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Default Mode Network

Imperfectly Practice the Pause

Self-discovery and growth are acquired through daily, focused time.

Key points

  • Daily time to reflect on who you are, where you are, and what you value can help you identify and fulfill your needs.
  • The brain's default mode network is activated by disengaging from the outside world and attuning inward.
  • Try incorporating journaling, free association, affirmation, meditation, or a daily question review to increase self-knowledge.
  • Discover curiosity rather than self-judgement.

What I call "the pause" is daily, established time for an internal self-inventory. Each of us is a wonderful being full of potential—yet to experience that wonder and enjoy being ourselves, we need daily time to reflect on who we are, where we are, how we are responding to the daily stresses and joys of life, and what we need in this season or on this day.

For me, the pause looks like coffee, my notebook, and sunlight streaming through my window. Here, in humility and solitude, I listen and examine my being at this present moment.

In order to gain authentic self-understanding, I argue that you must intentionally investigate yourself. You are knowable—yet human emotions are often enigmatic, highly nuanced, and affected by a multitude of biological and sociological interactions.

By an intentional review of the events of your day and your subsequent actions, you can more readily identify the underlying causes of your own authentic being. Your unique desires, resentments, joys, irritants, values, and needs will become clearer. The pause will give you the awareness needed to then respond appropriately.

For example, without self-reflection and intentional boundaries, work demands can easily interfere with family goals and values. Perhaps no one complains that dinner was eaten independently in front of devices—after all, multitasking tends to be a cultural norm and the powerful pull of technology can be hard to ignore. Thus, without a practiced pause where your own value alignment and daily choices are reviewed, your shared family dinners could easily become non-existent.

The Neurobiology of Self-Reflection

Practicing “the pause” calls for introspection, which involves a rather unique brain process. Through numerous neuroimaging assessments, cognitive neuroscientists have identified the Default Mode Network (DMN) as a dedicated pattern of neural connectivity in the brain that is most activated during self-reflection.

Specifically, the DMN is stimulated when you are disengaged from the outside world and attuned inward. Activation of the DMN generates attunement to your own stream of consciousness and self-evaluation. Separated from external distractions, you are better able to discern your own motives and social perceptions. Practicing the pause and thus carving out the needed solitude for self-awareness and inner peace allows for the DMN to activate.

Seasons for Self-Examination

There was one particular period in my life when I needed a daily, two-hour “pause” of prayer and meditation practice in order to make it through my workday without overwhelming despair. My personal relationships were fragmented and my internal reserves were shallow, thus requiring extended time to process and organize my perspective.

Free associating in my journal without any filters released my pain, doubt, and fears onto the paper and off of my shoulders. Next, I would mindfully rehearse or sketch affirmations that oriented my thoughts toward redemption, grace, and hope in order to redirect my thoughts and align my intentions for the day.

Presently, my pause is mostly met in daily meditation, prayer, and garden time ranging from 30-45 minutes. Needs differ from individual to individual and throughout various life stages, some of which require daily check-in as an ever-developing human being.

The "Pause" in Action

I worked with a client for several months to help him attune to what I call his "soul signals" through practicing the pause for self-understanding. He suffered from frequent heart palpitations and severe vertigo episodes that signaled too much arousal. Yet he felt clueless as to possible causes.

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Through practicing the pause, he realized that he was driving himself to keep up with his peers’ activity level. His social schedule was incongruent with his intimate and introverted nature. In time, he learned to moderate his anxiety by paying careful attention, limiting his social engagements each week, and deliberately protecting his solitude.

Another client learned through honest self-reflection that her loneliness was in part self-induced by her fears. She needed to affirm her courage each day in order to connect with others, despite the awkwardness manifested in new intimacies.

What to Ask Yourself

Practice the pause by considering what is most important and then order your life accordingly. Study yourself, because your needs will flux. “Be curious, not judgmental,” as Walt Whitman advises. Accept your inherent individuality. Be keenly interested in how you function and excessively accepting as you study and keep track of what you need to thrive.

As you initiate practicing the pause, your individual needs may seem indulgent to you, especially if there are aspects of life that have been previously out of balance. Allow the DMN to enrich your authentic living in discovering how you are wired to thrive,

Photo by ANTONI SHKRABA from Pexels
Source: Photo by ANTONI SHKRABA from Pexels

Questions like these can aid your self-knowledge:

  • What are the most important aspects of life to me? Were those aspects apparent in my thoughts and decisions today?
  • Did I care well for my whole being today? If not, what needs to shift for tomorrow?
  • How did I envision my time being used today? What can I learn from the challenges?
  • When did I have energy to give my ideas or actions? What depleted me?
  • What emotional experiences were most present this day?
  • What did connection with others look like today?
  • What put a smile on my face today?
  • Where did I give in a meaningful way today?

References

Moran, J.M., Kelley, W.M., & Heatherton T.F. (2013). What can the organization of the brain’s default mode network tell us about self-knowledge? Front Hum Neurosci. 2013;7:391. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

Qin P., Northoff G. (2011). How is our self-related to midline regions and the default-mode network? Neuroimage 57, 1221–123310.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.05.028

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