The Critical 10-Second Gap Between Thought and Action

The 10 seconds between thinking about taking an action and actually taking it can be life-altering.

That space between idea and implementation is one of the most precious segments of time you will encounter in your life. When you become aware of the power in that space, you can use it to your advantage for the rest of your life.

Sometimes your idea and the subsequent action creates  immediate, life-changing results. For example, you're mad at your boss and want to quit your job. So you say, “I quit.” And now you have no job. That's immediately life-changing.

Other times these thoughts and actions create more insidious, accumulated change. You think, “I want a bowl of ice cream,” and the next thing your know, you're scarfing down a pint of Rocky Road. If you do this enough, you're going down the rocky road to getting fat.

These smaller thoughts and actions actually can be more dangerous than the big ones.

In the moment, it doesn't appear you have much to lose. What's one bowl of ice cream in the scheme of things? Whereas, with the big actions, most people have an internal security guard preventing them from jumping off a cliff when they feel the urge or screaming, “I quit” to their boss when the words are begging to leap off their lips.

But whether a decision is big or small, whether you've been pondering it for 10 months, 10 days, or 10 minutes — it all comes down to the 10 or so seconds before taking action on your decision. Those 10 seconds can be the lifeline saving you from something harmful or the slingshot propelling you toward something wonderful.

So that begs the question, what can you do in 10 seconds to really impact whether or not you're making the right decision? More than you might expect.

The Big Actions

Most of us take action on big decisions months or even years after the idea occurs to us.

  • I want to marry this person.
  • I want to take that job.
  • I want to change careers.
  • I want to go back to school.
  • I want to move to a different city.

It's quite rare that we think one of these big thoughts and then take action on it seconds later. We spend a long time pondering these decisions, doing research, observing, and measuring the pros and cons well before D-Day. When it comes to 10 seconds of time before taking action, we arrive at that point with a lot of information and a certain level of certainty.

But . . .

It is equally rare that we arrive at the 10 second gap of these decisions feeling 100% certain regarding the action we're about to take. There's almost always some small level of doubt, and if there isn't, there should be. Because we don't know what we don't know. There are scenarios in the future that are impossible to predict.

So how can you use these final few seconds to your advantage?

If you've truly done your due diligence, weighed the pros and cons, listened to your intuition, and after lengthy consideration come down on the side of taking action, you've come as close as you are going to get to certainty. Nothing short of actually living it will provide any more security or certainty that you've made the best choice.

If you've done all of the work ahead of time, then pondering the choice any further will only delay the inevitable  or keep you stuck forever.

The best thing you can do with those 10 seconds is jump into the decision headfirst with unabashed optimism and joy. Use those few seconds to reinforce yourself, acknowledge your good judgment, and envision the best possible outcome for your decision. Then just do it!

The Small Daily Actions

These are the situations where the 10 seconds become invaluable.

Every day we have hundreds of thoughts, make hundreds of decisions, and take hundreds of actions on those decisions. Most of these actions are habitual and innocuous. But many of them are unhealthy, ill-conceived, emotionally-driven, or impulsive.

  • We get mad, so we say something cruel and hurtful.
  • We want to feel powerful, so we share the salacious gossip.
  • We want to feel loved, so we become intimate too quickly.
  • We want approval from others, so we say yes when we mean no.
  • We don't want to look bad, so well tell a lie.
  • We feel nervous or stressed, so we have one too many cocktails.
  • We feel overwhelmed, so we lash out at our spouse or children.

But before you say something you'll regret; eat something you'll feel bad about; open your mouth to spread gossip; take off your clothes; say yes when you mean no; tell that lie; pour that second gin and tonic; or speak rudely to your loved ones — before you do any of these things, wait 10 seconds and then follow the 5 + 5 strategy.

The 5 + 5 strategy involves 5 actions and 5 minutes.

After you wait 10 seconds, do the following 5 things . . .

