Four Seconds Can Help You Be Your Best Self

Posted on March 23, 2015 by VITAL WorkLife

Updated February 24, 2021

ClockPeter Bregman's book, titled “Four Seconds,” really resonated with me. It’s rare to come across advice so simple and yet so powerful that it can be implemented immediately – and have a positive effect in all areas of one’s life.

The irony in his message is to more effectively manage the mind-bending barrage of warp-speed stimuli we receive every day – in nonstop meetings, in text messages, chats, emails and in the sheer amount of information available at our fingertips – we must force ourselves to slow down and be more mindful and intentional about where we focus our attention; how we process and act upon all of that stimuli.

The first step is self-awareness and self-discipline at the most primal, personal level. While we are wired to react – fast! – to stimuli, and especially to perceived threats, Bregman encourages us to slow down and override our natural tendency to protect ourselves, or to weigh in, or to make a judgment. We are encouraged to take those four seconds to short-circuit our built-in reflexes. To let there be dead air. To sit with uncomfortable feelings and acknowledge them to ourselves and to others. To really listen, ask questions and process information before rushing to judgment and action. And, perhaps the most difficult, to sometimes do nothing at all.

I think this can be particularly challenging in a climate where organizations are striving to be faster, smarter, leaner – all worthy goals. The key to achieving these goals is to selectively focus our attention where we will reap the greatest rewards and to actually slow down, which can feel counter-intuitive. Learning to intentionally focus our brains takes time and discipline, but is well worth the effort. As Dr. Amit Sood of the Mayo Clinic notes, our brains operate in two functional modes: “a focused mode of undistracted presence and a default mode of mind wandering.” In order to function at our highest levels – and to help our families and organizations function at their highest levels – we must learn to focus on the things to help us reach our collective goals, not add to the noise and chaos that surrounds us.

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