The S.T.O.P. Practice: Creating Space Around Automatic Reactions

Rhonda Magee takes us through this simple portable mindfulness practice she uses to find calm when difficult moments arise.

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Four-Minute STOP Practice from Rhonda Magee

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This “portable” mindfulness practice can support you as difficult moments arise at any point in your day. The four steps of the STOP practice can take as little as a few seconds to a few minutes to complete. Try it out and see how long you prefer doing each step.


To begin, the “S” stands simply for stop. Literally. Just stop what you’re doing, whether it is typing or rushing out the door. Give yourself a moment to come to rest, pause, and collect yourself. 


The “T” stands for take a conscious breath. Now that you’ve paused, take a deeper breath, or two, allowing yourself to feel the expansion of the belly as you breathe deeply. Notice the sensations of being here, now. As you do so, it may help to bring your attention to the sensations of your feet meeting the floor. Feel the support of the ground and of your own relaxing breath as you do so.


The “O,” stands for observe what’s arising in you, including any thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations (such as tension, butterflies, tightness in the jawline). Broaden your awareness to take in the circumstances. Notice how you can be in this situation without being ruled by it. For added support, offer self-compassion as you release tension and stressful thoughts. As you calm down, open to the choices you have in terms of how best to move forward from here. 


Finally, the “P” reminds you to simply proceed with intentionality, taking the next step in your day from this place of strength, wisdom, and presence. 

Master the Moment with the Four-Minute STOP Practice from Rhonda Magee

The STOP practice can help whenever you’re feeling distress, creating space to observe and tame your feelings, and to access the deeper resources within you. It helps you develop the emotional intelligence and psychological flexibility required for greater mastery over the challenging moments.

There will be days when the STOP practice saves you. It is especially helpful if you need support to move through intense feelings so that you can note them and set them aside for the moment, with the intention of reflecting on them more deeply later. During a recent interview, I guided the questioner through the practice after I found myself sharing with her a recent incident of racial violence that she had not yet heard about. Afterward, we both got back on track with greater groundedness.

As we practice the STOP with others, we look deeply within while allowing space to be present with the other. We listen without becoming triggered by holding on to words tightly. We learn to be present to emotions, in ourselves and in others, without reactive judgment. With this practice, we remain close to our experience as we stay engaged. We get granular and we move from one moment to the next with awareness. We breathe in and out of that awareness, and after completing the practice, invite reflection on the incident as a whole, which can promote even further growth. 

Reactivity is part of what it means to be a human being. The question is this: How do we meet our reactivity without judgment, and with the intention of transforming it into effective responsiveness in our everyday lives? 

We do it by practicing mindfulness as if our very lives depended on it, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says. Because in a very real sense, they do. More and more, our lives depend on our capacity for deep engagement with socially distant others. Engaging in conversations like these is difficult. The capacity to be lovingly engaged but not attached to particular outcomes, to keep coming back for more, to see the wholeness that can handle this moment of illusory disconnect, that one, and the next, is a complete and deep mindfulness practice in and of itself.