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Breaking the Chain – Emotional Alchemy by Tara Bennett-Goleman

Breaking the Chain – Emotional Alchemy by Tara Bennett-Goleman

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There’s a saying in New England, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” I had been wanting to ride my horse. Bodhi, but I kept putting it off for one reason or another. Then on a sparkling early spring morning, one of my first thoughts on awakening was, “I’m riding today!” I went downstairs to morning coffee, meditated, and then sat cozily in my sunroom, the doors open to the spring day, appreciating the crispness of the air and the warm golden sunlight filtering through the plants. I found myself reflecting on what Buddhists call the Chain of Dependent Origination – that is, the way our thoughts and desires lead us to action. I noticed how easy it was to be carried along by the pleasantness of the weather and how that had led to the desire to be outside, experiencing the day, on horseback. ï Then a gray cloud floated by, blocking the sun for a while. It wasn’t one of those wispy clouds you hardly notice, but the kind of heavy, dark storm cloud that so often creeps along and hovers over this neck of the woods just when we were looking forward to a warm, sunny day. With the appearance of this forbidding cloud, I noticed a radical shift in my outlook. As I became aware of the crisp air suddenly turning damp and cool and heard the whispering of the wind picking up, I noticed the stirrings of an unpleasant feeling and found thoughts of resistance floating through my mind: “Maybe it’s going to get too cold to ride,” “Maybe it will rain and get my saddle wet,” “I really should write this morning, anyway.”

Then the gray clouds started to break up; rays of warm light spilled across the plants, making them come to life again. Now, on second thought, I imagined those same rays of light warming my back and my horse prancing along, delighting in the magical display of spring blossoms. With that, the thought returned: “It’s a perfect day to ride.” And I ran off to get my riding boots.

And so it goes through the round of life. This tight connection between feeling, desire, and action keeps us chained to the cycle of conditioning. Without a moment’s notice of how we got there, we’re off – acting on a fleeting thought, a whim, dictated by one or another feeling of pleasantness or unpleasantness.

Repeating a self-defeating emotional habit carries an obvious cost. One of the brilliant insights of the Buddha was that the links of the chain between feeling, desire, and action offer a pathway on which to break free of the endless round of habit and conditioning – a kind of hidden door to freedom.

Breaking the Chain of Habit

The chain of Dependent Origination lies at the heart of Buddhist psychology. This ponderous-sounding analysis of mind articulates a simple principle: how our habitual patterns take shape and are reinforced. And it holds the secret of what we can do to break free of destructive habits.

The chain symbolizes the most basic cause-and-effect sequences in the mind in a way that offers remarkable parallels to modem cognitive science. The first links in the chain occur when the senses contact something – a sight, a sound, a taste. One link in the chain leads to another: From sensing comes to contact, which in turn leads to feeling. Our feelings, when pleasant, give rise to craving more and then to clinging to the experience. Out of clinging, we are led to action – usually the pursuit of more pleasure, or its obverse, the cessation of pain.

The Buddhist monk Achan Amaro describes how a feeling can turn into a desire – a “self-centered craving” – and how that desire then leads to grasping or clinging, and so to act. “If an interest arises, the mind latches on to it,” says Achan Amaro. “We see something that produces a feeling of ‘that’s beautiful,’ then the eye is attracted toward it and says ‘I wouldn’t mind having one of those,’ then the absorption goes further, to grasping: ‘Well, I really would like to have that, it’s a really beautiful thing.’ Then the decision to act on that, ‘Well, no one is looking….’”

Then, says Amaro, comes the thrill of getting what you want, which leads to “the point of no return – where, for instance, we realized, ‘Oh, dear, this wasn’t really mine to take,’ and there is no going back. Once that situation has been born, we have to live through the whole life span of its legacy, whatever that entails” – even if that means grief, sorrow, and despair.

Cognitive scientists, from their studies of the workings of the mind, have reported much the same sequence. They see sensation as leading to cognition – thought about what we sense – and to feel, our emotional reaction to it. These thoughts and feelings, in turn, translate into intentions and plans to take action.

Neuroscience offers a parallel at another level in its analysis of how the brain processes information. It tells us that whenever we sense something, that information goes immediately from eye or ear to the thalamus, a relay station that translates raw physical waves into the language of the brain. From there the information is shunted to the neocortex, the thinking brain, as well as to the amygdala, that storehouse for negative emotional memories, such as the things we fear. If the amygdala recognizes an emotionally potent stimulus similar to something we reacted strongly to in the past, it unleashes a flood of emotion and a fitting action.

