I was a girl from Brooklyn, so I heard about crime, but what did I know about police lineups? At fourteen years old, I entered the local precinct to find out. Not by choice, of course, but because I was the ideal witness to identify two suspected muggers. I was one of their victims.

An officer briefed me on the procedure, describing how I would see the suspect, along with several fillers who resembled the suspect in height, build and complexion. Standing behind a one-way mirror, I was to study them all and identify the assaulter. I had a microphone, for the option of calling one of them by number and requesting that they turn to profile for better view. I would then sign a document that would be admissible in court. How daunting.

I was the ideal witness to identify two suspected muggers. I was one of their victimsNoting my apprehension, a nearby officer whispered some words of advice.

“Give yourself time to positively identify the suspect. If your attacker was wearing a cap and an oversized T-shirt at the time of the crime, you are likely to assume that the first person you see wearing a cap and an oversized T-shirt is him. Your brain has automatic associations and initial instincts over which you have no control over, but must be wary of. You can say, ‘Number One looks familiar,’ but leave yourself an opening to ponder for a few minutes and possibly change your mind to ‘In reality, I am sure it is Number Five.’”

With that, I was led to a narrow hallway to look through the one-way-mirror and begin. I needed a stool to see properly, and I couldn’t comprehend how they managed to find characters willing to participate in this law-enforcement method.

My eyes landed on the second subject, and the thought immediately arose in my brain that it was him. I even imagined that I could detect guilt and fear in his eyes. However, I refrained from giving a verdict, and I said with a tremor in my voice, “Number Two looks familiar.”

I paused and looked again. Like a camera coming into focus, I started seeing features and details that I hadn’t noticed previously. I narrowed it down to two people, and I asked Number Four to turn his head to the right and then to the left. I became certain it was him.

I was confident that my initial response was wrong. After pausing for 60 seconds, this time there was self-assuredness in my declaration, “Number Four was the perpetrator of the crime.”

I wonder how my life would look if I applied this advice to all of my affairs. Imagine that I paused for one second after an initial response, to double-check that my decision wasn’t based on associations or previous history. To give myself an opening to choose better.

I started seeing features and details that I hadn’t noticed previouslySay I was facing a task I always avoided. My initial response to such a task would be escape. “Good night, world! I’m going to sleep!” or “I can’t handle this!” I have the liberty to question my initial response. Pause. I am definitely capable of breaking down this chore and accomplishing it in part.

I could be a person who gets triggered by certain people. I can’t stand it when X interrupts me, Y forgets about me, or Z comes late again. My initial response may be to fall back on old patterns of yelling, resentment, or going off on a tirade against them. I may even voice my initial response. But that shouldn’t force me to stubbornly cling to it. Pause. I have the option of backing out.

Psychology refers to the first instinctive thoughts as ANTs, Automatic Negative Thoughts. The Alter Rebbe, in his book Tanya, refers to them as thoughts which arise of their own accord.

In chapter 12 of Tanya, the Alter Rebbe introduces the concept that every human being has thoughts which arise automatically, based on a person’s temperament or past habits and thought patterns. These thoughts, he explains, may be wrong or misled, but they do not qualify someone as an evil person, because they are natural. It is up to us to take that crucial pause, to decide whether to dwell on that thought or to consciously choose to think something else.

For example, if someone has wronged you, you are likely to think angry thoughts, or thoughts of retaliation. Those thoughts arise of their own accord from the heart to the brain. You can choose to act on your initial response, or to ponder for a few minutes and analyze what is the proper way to react.

It is up to us to take that crucial pauseI learned something important that day in the police station. I could have easily made the mistake of giving my verdict on Number Two, because in truth he did bear some resemblance to Number Four. But when it comes to deciding which person, or thought for that matter, is the culprit, it pays for the initial response to allow for a second opinion. It pays to pause and eavesdrop on the truths rising from within.

Turns out, that after careful deliberations, I hit on the right person. All seven people mugged zeroed in on the same target.