Pause Reflect Refocus Reignite

So many man­agers and lead­ers these days are deal­ing with whole­sale sea change, not just lit­tle shifts in the lev­el of the tide. Not minor waves of change, a process here and there, but over­whelm­ing, mul­ti­fac­eted shifts. Covid. Turnover. New lead­ers. Restruc­tur­ing. Pri­or­i­ties expand­ed. All of the above, overnight. The whole orga­ni­za­tion in ongo­ing rede­f­i­n­i­tion, old and new worlds recom­bined. A state of per­ma­nent, tur­bu­lent white water.

I was talk­ing with one of my favorite col­leagues about all this the oth­er day and we brain­stormed what might help him the most. Call it a fun­da­men­tal “reset” of some kind, or a “breather” of major pro­por­tions, the point is that the human beings are tired, con­fused, angry, anx­ious — and some­thing has to give.


The tra­di­tion­al mod­el, of course, is that when there’s more to do, we work hard­er, keep going, not only not stop but speed up, and that’s exact­ly what a lot of peo­ple have been doing. And because that’s basi­cal­ly doing the same thing and expect­ing a dif­fer­ent result, it’s also insane. There has to be a “some­thing else:” Here’s what my col­league and I brain­stormed togeth­er, in four steps:

Pause. Pause means stop. It does­n’t mean kind of stop­ping as if rolling through a stop sign at 30 miles an hour. It means bring­ing the vehi­cle to a halt. The wheels not turn­ing. Because if you don’t the brain won’t stop and what­ev­er groove you hap­pen to be in will con­tin­ue, even if it’s one head­ing for a cliff. So pause actu­al­ly means halt. It means cre­ate time. If you don’t cre­ate time there won’t be any of it at all. Stop act­ing, stop doing, stop think­ing for a lit­tle while. Breathe. 

This is actu­al­ly a pat­tern that’s been observed for a long time in orga­ni­za­tions that are becom­ing or have become dys­func­tion­al. The peo­ple can’t slow down. They have so much wrong stuff to do in the wrong way that they don’t have the capac­i­ty to change. It’s always been like that. It’s imper­a­tive that we not look at what we’re doing or the way we’re doing it lest we get behind; lest we get in trou­ble; lest…lest…lest.…Dysfunctional orga­ni­za­tions always have lots of rea­sons why they can’t stop being dysfunctional. 

Reflect. Reflect means exam­ine, think about from a fresh stand­point, search for pat­terns and mean­ings. It does not mean bring­ing for­ward the same age old assump­tions and bias­es and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about the way things are and deem­ing it “renew­al.” It means chal­leng­ing and care­ful­ly look­ing at what­ev­er the­o­ries have tak­en hold and are tak­en for grant­ed as “truth.” Reflect means think­ing for your­self, and also think­ing with oth­er peo­ple as it is demon­strat­ed via actu­al lis­ten­ing.

Reflec­tion can­not be done with­out the pause, the qui­et, the sit­ting next to the riv­er and watch­ing how it flows. It isn’t a fight with real­i­ty. Rather, it’s let­ting the grad­ual, the sensed, the intu­itive, the pos­si­ble emerge from the swirling and mud­died water. It’s let­ting the dirt nat­u­ral­ly clear from the spring. Reflec­tion is see­ing the depths, see­ing through the water to the bot­tom, not just see­ing your own face and pro­jec­tions mir­rored in sur­face light.

Refo­cus. Refo­cus­ing is bring­ing things back into clar­i­ty. What is impor­tant now? What’s doable? What plans have been revised or revi­tal­ized or thrown out com­plete­ly in favor of a whole new way of get­ting things done. This is about the cre­ation of order. With­out the pause, there will be no reflec­tion. With­out the reflec­tion, there will be no new order. The pause is more than a mere vaca­tion. The reflec­tion is more than get­ting lost in abstrac­tions. To refo­cus means to choose new kinds of coher­ence and direc­tion based on see­ing all the way through where we’ve been and where we are today.

Refo­cus­ing is not tac­ti­cal so much as strate­gic. It isn’t about cram­ming more in, work­ing hard­er, or call­ing old things by new names. It rep­re­sents find­ing and call­ing out the true lever­age points that make all the dif­fer­ence, that lead to a sense of true progress, shared accom­plish­ment and results. Refo­cus­ing demands we cut through old­er ways of get­ting things done to find human-sized and human­ized solutions. 

Reignite. Reignite means to light the fire again. To live in the vision of what’s pos­si­ble now, not tomor­row or the day after. Reignite is the burn­ing ember pulled out of the dead coals, the con­ver­sion of insight to action. The wheels begin to turn again. The tribe moves for­ward, but with a lit­tle more grace and ele­gance against the land­scape, with beau­ty and uni­ty. There’s a new sim­plic­i­ty that has been reignit­ed, a new, bet­ter way for­ward through the moun­tains, a new clar­i­ty of pur­pose, a bet­ter path. 

Reig­ni­tion isn’t mind­less pas­sion; it’s mind­ful pas­sion. It is more like a jour­ney, a move­ment of new aware­ness. As William Bridges’ the­o­ry of tran­si­tion goes through stages of loss and ambi­gu­i­ty before find­ing a new begin­ning, so too reig­ni­tion rep­re­sents a kind of metanoia, a shift not only of mind but also of heart.

The pur­pose of these four stages is straight­for­ward — to lead through con­nec­tion, not through what’s robot­ic or rigid; through present, inclu­sive, iden­ti­ty-build­ing choice, not the dull, soul-killing pres­sures and iner­tias of uncon­scious­ness. Noth­ing is eas­i­er than to just keep going, keep push­ing, as if win­ning against all odds and con­quer­ing all cir­cum­stances were a mat­ter of brute force, with the empha­sis on brute.



  • Nice! This fell into a per­fect spot in my month. Breathe & fol­low these steps! Thanks

  • Thank you, this came at the right time in my life. It all makes so much sense to where I am at or want to be at. This relates to me on a per­son­al lev­el and I read it with more of a per­son­al lev­el than an organization.

  • Ruth Radford wrote:

    Dan, thank you for this beau­ti­ful reminder and strong nudge to take care of ourselves.

  • You have no idea how this touched me deeply. This is exact­ly what I need­ed to hear (read) TODAY. This total­ly speaks to heart of my sit­u­a­tion, strug­gle with per­son­al bal­ance and need for a new solu­tion. Thank you for shar­ing your fab­u­lous insight. You are tru­ly chang­ing lives!!

  • Semora Smith wrote:

    I, too, appre­ci­ate this arti­cle. It helps to put things into per­spec­tive and to know when you must stop doing things just because or because some­one else is in need of it, and because that’s how you’ve always done them. It remind­ed me that I need to slow down and take care of myself — emo­tion­al­ly, phys­i­cal­ly, and mentally.

  • Thank you all for your kind com­ments. I’m glad it was of help to you on what­ev­er lev­el you expe­ri­enced its mean­ing — per­son­al, orga­ni­za­tion­al or some com­bi­na­tion of the two. Many best wish­es to you all!


  • […] Pause.Reflect.Refocus.ReigniteCall it a fun­da­men­tal “reset” of some kind, or a “breather” of major pro­por­tions, the point is that human beings are tired, con­fused, angry, anx­ious — and some­thing has to give. Thank you for the great read, Dan Oestreich. […]

  • […] I’ve read a lot of arti­cles ref­er­enc­ing Williams Bridges’ work on tran­si­tions recent­ly. Here’s anoth­er one: Pause – Reflect – Refo­cus – Reignite. […]

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