filled with creative insight.
  3. You become energized by the strength of your own will as the activating force that will eventually release you from your self-imposed sentences from each of the prisons you have created for yourself.

If you don't experience all three (yes, all three), your timeout has become time wasted. You hit the stop button, not the pause button, domineering the retreat itself with your own inflexibility, using self-care as an excuse for inactivity and acting as a catalyst for your own self-fulfilling irrelevance. True self-care is actively preparing to set yourself up for a new, much-needed perspective. The 10 steps below will help you make the most of your timeout, just like a little kid makes the most of his day.

  1. Clean your room.
    When was the last time you felt truly organized? Take a couple of days to deep-clean your home, office, and car. Donate, donate, donate. Complete every minor errand that you need to complete but have been putting off, such as renewing your driver's license, getting new insurance quotes, fixing your lawnmower, or visiting the dentist. A clear mind is sharpest when physical clutter and all mundane distractions are removed.
  2. Play outside.
    Play outside with something that isn't your phone. Take a walk and take a couple of deep breaths. Plant something.
  3. Keep your promises.
    Is your husband, kid, boss, or all of the above making your situation even worse? If your answer is yes, then you need to ask yourself if you are keeping the promises you've made to each of these people and giving each person the unique attention he or she deserves—selflessly. If you are expecting everyone to walk on eggshells around you because you're having a perpetually bad day and doing nothing to fix it, you can expect them to treat you poorly—indefinitely.
  4. Ask questions.
    What promises to yourself and others are you not keeping? What do you love about your life, your home, and your free time? What do you dislike, and what do you feel is getting in the way of pure happiness? Why does your boss make you so angry? Why do you feel your co-workers are so jealous of your success? Why were you turned down for that promotion? You have to figure out what has put you in timeout in the first place and approach that reason with 100 percent honesty.
  5. Learn to write.
    Write down your questions first and then the answers to your questions.
  6. Learn to read.
    Read your responses over and over again.
  7. Learn to say no.
    How many of your answers are related to your ability, or inability, to say no? Ask yourself the following question: "If I say no, will it matter to anyone else? If I say yes, am I letting someone else off the hook so the job ‘gets done right’ or ‘gets done faster,’ or am I saying yes because I don't want to be in an uncomfortable position?"
  8. Say please and thank you.
    Look at your responses again now that you've read them over and over. Rewrite them by reframing each response in one of two ways: "I'd like more XYZ, please" and "Thank you for XYZ." For example, you may have written, "My boss makes me so angry because I am the one who does all the work in the office and I never get a raise." You could rewrite that sentence as, "I'd like to feel more valued at work by my boss, please." Similarly, you may have responded, "I love having coffee on my deck." Rewrite this sentiment as, "Thank you for the delicious coffee I enjoy so much on my deck each morning before work." You're training yourself to focus on what you want and what you already are thankful for in each situation troubling you. These data will be useful in making decisions as you craft a plan to move forward.  
  9. Show, not tell.
    You've got to show—not just tell—others gratitude for what you do have and be able to demonstrate your value to them. Perfection is not the goal; the goal is to be an authentic human being. Using the example above, "I'd like to feel more valued at work by my boss, please," means contemplating what you can do to show your boss your contributions and how thankful you are to have the work you have. Don't assume he knows—assume he knows nothing and you have to teach him. Know the responsibility is on you, and you alone, so you don't get hung up on it.  
  10. Ask for help.  
    Are you sabotaging yourself to the point of immobility and not accomplishing much? Start doing some reading on delegating tasks, take a leadership workshop, or ask your husband to do the dishes while you meditate for 10 minutes. The best part of learning new ways to approach living your best life is learning from someone who wants to help and is often just waiting to be asked.  Helping yourself find yourself again is always the first step.

Our greatest desire as human beings is to receive validation that we are worthy of existing. If you do not see your own value and cannot effectively communicate your worth, how can you possibly expect others to see and hear you—the real you—amid the chaos of change, innovation, and everyday life? You have to make the willful choice to take a timeout for the sake of your mind, body, and affairs; you have to learn how to successfully replace your need for external validation—the same need that has imprisoned you—with the pursuit of internal validation, and internal validation only.

It's like when you're on an airplane, and one of the attendants starts the flight with this instruction: "In case of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks above your seat will deploy. Please place the mask first and then assist your child or other passengers."

If the pressure in the cabin of an airplane drops, you, as a passenger, are completely out of control when it comes to influencing the outcome of a safe landing. The greatest thing you can possibly control is your chance of survival, and then that of others. Successfully navigating life's challenges means ceding your sense of control in high-pressure situations, knowing that the best thing you can do for yourself and others is simply putting on your oxygen mask first—even before you help your child. If you want the child to have a chance to survive, and give that child a chance to help someone else, you have to be able to breathe first. You've known how to breathe all along. You just have to remember how.

Erika Rasure, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Business & Financial Services at Maryville University