The amygdala acts as a repository for our repertoire of negative emotional habits, including our schemas. All our intense fears of abandonment and rejection, of unlovability or failure, lurk like demons in hiding, ready to rise up and attack at a moment’s notice.

Our schemas are a screening system through which everything that happens to us must pass, like going through the security scanner in an airport. These emotional patterns spy on our lives, ever alert to anything that pertains to them, anything reminiscent of the focus of their fear or rage, or of the events that shaped them. If the schema gets a match, it immediately triggers whatever reaction we learned: we’re flooded with fear and rage, want to run, fight, or freeze, have panicked thoughts about being helpless and unjustly treated. Whatever the emotional habit, it plays itself out all over again.

Schema Triggers Throughout evolution the amygdala’s circuits have been crucial to survival in the face of threat, triggering an instantaneous reaction that increases the odds of eluding the threat. Our brain’s design primes the amygdala to react as though a threat were coming, even when the evidence is very slim. Better safe than sorry is the operating principle here.

But that can leave us sorry in another sense: our amygdala makes our schemas like hair triggers, ever ready to hurl us into an emotional reaction on sometimes questionable grounds. A schema reaction can be triggered by even mild cues – anything even subtly symbolic of what the schema reads as a threat can bring a rush of turmoil. A client tells me, for instance, that whenever her husband’s snoring keeps her awake at night, she finds herself in a rage: his snoring triggers her deprivation schema. “I feel that he just doesn’t care about my need for a good night’s sleep. I know rationally that he can’t help it, but somehow that doesn’t matter. I just feel he’s oblivious to my needs.”

It doesn’t matter that her reaction is illogical. The logic of the emotional brain, remember, operates through the rules of what Freud called primary process, where a mere resemblance or symbolic similarity gives two things the same identity, something like a hologram, where the least part stands for the whole. This means that a situation that is even vaguely reminiscent of those that created an emotional habit can act as a trigger.

For instance, some years ago I was called for jury duty. The juror’s form asked, “Is there any reason you feel that you would be unfit as a juror?” I wrote that a good friend had been unjustly arrested some years ago, which made me question the universal fairness of the criminal justice system.

Ten minutes later I was told, as were several other people, “You can go now.”

My reaction was an odd surge of relief and paranoia. Rationally, I knew I had probably been randomly selected to be sent home. But I couldn’t help feeling left out; I had the gnawing feeling that I had been judged as “not belonging” on a jury because of my answer. I started having memories of having moved around so often as a child, and frequently being the new kid in class, feeling excluded, not fitting in. As I left the room, I was the new kid all over again, longing to be accepted into the social circles of the kids who had known one another for years.

The Crucial Choice

Our emotional habits solidify around the repetition of a given sequence, from sensation to feel- ing to clinging to action. The unpleasant sensations we feel when a schema is triggered – say, the fear of abandonment when someone we care about seems to withdraw or reject us – leads us to try to calm our fears through maneuvers like a retaliatory withdrawal of our own.

In Buddhist psychology, such a habit is understood in terms of a cause-effect sequence: a stimulus (the rejection) triggers a specific feeling (fear), which in turn triggers a given action (withdrawal). Cognitive science understands habit in much the same terms. From the neuroscience perspective, emotional habit is stored in the amygdala and its extensions through a web of circuitry, where it grows stronger and stronger the more it repeats.

The force of such habits creates a kind of mental inertia – the classical terms are “sloth” and “torpor.” The stronger the habit becomes, the less able we are to break out of these ruts. The brain takes the easy path, following the same sequence from sensation to feeling to action, over and over, leaving us prisoners of our own mind, unable to break free.

But the Chain of Dependent Origination also holds the key to freedom from habit. This key can be found in the link that connects feeling and action: how we react emotionally to what we experience, and what we do next. That moment is pivotal: it offers us a crucial choice point.

“A thought arose during a sitting”

Lauren, one of my clients, told me. “I was feeling a distance from my boyfriend and having strong feelings that something had changed that would threaten our relationship. He’d been traveling, and we hadn’t been in touch much. Immediately after I had this heavy thought, my abandonment fears took over. So I just noted the surge of emotion. Sad feelings arose – fear and sorrow around loss. I decided just to be with these feelings. Tears came lightly, and I let them flow. Then the feelings started to subside.