  1. Close your eyes and breathe deeply two times.
  2. Ask yourself if the action you are about to take reflects who you want to be and your highest values.
  3. Ask yourself if the action will serve your greater good.
  4. Ask yourself if your action will support and uplift the other person.
  5. Ask yourself if your action contributes to your overall health and well-being.

Then, if the answer is no to any of these questions, give yourself permission to wait 5 minutes.

If you are in a heated situation, step away from the other person to be alone for five minutes.

If you have your hand on the refrigerator, go to another room for five minutes.

If you are about to take off your clothes, go to the bathroom for five minutes.

If you are about to pour a drink, get a glass of water and walk away for five minutes.

Five minutes will give you enough time to calm yourself, interrupt a reactive decision and think through possible alternatives that are aligned with your values. Five minutes is enough time to review those questions again to reinforce why you don't want to follow through on your idea.

Here's a tip: almost any decision made while you are inebriated, angry, tired, or in some intense emotional state should be subjected to the 5-minute waiting period.

When you feel yourself rushing headlong into a decision, remember the critical 10 second gap. It won't hurt you to pause 10 seconds. Force yourself to wait, and follow the 5 actions listed above. If you don't think you can remember the 5 actions, write them down and keep them in your purse or wallet or post them in your house.

If you answer no to one or more of the questions, require yourself to take a 5 minute break to reflect on the best course of action. This technique won't always prevent you from misguided actions, but with practice, it will allow you to make better choices and prevent you from doing many things that you will later regret.

Please give it a try and let us know how it works for you!

Comments

  1. When I read this, I kept thinking about the seconds between thoughts and feelings. How are feelings react in less than a second and how it takes some work to get our thoughts to come on board. Separating our thoughts from our reactions/emotions can help us make decisions that we can live with.

  2. This is what called “Emotional Intelligence” which gives you the ability to analyze the state of your mind “angry,sad,happy”, so that you cannot be affected by your emotions to make a decision.

  3. Jon Sollie says:

    Hey Barrie!

    It would be so great if we could instill this sage advice in our children…before
    they grow up and become politicians ! 🙂

    Best,

    Jon

  4. Such good advice here, Barrie.

    I love your five minute strategy. I know I can get so squeezed that it’s hard to keep myself from going on autopilot. I try to give myself opportunities to remain aware of what I’m feeling, and check that I’m not acting from impulse. I try to make small actions– like drinking from my water bottle, or beginning a new task–my cues to pause and take stock of things. To let a little space to open up for myself.

  5. sophia fernandes says:

    Thank you dear Barrie for such beautiful reflection….
    it requires a self controlled, patient and reflective mind and heart to do those things..its all about being proactive than reactive, right? thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. you are indeed inspiring and so person centered.
    with best wishes
    sophia

  6. I’ve tried this technique when I’m feeling lonely and I want to eat everything in the house. I get a glass of water and distract myself for 5 minutes. It really works! I usually forget about the food and continue with my work.

  7. Thank you for the great post. Taking personal responsibility of your thoughts and actions is so very crucial to leading a Thriving life. Harnessing the power of your mind, does require that you have given the brain a “tune up” lately. First tip, eat good fat…think real good. Second tip, unclog your unconscious mind with meditation or creative visualization and relaxation. Final tip, laugh more often!

  8. Thank you for sharing this, it’s an awesome piece of advice!

  9. Procrastination is sometimes a great way to break any bad habit. For example buy chocolates, keep them in fridge and forget them to eat. Keep a cigarette packet in your pocket and forget to smoke. If you have cigarette in your pocket then you don’t get panic for them because you can smoke anytime you wish but just postpone it for one hour. This is a beginning of breaking any bad habit. In that way you get control on your mind. 10 second gap in thinking and action is really a good idea.

  10. This what I was looking for.Thanks!

  11. The only way in which it appears that Hamlet can attempt to close the gap between thought and action is through the ultimate conceit — that is