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Knowing When to Pause

by Chuckstacks of money

I recently watched a really painful but funny story.  In summary, Henry went to a carnival and tried to win an Xbox Kinect ($300 value) at a game in which you throw a tennis ball into a tub.  If the ball stays in, you win, if not, you lose or maybe get something else.  He lost $300 pretty quick because he was given the chance to “double or nothing” his prior losses.  At this point, he went all the way home, got the $2300 of his remaining savings and went back and promptly lost that money.

The next day he returned and they gave him back $600 and a huge banana with dreadlocks.  He has filed a police report and filed suit.

I’m not making this up.  You can watch it here.

This story leaves all sorts of opportunities to make fun of the guy and leave me feeling smug.

Here is a list of what I don’t have in common with Henry:

  • I have never spent $2,600 trying to win an XBox or any other game console.
  • I have never spent $2,600 on a huge banana with dreadlocks.
  • I’ve never had my stupidity broadcast on national news.

Here is what I DO have in common with Henry:

  • I’ve paid dearly for worthless things.
  • Rather than admit my mistake, I’ve dug in and created a bigger mistake.
  • I’ve been given the time to think and make a better decision but was so wrapped up in my emotion that I kept being stupid.
  • I’ve blamed others for my stupidity.
  • I embarrassed myself and my family without knowing it.

Henry got so wrapped up in recovering from his first mistake that he made a string of other mistakes.  Kind of like the bird that keeps smashing into the window, each time the bird gets a bit more frustrated, angry, sore, and confused, so it tries again and again.

I originally titled this post, “Knowing When to Quit,” but really the question isn’t quitting but is really about learning to pause and reset.

Pausing and resetting isn’t easy, especially when emotions are high, when we are feeling threatened, embarrassed, fearful, or even good emotions like silly or funny.   I suggest taking a deep breath and answering the following three questions:

  1. What just happened?
  2. Where is this taking me?
  3. Do I need to do something different to reach my goals?

Let me role play what could have happened for Henry.

Oh no, I’m out of money and I don’t have an Xbox (pause while hitting head against wall).  My wife is going to kill me.  What am I going to do?   I just spent $300 and have nothing to show for it.  The guy at the booth is telling me that I could get my money back and win the Xbox on the next try but I have been trying and it hasn’t worked out well.  If I keep going, I’m going to be broke!  I really want an Xbox but I better find a different way of getting one.  Now what am I going to tell my wife about the $300?

It sounds easy when solving Henry’s problem but it’s much easier to figure out other people’s problems than your own.

I started a business about 15 years ago.  I not only spent our savings on the business, I borrowed money from family to keep things going.  I spent countless hours of my time and eventually my wife’s time trying to get things going.  The payoff was always around the corner.  Eventually with my wife’s help (okay, more like demand) I took a pause and did an evaluation of where we were at in the business and where my actions were taking us.  We then talked about what would need to change to get on course.  At that point, I realized the cost for making that change both personally and financially was beyond what I wanted to pay and so we closed the business.  I felt so stupid, embarrassed and depressed about it.  She saw the writing on the wall before I did and it was a real blow to me.  It took a while to close things down and pay off my “Stupid Tax.”  But we made the right decision and got back to living life rather than being slaves to a flawed business.

I’m thankful for the pause that my wife and I took and since that time I’ve come to resist less and eventually appreciate other pauses she has brought into my life.  I also find that as I force myself to be more reflective about my time and decisions, it’s easier to get back on track.  Peter Bergman, in his book “18 Minutes,” recommends setting an alarm to ring every hour to “stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively.”  This pause starts to become a habit fairly quickly and I find that I’m making better decisions when I practice the hourly pause.

The hardest time to make good decisions and pause is when emotions are high.  It isn’t easy but it’s the difference between a $300 mistake and owning a $2,600 stuffed banana and losing your wife’s trust for a moment’s pleasure, or getting your child to be quiet yet teaching them to fear you.

Practice and use the gift of knowing when to pause.

Question:  How do you remember to pause when your emotions are running high?