In her book A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor says that an emotion lasts only 90 seconds. She contends that if it lasts longer than that, we have added some personal story to it and chosen to let that brain circuit continue to run. In short, what happens as a result of that emotion depends largely on whether we engage with our internal mechanisms – or not.

My six year old daughter walked into the lounge with a large wad of printer paper stating she had run out of paper for drawing.

[Enter 1st stage – Anticipation.]

I asked her where she found that paper, hoping she would say that she had found them in her room.
She replied; “In your office”.

[Enter 2nd stage – Anger]

My smile departed just as swiftly the 300 or so sheets of creased paper in her young hands had left my office from where I’d prefer it all would have remained.

[Enter 3rd stage – Slight Disgust]

My automatic, abrupt reply not pausing for 90-seconds was; “I don’t want you to take anything from my office without asking me first!”

As I said it, [Enter 4th stage – Sadness] I saw her proud face dissolve and I experienced a feeling of guilt.
Reflecting on this, if we allow ourselves to fully experience the moment- tune in to the emotion, stay with it for those 90 seconds and give ourselves the time and space to choose how we are going to respond, we can gain an incredible amount of personal freedom.

[Beginning of the potential for #5 – Happiness]

We are able to connect to the other person and decide which way to manage whatever experience we are dealing with. It may still be painful, however, now we can make the wisest choice for ourselves with a better effect on the other. The trick to this, is to identify what is going on for us in those 90 seconds and see whether we wish to play along or not.

How might I have spent those 90 seconds?

  • Was I frustrated from a day of noise in the house? Yes.
  • Was I annoyed that I hadn’t had some time for myself and feeling overwhelmed? Yes.
  • Was I hurt that she entered my office without my permission? Maybe.
  • Might I have been irritated by the fact she took and ruined way too many sheets of perfectly clean expensive paper rather than the few she actually needed?
  • Did this trigger my hate for waste as I try to practise thriftiness? Ah-ha.
  • Was I a bit glad she knew how to solve her own problem by finding paper she needed without needing to ask me and therefore demonstrating some autonomy which I try to encourage wherever possible? – Hadn’t really thought how good that actually is until I reflected on this later.

In my work as a consultant and therapist, in coaching leaders (and in this significant parenting moments) I can see the power in giving ourselves the choice to respond rather than react to our emotions and the situations we face on a daily basis.

Time and time again, this mindfulness allows for better outcomes. As a human being, aka mistake maker, I also mess this up. However, I am getting better at the pause – every day as I practice. As a result of this awareness, I’m also learning to recognise my failings and make amends much faster.

I wish I had learnt about these strategies of being aware sooner. This is why we are teaching these life skills to children and youth through our LifeLab program. We believe that when our children of today learn to respond rather than react, tomorrow’s adults will shape a more tolerant world.