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SessionThe Tactical Pause

The Tactical Pause

With enough practice, our ability to focus in high-stress situations turns into muscle memory for the brain. Jannell explains three simple steps — stop, breathe, focus — that you can lean on when stakes get high.

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Better mental health starts with Headspace

I'm flying in the middle of the night, using night vision goggles, and geared up for action, responsible for over 50 people in a multimillion dollar aircraft when, all of a sudden, everything that could possibly go wrong does. (thunder rumbles) Shortly after takeoff, with thunderstorm activity nearby, a threat is detected. In that moment, my defensive system releases flares. And as I evade the threat, I'm forced to maneuver closer to the thunderstorms, so close, we inadvertently get struck by lightning. (lightning cracks) So, what do I do now, practice my mindful minute? Well, of course not. The time for practice has passed. But because I have a consistent mental fitness routine, I'm prepared and ready to execute what I like to call a tactical pause, or tac pause for short. So, how does it work? Well, every time you find yourself in a high-stress moment, think about these keywords: stop, breathe, focus. The key here is to practice mental pushups during calm moments so that when we find ourselves in high-stress situations, our ability to focus in the moment becomes an automatic feature, like muscle memory for the brain. This skill set enables you to quickly identify when the mind is wandering, or chattering, so you can perform a tactical pause, take one or two deep breaths, and then clearly focus, especially when the stakes are high. Remember, just three simple steps: stop, breathe, focus. Let's quickly break down those steps. First, stop. Literally stop what you're doing. Second, take a single deep breath. Third, redirect your attention back to the moment and the task in front of you. The great thing about this technique is that when you practice the tactical pause repetitively, you are actively creating a habit pattern so that every time you encounter a chaotic moment, you'll think to yourself: stop, breathe, focus. This will be valuable regardless of the crisis situation you encounter. Hopefully not getting struck by lightning in midair. I'm happy to report that, post-lightning strike, I was able to use the tac pause and safely navigate a successful landing. Even though I've used this technique while flying, I've also used it while driving in my car in traffic, being put on the spot at work, or just when I feel overwhelmed from making big decisions in my life. So next time you find yourself in a high-stress situation, just remember, execute the tac pause: stop, breathe, focus. Let's give it a try in the next audio exercise. Lead on....


Duration5 min

About your teachers

  • A former Buddhist monk, Andy has guided people in meditation and mindfulness for 20 years. In his mission to make these practices accessible to all, he co-created the Headspace app in 2010.

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  • Eve is a mindfulness teacher, overseeing Headspace’s meditation curriculum. She is passionate about sharing meditation to help others feel less stressed and experience more compassion in their lives.

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  • As a meditation teacher, Dora encourages others to live, breathe, and be with the fullness of their experiences. She loves meditation’s power to create community and bring clarity to people’s minds.

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  • Kessonga has been an acupuncturists, therapist, and meditation teacher, working to bring mindfulness to the diverse populations of the world.

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  • Rosie Acosta has studied yoga and mindfulness for more than 20 years and taught for over a decade. Rosie’s mission is to help others overcome adversity and experience radical love.

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