“Take a walk with a turtle. And behold the world in pause.” said Bruce Feiler, Author and Television Personality.

I take a walk with a turtle. I behold the world in pause. 

I look up at the blue skies, fascinated as the clouds roll by. Transfixed in a moment of stillness. A pause. 

Stepping away from the shadow of my thoughts, I hear birds whistling in the distance. 

I step away from the fear of moments ago. I feel the pavement beneath my feet. My gaze continues to sweep upward, drawn into the vast openness of the sky. I take a six second pause.

The pause brings me much needed stillness in a world in chaos. I feel calm in distancing myself from the pain of moments ago. The painful feeling of excessive stress. Solving difficult problems. Remembering a difficult conversation. A pause. A reprieve. A six second pause. Three breaths in, Three breaths out. I sense an opening. I feel less cluttered. I gain previously elusive glimpses of a broader perspective. 

The six second pause interrupts the Amygdala hijack (Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, 1996) visceral moment of fight, flight or freeze. The Amygdala is an almond shaped structure in our brain that controls and triggers the impulse to protect. These impulse moments can lead to stress and uncertainty. In such moments, the hijack experience leads to irrational and potentially unfortunate destructive reactions to perceived threats to our safety and security, particularly on an emotional level.

Lewis Carroll, Writer and Mathematician said: “There comes a pause, for human strength will not endure to dance without cessation; and everyone must reach the point at length of absolute prostration.”

The art and science of six seconds lies in the mindful attention to the sensation and movement of our inner and outer breath. When we focus on our breath, we tend to mindfully take deeper breaths. In doing so, we bring our bodies and minds to the present. While in the present, we set aside regrets of the past and worry of the future. For in those six precious seconds, attention is focused on the breath. The breath gives us a sense of calm, purpose and intuition to have space to emphatically influence our conscious mind to shift from impulse to insight.

I have noticed that when I face difficult decisions, situations and people, my body signals me with discomfort, often a heavy pain in my chest.  My breath catches in my throat. I hold my breath. I feel a nervous response about to burst out of my vocal chords. When I remember to take a three second breath in, three second breath out, I am calmer. I notice my perspective, in mere seconds, shift from reacting with anger, contempt, blame or other negative emotion, to responding with deeper insight and intention. And, yes, this is a constant, constant, constant practice.

I would much prefer to have the presence of mind to take a mental step back from a situation before speaking or writing. I recall ranting in anger or sending (and receiving) unfortunate email rants!

In an amygdala hijack moment, notice the fear. Acknowledge the fear. Take just six seconds before taking action. In those six seconds, there’s a golden opportunity. An opportunity to check in on our intentions, to check in on what responses we want to evoke from others.

Tips to Taking a Six Second Pause:

  1. Clarify your assumptions. Assumptions are most dangerous when left unchecked. Imagine you are in the process of writing a scathing text message to a person who is seemingly late for an appointment. Seemingly.… Just as you begin typing, you feel a visceral sense of discomfort, perhaps a flutter or tension in your shoulders. Take those few breaths in and out. You’ll feel calmer. You may look at the time and notice it’s earlier than you thought, the time was different than you remembered. You may even remember the call was delayed. Take the time to check your assumptions and set your intentions.
  2. Expand your beliefs. Beliefs are judgements and convictions that support, ground or limit us when held on too closely. Suppose you are presented with a belief that feels foreign to you. It may be a belief that triggers an emotional response. You may feel challenged, upset and angered. You take a few breaths in and out. You may find that this foreign belief is actually a perspective that you have yet to explore. In the exploration, you give yourself and others an opportunity to expand their thoughts and your perspective. Expanding your beliefs opens your world to diverse perspectives.
  3. Appreciate yours and others’ values. Values represent our core essence, they are what we consider most important to us. Quite often, we may not be consciously aware of our values let alone other’s values. Appreciating our values serves to provide an inner compass to being true to our essential nature. Appreciating other’s values helps us to connect into deeper relationship.
  4. Suspend your knowing. As a lifetime learner, I have faced many a quandary when the part of me that is knowledgable and knowing … faces the part of me that is curious. When triggered by a thought, conversation or situation that has you feeling that you already know the answer, ask a curious question instead. In those three seconds in, suspend judgement; in those three seconds out get curious. Ask and you may be pleasantly surprised with what you don’t know. You don’t know what you don’t know, after all!!
  5. Ask yourself, Why? My ‘Go to’ strategy when faced with an Amygdala hijack is to check in on the overall objective by asking myself: Why? What’s the purpose, objective, goal? When questions truly do not have a right or wrong answer, the power lies more in the questions than the answers.

The six second pause is a powerful strategy for overcoming an Amygdala hijack moment. This strategy is particularly helpful when the invisible forces of unexpressed emotions, assumptions, beliefs and values have the potential to hijack relationships, decisions and progress. In taking six short seconds, we behold the benefits of being conscious, intentional and present to the bigger opportunities in life.

IN …. one….. two ….. three.  OUT …. one….. two ….. three.




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