“Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame.” —- Benjamin Franklin
Have you ever said or did something in the heat of the moment that you later regretted?
What if all it took to avoid this, was to pause for just a few seconds?
That’s the big idea.
Raw, pure, unadulterated emotion is not usually the source of your better decisions.
You can go beyond the emotion to rational thought, if you simply hit the pause button in real-time and give yourself a chance to subdue your amygdala, otherwise known as your lizard brain.
It’s the old count-to-10 trick, but there’s a better way: Take a breath.
In the book, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, Peter Bregman shows us how we can slow down enough so we can respond vs. react to situations, so we can stay calm, cool, and collected.
The Quiet Internal Battle
The amygdala (our lizard brain) and our prefrontal cortex (the smart part) are fighting over who calls the shots on your next move.
“It turn out that while there’s a war going on between you and someone else, there’s another war going on in your brain between you and yourself. And that quiet internal battle is your prefrontal cortex trying to subdue your amygdala.
Think of the amygdala as the little red person in your head with the pitchfork saying, ‘I vote we clobber the guy!’ and think of the prefrontal cortex as the little person dressed in white telling you, ‘Um, maybe it’s not such a great idea to yell back. I mean, he is our client after all.’”
Pause. Breathe. Then Act.
What’s the solution? Take a breathe.
“’The key is cognitive control of the amygdala by the prefrontal cortex,’ Dr. Gordon told me. So I asked him how we could help our prefrontal cortex win the war. He paused for a minute and then answered, ‘If you take a breath and delay your action, you give the prefrontal cortex time to control the emotional response.’
Why a breath? ‘Slowing down your breath has a direct calming effect on your brain.’”
It Only Take a Few Seconds
How Long Do We Have to Stall? Just a few seconds.
“’How long do we have to stall?’ I asked. ‘How much time does our prefrontal cortex need to overcome our amygdala?’
‘Not long. A second or two.’
A few seconds. That’s all we need. To intentionally choose the direction we want to move. To keep ourselves on track once we’ve started to move. And to periodically notice whether — after some time has passed — we’re still moving in that right direction.”
What’s your next move?
Take a breath before you answer that.
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Image by Yaniv Golin.