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Building Our Own Seven-Second Delay

By: Cindy Durkee

“What were you thinking?” “What did you think would happen if you didn’t complete the assignments on time?” “Did you think it would all just go away?” These were my questions when my son came home with his first failing grade. There are many examples of when I reacted without really thinking about what would be helpful to say. There is a seven-second delay on live television to allow for some control of how the network presents the programming. Unfortunately, no one provides this service in our lives. There is no bleep or rewind to erase the things we may have said or done impulsively. There is no do-over for situations where we immediately react rather than respond thoughtfully later. What if we could apply a seven-second delay to our parenting and put a gap between our thoughts and speech/actions?

I’ve been wondering about how I can build in my own “seven-second delay”. According to Jon Kabatt-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic, regular mindful self-awareness increases the connections in the brain between the frontal cortex that controls impulse and the midbrain where the “fight/flight” emotional stress center resides. Zinn affirms that noticing our senses can bring attention to our thoughts and to the experience of what is going on around us and within us. When we are mindful of our feelings, we have more control over what we do with them. He encourages taking time for self-care as it allows us to be mentally present at the moment and have more regulation over our emotional responses.

How many times have we all walked away and said, “I wish I hadn’t said that.”

Here are some ways we might be able to build in our own “seven-second delay”:

  • Practice everyday mindfulness. Notice our senses- what we see, hear and feel. This can bring attention to our thoughts.

  • Take time to notice how our body is feeling when we are anxious or angry. This can alert us before we become upset and react.

  • When recognizing these emotions, have a plan for how to de-escalate. This could mean walking away, deep breathing, counting, or whatever works best for you.

  • Practice self-care. For me, this is regular exercise, good sleep, nutritious eating, meditation, reading, and spending time in meaningful conversation with others. It could also mean yoga, journaling, cooking, listening to music, doing a hobby you love, unplugging, and treating yourself…. Doing whatever helps you to feel physically and emotionally rested.

Recently, my daughter confided in me about a mistake she had made. My first thought was shock and “What were you thinking?” and “What did you think would happen?” The questions I asked out loud when I learned of my son’s failing grade. Thankfully, those initial thoughts did not come out of my mouth this time. I recognized how I was feeling and kept quiet. I knew she was already very upset with herself, and I didn’t want to pile on her guilt. I listened and asked questions to help her figure out what she could learn from this and how to move forward. I don’t always demonstrate this much control over my responses as I explained earlier, but when I do it feels much better for both of us. By practicing self-care and mindful self-awareness, noticing my thoughts and feelings, and pausing to decide how best to respond, I am working on building my own “seven-second delay”.


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