“After I finished meditating, I went about my daily tasks, but a while later the fear and sadness came back. Again I just stayed with the feelings and the thoughts that we might be splitting up and I would be alone. I decided I needed to accept whatever was happening inside me, even if it was sad. Again the feelings waned but stayed faintly in the background of my awareness.

“I decided I needed to break out of my mental rut and do something invigorating, so I did some vigorous exercise for a while. Then I cleaned my office. As I did so, I felt a surge of energy. After a short time, I felt a subtle release of the background sadness – I could feel the grip of the schema loosening. There was a gentle lifting of the heaviness in my heart.

“Now I wasn’t so worried about our connection. I was able to accept however the connection was unfolding. I could see that acting from fear, as I have usually done, would make me reach out too anxiously to my boyfriend – something I knew would make him uneasy and actually push him away. It was far better to leave. things as they were, without anxiously dinging to him.

“I realize our relationship is somewhat like a trick candle a friend had on her birthday cake: no matter how much you blew it out, it would flare up once again. I knew in my heart that my relationship with my boyfriend was like that: even if there were periods when the connection seemed weak, it would always come back strong.”

My client’s ability to stay mindful of her fears, just watching the abandonment pattern blossom and then fade, exemplifies the point of craving on the Chain of Dependent Origination. There we have the all-important choice: to act on our impulses and emotions, or just to watch the thoughts and feelings as they bubble up and dissolve.

Even if we decide to act – to reach out when we fear abandonment – it’s better to wait until the desperate neediness passes. Then we have more choice and can be more flexible. And if we can stay with those feelings without acting on them, we further weaken the link between the feeling and the impulse to act.

The MagiC Quarter-Second * Benjamin Libet, a neurosurgeon, made a dramatic discovery that points to the power of breaking the chain – and suggests just why mindfulness can be such a powerful method of bringing intelligence to our emotional lives. Because the brain has no nerve endings – and so feels no pain – and because neurosurgeons need to be sure they have not inadvertently strayed into the wrong area of the brain, patients do not get a full anesthesia during brain surgery, but remain awake and aware. This allows them to speak or move a part of the body to let the surgeon know that all is well.

Taking advantage of this unusual opportunity. Dr. Libet did a simple experiment: He would ask patients during surgery to move their finger. He used an ingenious dock face that tracked time in thousandths of a second, allowing the patients to note the time with extraordinary accuracy. This way they could report the precise moment when they became aware of the urge to move the finger.

Meanwhile, Dr. Libet was also monitoring the electrical activity in the part of the patient’s brain that regulated the movement of the finger. This lets him see when the brain actually began an activity that would culminate in the movement. In short, it let him separate the moment of intent to move, from the moment of awareness of that intent, from the moment of actual action.

All this allowed the remarkable discovery that the part of the brain that regulates movement began its activity a quarter of a second before people became aware of the intent to move the finger. In other words, the brain begins to activate an impulse prior to the dawning in our awareness of the intent to make that very action.

Once the person is aware of the intent to move, Ubet discovered, there is another quarter-second before the movement begins. This window is crucial: it is the moment when we have the capacity to go along with the impulse or to reject it. The will, one could say, resides here, in this quarter-second. This window offers us the chance to break the chain instead of blindly following our impulse.

In an automatic, mindless sequence, the impulse to act flows into the action without any conscious consideration of whether we want to go along with it or not. At the root of every emotion is the urge to act; impulse is inherent in emotion. And more often than not, we act these emotional impulses out without a moment of consideration: we feel, and we act accordingly, without pausing to think about it. Anger translates into lashing out; fear into withdrawal; hurt into tears.

This is where mindfulness can be emotionally freeing: it brings an active awareness to our otherwise automatic emotional patterns, interposing a reflecting consciousness between emotional impulse and action. And that breaks the chain of emotional habit.

The power not tо act offers us a way to access that gap between intention and action, and to use the power of a veto to break the chain of habit. What ordinarily is an invisible chain of automatic sequences leading us onward through life comes onto the screen of awareness, suddenly giving us a choice point where before there was none. We do not have to go along with the impulse to act: we can just say no.

