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Four Seconds

All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want

By Peter Bregman
  • Read in 12 minutes
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  • Contains 7 key ideas
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Four Seconds by Peter Bregman

Four Seconds (2015) gives precise examples of how to rid yourself of self-defeating habits at work, at home and in your relationships. A four-second pause helps slow down hasty, unhappy reactions and is the first step to reworking the way you communicate with others and receive feedback from them. You really can be prepared for anything if you just take a breath first.

Key idea 1 of 7

To create better habits you have to pause, breathe, and identify an area of focus.

When you’re in a stressful situation, do you sometimes react in a way that ends up making you feel even worse? Many people respond to stress in self-defeating, counter-productive ways, such as yelling or starting an argument with someone. So how do we transform this unhelpful behavior into habits that save our time, energy and sanity?

The first step is pausing and breathing for four seconds.

Four seconds is the amount of time you need to take one deep breath in and out.

When you pause and breathe, this puts you in a state that allows you to make better decisions and consider the outcomes of your actions before you take them.

Say your kids are refusing to brush their teeth before school. It’s the third time this week and you can feel the anger bubbling up inside of you. You’re about to lose your cool and start yelling. But instead, you resist, pause and breathe. After doing so, you feel a little calmer and clearer. Maybe you even come up with a tooth-brushing game instead of succumbing to the counter-productive reaction of shouting.

In addition to the four-second breath, in a stressful situation it’s a good idea to identify an area of focus, rather than a goal.

Goal setting is often accompanied by temptations to cheat or to take unnecessary risks, whereas an area of focus motivates you without offering up such negative temptations.

For example, you own a store that sells a certain product. In recent years, your goal has been to increase your revenue. This, however, has led to some of your staff using questionable methods to hit targets, such as lying about particular features of the product, because all they care about are the sales.

But this year, you’ve set an area of focus, which is to talk more with the customers. The results? At the year’s end, you realize that the revenue has increased, thanks to focusing more on the customers than on increasing revenue.

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