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The Power of a Pause

Many of us have heard of emotional intelligence (EQ) and its benefits in our personal and professional lives. EQ includes awareness and management of our own emotions as well as those around us. Through intentional practice, we can continuously sharpen our EQ skills.

The Six Second Pause, developed by EQ expert Joshua Freedman and colleagues, is a powerful tool to cultivate emotional self-awareness and management. Rooted in neuroscience, they’ve shown a simple pause can go a long way to help us be more proactive and constructive in emotionally charged situations.

What is the Six Second Pause? It’s simple. According to 6seconds.org, it works like this:

One tool for getting off the train is called the Six Second Pause.  The purpose is to slow down your reaction and let the emotional energy relax a moment.  It works because the chemicals of emotion inside our brains and bodies only last about six seconds.  Normally when we have strong feelings, we keep producing more and more of the feeling molecules.  But if we can stop for a short moment, the flood of chemicals slows down.  The trick with a Six Second Pause is to refocus your brain by shifting attention from the emotional part (the “limbic brain”) to the analytical part of your brain (called the “Cortex”).  Your Cortex loves to put ideas in order, break ideas apart, and to use symbols like math or language.  So, invite your Cortex to the party by doing things it likes, such as:

Solve six math problems.

Remember six words in a foreign language.

Put six favorite songs in alphabetical order.

List six TV characters

Create a Pause

When emotions are high, put the analytical part of your brain to work. Here are some fun ways to easily engage your thinking brain to create a pause and break through the emotional spiral:

  • List five flowers that are red
  • Think of the names of the Hawaiian islands
  • Count to six in a foreign language
  • Name three states in the USA that start with the letter “C”
  • Name as many of the Seven Dwarfs as you can

Choose Your Response

Pausing makes it possible to choose which emotions you want to express in a constructive way. Consider how you want to respond once your thinking brain is active. Get in touch with less intense emotions and your true goals in the situation to move forward with intention instead of reaction.

Danielle Metzinger is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She leads efforts across agencies and sectors to think big about improving government for generations to come. Danielle serves as an Organizational Excellence Specialist in the executive office of the California Department of Transportation. Throughout her public service career, she has worked on high profile projects related to organizational development and succession planning in California state government. She leads NxtGov, a nonprofit professional network for public servants, and Innovative Pathways to Public Service, a collaborative of educators and government officials to bring young people into public sector careers.  You can read her posts here.

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Profile Photo Uyen Nguyen

Thank you so much for sharing this tool, Danielle! I think the 6-second pause is particularly useful for those who feel like they don’t have enough time to practice emotional intelligence!