The most elementary example of how mindfulness gives us the power not to act on impulse is an itch: if you don’t think about it, you automatically scratch. But if you become mindful of the impulse before you act on it, then you have the option not to scratch – and if, say, you have a poison ivy rash, that decision not to scratch is a wise option. So with emotions.

If we are able to notice the impulses that follow from our fears – of abandonment and disconnection, of not belonging, of catastrophizing and the like – we have the same option not to act on them. By bringing mindfulness to bear, we are able to notice the very first automatic thought that lies behind the impulse to act. And that gives us the freedom to break the chain of unthinking reaction right there.

Mindfulness shifts our attention from being immersed in an emotional reaction – say, anger – to becoming aware of the relationship between our mental state and what it is perceiving. Rather than being lost in anger and all the thoughts and feelings that go with it, we can see that what we feel is anger.

If we let go of the content – the specifics of what has made us angry and what we’re going to do about it – and enlarge our awareness to encompass the entire process of anger, we can realize that this is anger. We can note the thoughts that go with it, can make a fine-grained observation of the mix of varied feeling that we lump under the broad label “anger,” and can sense the impulses in our body to act – the clenching of fists, the furrowing of brow, the tension in the throat.

But we don’t have to act on the anger. We now have the freedom to react or not. Though you do not have to act out the anger, you are not suppressing it. This is very different from repression, where you don’t want to know, or don’t let yourself know, that you are angry.

With mindfulness, the anger arrives firmly in your awareness. You know you’re really angry. You may even want to yell at someone, so you notice that, too. There is tension in your throat, and you notice the hateful thoughts flowing through your mind. In other words, you experience the anger as fully and meticulously as you can, in great detail – quite the opposite of repression.

You don’t suppress anger, but neither do you simply act from it. You now have the freedom to make a more skillful response. Perhaps you need to speak out firmly and assertively to point out an inequity or ask to be treated with fairness or thoughtfulness. But if you do it with mindfulness instead of out of rage, your response is likely to be more effective. You’re better able to correct the situation, to get heard, or to come to the resolution that you really want, rather than simply triggering an emotional hijack in the other person.

You can convert anger from a destructive emotion to constructive energy. As I once heard the Dalai Lama explain when we transform anger constructively, we are left with clarity about what needs to be done and intense energy to achieve our goals.

The Mindful Shift

Whenever our reaction to an emotionally charged situation emanates from a deeply ingrained habit, it narrows our freedom of choice at the moment. Even if that habitual reaction has shown itself to be ultimately self- defeating, resulting in the opposite of what we hoped for, we are doomed to repeat it – unless we can notice when it is about to capture us and dictate how we behave once again. That’s the power of shifting into a mindful awareness.

With that awareness you simply let thoughts and feelings come and go naturally as you observe them with steady attention. You neither react to those thoughts and feelings nor judge them in any way. You simply observe them with equanimity. This observing awareness changes our relationship to the thoughts and feelings. We aren’t caught up in them or actively compounding them; we simply remain a witness to them.

For example, Lauren was prone to acute fears of abandonment, a reaction that could be triggered by the slightest sign that her boyfriend was losing interest in her. An unreturned phone call could send her into a fit of imagined scenarios, all revolving around his abandoning her: that he was having an affair, that he no longer found her attractive, that he was bored with her – without the slightest shred of evidence that any such thing was happening.

One day when she was obviously agitated, I urged her to describe the sensations she felt.

“I feel a quivering wash over my body, very unpleasant,” Lauren reported. “A strong feeling of tearfulness seems to be feeding the quivering. It’s hard to keep my attention on it – my mind would rather be distracted by something else.”

I urged her to stay with the feelings, to let her attention rest there and ride the choppy waves of the sensations.

“My awareness wants to leap off – it feels like it’s being creamed by waves of intensity.”

But keeping her mindfulness steady, Lauren stayed with the swells of the sensations, like a small boat rising and bobbing along with the rhythm of the water moving beneath it. A warm feeling seeped through her body – and her mind – as she drew comfort from the steady awareness. With that comfort, warmth spread through her abdomen, calming the waves of fear and agitation. Her breathing slowed; her fear dissolved.

Along with that shift in her physical feelings came one in her mind. Rather than being afraid she would be abandoned, her spontaneous thought was “I’m free!” With that, a connected thought popped into her head: “It’s okay to be left alone. I’ll be fine.” She said she sensed a reassuring inner connection that extended beyond the limiting sense of looming abandonment that her fears had been holding in place. As the fears – and the tightness in her body – softened, she had a new view of herself: What fear? Who was it that was afraid just moments ago? Where did the worried thoughts of disconnection and abandonment go?

