Stop and Think – The Wait Chair

Stop and Think – The Wait Chair

Let me introduce you to The Wait Chair. This chair is the most crucial – it is the center – the middle ground between the Attack and the Connect Chairs, the two extremes of The 5 Chairs journey. In this chair, we wait before we react. We control our urges to act or speak impulsively. We stop and think, even if it’s just for milliseconds.

The Wait Chair is fundamentally a silent chair. It’s where the chattering mind is quietened. No words. No thoughts. Vigilant observation and deep listening comes forth here and radical curiosity takes over. It is the space between the world that triggers us and our chosen response to that world. It’s where we manage our mind and guide ourselves to right action.

Our nudge metaphor in this chair is the Meerkat. I chose the Meerkat because of its exceptional sentinel behaviours. The Meerkat will stay on sentry duty for up to one hour at a time with unfaltering vigilance. That is exactly what we have to do with our own minds. Be on guard against the predator thoughts which can easily destabilise us.

To master the Wait Chair we need to master these skills:  Choose our attitude, cultivate presence, develop inner stability, and choreograph our thoughts.Choose our attitude

Choose our attitude

It is increasingly clear that one of the most fundamental skills we need to acquire in our workplaces today is the ability to manage and embrace the uncertainty of constant change. For many of us this is counter-intuitive. The volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the VUCA world is not welcoming. It usually causes us discomfort.

Can we learn to become comfortable with uncertainty? Can we accept unpredictability as a norm? Can we recognise that we are part of a dynamic system and learn to manage ourselves better in the face of change?

Cultivating Presence

How can we source that inner calm and presence my friend displayed when we are constantly reacting from highly energised minds which are full of mental and environmental noise?

The corporate world is beginning to take meditation seriously. Today, CEOs are openly sharing the benefits they reap from daily meditation practice

Conscious Pausing

Creating small pockets of silence during the day is not that difficult. It just requires resolve. Two to five minutes of slow conscious breathing in silence can be very effective.

Whenever I work with teams, I always invite them to spend a couple of moments in silence at the beginning of our sessions to help them bring their whole selves into the space where we’ll be working together.

People are not used to doing this in the corporate world. We’re always ‘on’ and convinced that we don’t have time to stop. When the teams I have worked with consciously take time for a pause before starting a new activity they invariably declare, ‘What a relief just to stop for a moment!’ We are, after all, human-beings not human-doings.

Developing our Inner Stability

This ability is more crucial than ever today. Leaders, in particular, need to cultivate this type of presence. We can achieve this by Observing our emotions. It only takes 90 seconds to perform this task.

The brain scientist Jill Bolte explains that an emotion such as anger lasts just ninety seconds from the moment it’s triggered until it runs its course. If we can just ‘sit with’ an emotion for ninety seconds it will naturally subside.

But what do we usually do? We make it last much longer. We fuel it with our repetitious thoughts, our stories and what should last just one and a half minutes gets drawn out for five minutes, half a day, one week, even years! Instead of letting emotions run their course, we stir them up. So, how can we counter this?

Whenever you feel triggered and an uneasy feeling comes up WAIT FOR NINETY SECONDS!

Choreograph our Thoughts

I have designed a sequence called ‘Thought Choreography’ to help us practise managing our thoughts when we feel triggered by someone or something. The sequence will keep us AWAKE, CONSCIOUS and PRESENT as negative thoughts enter our minds.

Life Event
Something happens to us in life. We are triggered. Notice how our body sensations change (tension, heat, contraction etc). Track the rising emotions (irritation, anger, embarrassment etc). Just observe them and stay present with the discomfort.

The Jackal Show
Now watch carefully as the Jackal thoughts build in your mind. Just observe them. Don’t judge them. Just accept them. Give voice to them if necessary – e.g. ’Damn!’ ‘Hell!’ ‘What!?’

This will release your negative energy but be very vigilant. DO NOT feed them or dwell on them or they’ll take over. Move on quickly.

Ninety seconds of presence
This is the turning point. TAKE A CONSCIOUS BREATH and access your inner resources of stillness, presence and stability. Count ninety seconds and let your emotion run its course. If you don’t have ninety seconds because you’re mid-conversation do a condensed version and just breathe a conscious breathe. Come into focus.

Switch attention
Consciously switch attention away from the Jackal and Hedgehog Chairs. Staying in these chairs won’t get you anywhere so MOVE.

The Welcome Committee
Welcome whatever life is offering you in the moment. ACCEPT it as if it were meant for you. Do not resist it.  We are here to learn and evolve! Accept the challenge.

Become curious about your challenge. Get interested in what’s happening. Really interested. Explore it from different angles. Don’t judge, label or criticise.  What can you learn here? EXPLORE.

My Best Self
Now ask yourself, how would my BEST SELF react in this situation? Study the options open to you. Practise some advanced perspective taking. Weigh up the benefits of all your options for yourself, for others, for the situation itself. Then choose.

Choose and Move
Check your choice is as ‘right’ and ‘ecological’ as possible for EVERYONE involved. Make your choice. Move into CONSCIOUS ACTION (which could also be non-action).

Practise it daily when you feel negatively triggered by someone or something. Check which step in the sequence challenges you most and practise that with more intentional focus.

Concluding Thoughts for The Wait Chair

When I ask people on my programme to choose the chair they would most like to master in the future, their choice is so often the Wait Chair. There is a deep understanding that the practice of ‘waiting’ or ‘pausing’ before reacting is essential in order to transition from the negative to the positive and from the unconscious to the conscious.

When we feel the urge to ‘act out’ in our normal default ways the Wait Chair invites us to stop and think, to sit in the middle ground and feel the full force of two extremes – right and wrong, black and white, yes and no, true and false.

In this chair, we experience the fundamental uncertainty and edginess of life and learn to sit with it without behaving in ways that are harmful to ourselves or to others. It’s our opportunity to really contemplate how we’re behaving in our lives; how we might be hurting ourselves and others; what old habits we need to shed that are no longer serving us.

We come face to face with our old repetitive patterns, our old trigger behaviours and we have the chance to experiment with new ways of behaving.

The Wait Chair is our pivotal point. It represents the choice we are faced with daily as leaders, colleagues, spouses, partners, parents and friends. We can succumb to our old dysfunctional ways or choose new more positive behaviours. The choice is ours.

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About Author

Louise Evans

Founder and Director of The 5 Chairs project, Behavioural Coach, Corporate Trainer and Facilitator, Speaker, and Author of 5 Chairs 5 Choices. Having visited 75 countries and experienced culture shock three times, Louise enjoys bringing multiple perspectives to the present moment to help people connect across their differences.

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