The Dramatic Pause : Sometimes, You Gotta Let It Simmer

Basking in the Moonlight

Effort is overrated. Have you ever noticed someone putting forth tremendous effort to improve a situation yet still failing to advance? It’s easy to believe that failure is a result of not enough effort, however, sometimes failure is a result of too much effort or a lack of understanding regarding how things “work.”

If you’re unable to improve a situation that seems to be getting progressively worse, perhaps you don’t fully understand how it works or how your efforts impact the outcome. Try pausing. Just stop. We can learn a lot about pausing from great creatives; the writers and their white spaces, the artists with their use of negative space, the entertainers and their dramatic pauses. Michael Jackson referred to it as “simmering” or bathing in the moonlight.


“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats

One of the 11 truths of systems thinking, identified by Peter Senge, is “The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back.” In other words, the more you try to improve things, the more effort seems to be required, and the worse things can become. This is called compensating feedback. According to Senge, compensating feedback occurs when “well-intentioned interventions call forth responses from the system that offset the benefits of the intervention.”

Here’s an example of compensating feedback: Quit smoking suddenly–> Gain weight –>Decreased self-esteem.–> Increase smoking to relieve the stress –> Rinse, repeat


Instead of forcing more action, try stopping. Pause, step back and observe the situation before trying to enforce change. Develop the confidence to observe what happens without additional effort. Pausing will help you to sharpen your senses, learn something new, identify bottlenecks & barriers to change, discover new approaches, recognize the point of intervention (ex: managing stress vs. quitting smoking), or even experience some magic. So slow down. Maybe even stop. For maximum and lasting impact, a slow, gradual approach works better than a forceful or toilsome effort. Let go and let it flow.

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