Mindful awareness has this great capacity to free us from the self-imposed limitations of our fears and thoughts. This freedom through mindfulness does not come all at once, of course; it takes cultivating the ability of the mind to sustain unwavering attention on the entire spectrum of feelings, pleasant as well as unpleasant. Lauren had been practicing mindfulness for several months by the time she applied it so successfully to her abandonment fears. If we put the effort into cultivating mindfulness, it gives us access to a set of remarkably beneficial qualities of mind.

Short-Circuiting Habitual Reactions in a sense. a habitual emotional reaction is akin to an itch, and an itch is a microcosm of desire. Try this sometime: When some desire arises, don’t act on it, but just mindfully watch the tendency to take action and fulfill the desire. Simply be aware of that desire. like an itch, desires will eventually fade.

You can do the same with examining the motivation behind your desire for something. See where the desire is coming from. Be aware of the motivation; notice, for example, if this desire springs from clinging or selflessness – from something you want for yourself or something you want mainly for someone else. Be aware, too, of any discomfort or distress that may be arising from your failure to act on the desire. Allow yourself to be okay with not getting what you want.

As you maintain this equanimity, see how the nature of the desired changes. Does it get stronger? Weaker? Do you feel that you’ll be fine even if you don’t get it? Do you still want what you thought you wanted?

Then, if it’s not harmful, allow yourself the choice of acting on the desire. If you do so, stay mindful. Often a desire will change or wane if you observe it mindfully. After a while, it doesn’t have the same force, or it gives us less pleasure than we anticipated. The sense of grasping grows weaker as a lightness grows stronger. We can more easily see the nature of desire – and- we may find that fewer desires need to be acted out.

That same strategy applies to handle the impulse to react when a schema is triggered. Once, while a client was on a meditation retreat, a friend of hers who was also on retreat did something my client felt was insensitive. This insensitive act came soon after my client had done something very caring for this friend. The client had been on the retreat for some time, so she was able to bring mindfulness to the familiar feeling the incident evoked: the notion that no one cared about her needs and that she was always putting them aside to satisfy the needs of others.

Her mind, after weeks of intensive mindfulness, was buoyant and flexible. She immediately focused her attention on her reactions, observing them meticulously. She felt a constriction in her heart and some sadness, followed by hurt and disappointment. Then came the thought, “No one cares about me,” accompanied by an angry impulse to hurt her friend’s feelings by ignoring her. She stayed with this mix of reactions and feelings for a few long moments and was surprised to find herself moved to tears by the familiar sadness of feeling no one cared about her.

Then, in a moment, it was gone. The constricted sadness, the disappointment and hurt, the impulse to pull away. It had all come up, as it had done many times before. But this time she didn’t let the reactions control her. She had used mindfulness to break the chain of thought-feeling-impulse. And with the breaking of the chain, something new emerged.

She didn’t go through the long round of bitterness, self-pity, and sadness that she usually endured when her deprivation schema was triggered. Instead, now that she had been able to short-circuit her reaction, there was more space in her mind to consider other possibilities. Her next thought was a charitable one: maybe my friend wasn’t aware of what she was doing – or didn’t mean to hurt my feelings.

The whole reaction, from beginning to end, had taken just a few minutes. This is how a precise awareness can cut through even such strong habitual emotional reactions. When strong feelings are stirring, if we allow ourselves to feel them directly, just being with them instead of acting from them, they change. The key is to focus on them completely, without avoiding or resisting, without dinging or identifying – just being with them as they are, without judgment or blame.

Such a clean and direct cutting of the chain of habit will not happen right away; my client had been in an intensive retreat, strengthening her mindfulness to a high degree. But to the extent that we can muster a mindful stance while having a schema reaction, we will be able to weaken its power over us.

That pause between impulse and action offers a way to break the chain of habit. As Achan Amaro puts it, “If we can just live at the level of feeling, where we are mindfully responding to pleasure and pain, attraction and aversion, not just acting on desire, then we can live in a content, harmonious way.”

Choosing Freedom 

In general, when we have a strong, intensely disturbing feeling about something – especially when the disturbance is out of proportion to what is happening – it’s a signal that a blind emotional habit, more than likely a schema, is being triggered. Such feelings represent a moment of choice: we can let the reaction take us over in a trance of habit, or we can pay full attention to what’s going on, getting even more in touch with the discomfort and with whatever painful or even desperate feelings lie beneath it.

But if instead of examining the feeling with mindfulness, we simply act on it, then we reinforce the schema. That’s what kept happening with Lauren, who has always been attracted to men who were sometimes warm and intimate but then drew back into emotional aloofness. Whenever she felt them draw away, Lauren would work herself into a frenzy wondering what she might have done to drive them away and trying to connect with them once again. The frenzy might be triggered by something as seemingly trivial as her boyfriend sounding too businesslike during a phone call.

I pointed out to Lauren that her frenzied attempts to reconnect were a way to avoid experiencing the painful fear of loss. The very fact that her feelings were so intense meant that there was a schema at play. But Lauren was distracting herself from learning more about what was involved in this emotional pattern through her desperate fixation on trying to save and repair the relationship, which was probably endangered only in her mind.

Such moments of intensity are an opportunity to learn, and to release the intensity itself. If you choose to confront the emotional habit – to become more attentive to the mix of racing thoughts and upsetting feelings instead of simply letting them propel you into action – a progression typically ensues that ends with the feelings just washing through you instead of controlling you. At first, as you turn your awareness to the experience itself, the feelings are likely to become even more intense and uncomfortable.

But if you stay with those feelings, they gradually diminish, becoming more bearable. Then, if you sustain your focus and rest in it as your mind goes through its changes, psychological insight into the nature of the schema will often arise out of the confusion. When Lauren did this, for example, she realized that she gravitated to friendships with people – both men and women – who were ungiving and cold, and so triggered this schema over and over. She found herself reviewing her key relationships – a string of boyfriends, several of her closest friends – and realized they all shared the emotional distance she had always felt from her own mother.

The next step for Lauren, after this insight, was to change her own responses in those relationships – not just to calm her emotional reactions but also to try to change how others treated her. Once she was no longer in the grip other feelings of deprivation, for instance, she resolved to express her need for emotional connection. And rather than doing it in a clinging way, she tried to be light, even playful, about it.

As we make these connections about the schema – why it has such a powerful hold over us and what we can do about it – these insights will lessen the power of that hold. It’s as if the schema knows we’re not afraid to feel it anymore and so gradually loosens its grip and fades from our mind – and our life. The next time it arises we’re more familiar with it and more aware of what is actually going on, so we can see with greater clarity how the schema operates.

We know we don’t have to be so afraid to experience the full force of the feelings that go with it, don’t have to believe the accompanying thoughts, and don’t have to compulsively enact the scenario it urges us to go through yet again. We’re not as afraid to face all this because we’ve done it before and feel stronger now – the schema is more transparent, and we feel a little clearer, even wiser, about our emotional life.

If you want to Break the Chain of Habit

I try to tune in to the magic quarter-second – the gap between intention and action – by refining your awareness so that you can direct a mindful precision to become aware of your intentions. One way to cultivate this quality of attentive precision is through a subtle observation of the movements in walking meditation.

This can be done using the walking meditation instructions at the end of Chapter 3, but with a key change: bring mindfulness to the moment of intention. Before each step, before every turn, the mind forms an intention to make a movement. Mindfulness brings that moment – that quarter-second – into awareness.

Follow the instructions for the walking meditation on page 51. But in the lifting, moving, placing of each foot, be aware of the moment of intention before you make mat movement. For example, as you turn to walk in another direction, focus your full attention on the intention to turn and then, after turning, on your intention to swing your foot forward. Before you stop, notice your intention to stop.

You can practice this very direct experience of observing intention in any other situation – even with your emotional reactions. Try practicing during the day to see how many moments of intention you can catch in that quarter-second before an action. For instance, if someone does something that annoys you, pause and bring awareness to your intentions before you make an overt response. Notice what your impulse is, what you feel like doing – perhaps making a curt or angry response. As you pause, consider other responses you might make – maybe a more direct communication about what you would prefer the person do differently.

It’s amazing how quickly the brain can process information – a lot can fit into that quarter-second. As you practice, that pause can get longer. One person who tried this told me, “I didn’t realize I had so much time in that quarter-second before I react!” Another said, “I’m catching more quarter-seconds in my life!”