Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want - by Peter Bregman


Pause. Breathe. Course Correct. A four-second pause--the time it takes to take one breath in, one breath out--can be powerful enough to subvert a poor decision and replace it with a smarter one.

Rethink Goal Setting Setting goals isn't always a beneficial habit. Identify and spend your time on areas of focus instead and you'll get where you want to go more effectively.

Commit to Following Through If you are having trouble accomplishing a task or activity, the culprit might be follow-through. Rather than motivating yourself with an internal pep talk, shut down your mind: decide on a specific action or task, and don't allow your internal thoughts to talk you out of it. Make a very specific decision about something you want to do and don't question it. By very specific, I mean decisions like these: "I will work out tomorrow at 6:00 A.M.," or "I will meditate for fifteen minutes as soon as I wake up"

Ditch the Urge to Be Perfect To get your most important things done without losing your mind, stop trying so hard and aiming for perfection. Instead, try racing as quickly as you can through the next phase of work. Spending less time on it might just make it better.

Trust Yourself First Next time you feel insecure about a task or project and are about to reach out for feedback and approval, ask yourself what you think first. Take some quiet time to listen to yourself and trust your mind and heart. It often helps not to think about what others think.

Stand Back and Do Nothing Resist the temptation to fix everything. Sometimes, doing nothing at all works better than doing something.

Accept Reality. Change Expectations. If you can't change reality--and usually you can't--then look carefully to see it for what it is. Once your perspective changes, so does your ability to respond strategically and productively to the world around you.

Make Time for Rituals Stop going through the motions. Take a moment before each task to consider, focus on, and appreciate what you are about to do. That kind of ritualized attention isn't just powerful and productive, it's pleasurable too.

Prepare Every Day Beware of jumping into things without thinking them through. Each morning, make the time to ask yourself this question: "Am I prepared for this day?" You may still be ambushed, but you'll even be more prepared for that, just by asking the question.

Reset Yourself When you need to regain your balance--in a contentious conversation or a difficult situation--rather than build your momentum, do nothing for a minute, essentially giving yourself a time-out. Resetting yourself has the power to help you change your perspective.

Stop Performing. Start Experiencing. The best performers are lifelong learners, and the definition of a lifelong learner is someone who is constantly trying new things. That requires performing poorly much of the time and sometimes brilliantly, but often unpredictably so. If you view life as a performance, your failures will be so painful and terrifying that you will stop experimenting. But if you view life as an experience, your failures are just part of that experience. Here's something that's helped me--several times a day, I'll complete this sentence: "This is what it feels like to . . ." Saying that, and feeling whatever comes up, instantly drops me into experience. Performance loses its primacy, and my mind releases its focus on outcome. There are no bad feelings; they all make life richer.

Invest in Unfocused Focus Too busy to think, analyze, or reflect on your most important issues? Put the screens away, shut out the distracting noise, and create time every day for unfocused focus time.

Embrace Boredom Fight the urge to fill every empty moment in your day, especially if you need to be extra-productive or creative for a task. Our best ideas typically come to us when we are being unproductive.

Ignore the Inner Critic Effectiveness begins with confidence. Next time your inner critic makes an appearance, replace it with a voice of love, care, and support; the voice you would use with a six-year-old.

Reclaim Your Sweet Spot If you find yourself spending a lot of time doing work you are not good at and don't enjoy, pause and refocus your energies on your sweet spot. Spend your energy where you can make the highest and best use of you.

Imagine the Worst Visualizing success can backfire, leaving you pressured and unprepared. It may seem counterintuitive, but visualizing failure as a way to calm your nerves and keep you on your toes will help you stay loose and be ready for challenges ahead.


Prioritize Relationships The drive to be productive often leads us to de-prioritize our friendships, but developing strong relationships with others is one of the keys to unlocking our sustainable success.

Choose to Be Inspired by People Don't give in to your instinct to find flaws in others; choose instead to find something about them that impresses you. Find inspiration in the simple things they do.

Walk Away from an Argument Next time you find yourself at the brink of an argument, walk away--you'll never win it. If you're stuck in one, change tactics and listen: it's your only chance to change the other person's mind.

Take the Blame Instead Take the blame for anything you're even remotely responsible for. This solution transforms all the negative consequences of blaming others into positive ones. It solidifies relationships, improves your credibility, makes you and others happy, reinforces transparency, improves self-esteem, increases learning, and solves problems. It's as close as I've ever seen to a panacea.

Learn Other People's Rules of Engagement Instead of getting frustrated with people when they don't meet your expectations of how they ought to behave, adjust your expectations to more accurately reflect the behavior they regularly engage in. Learn how that individual operates and adjust your approach accordingly.

Empathize First. Help Them Feel Better Later. Our well-meaning attempts to make people feel better almost always backfire. Try empathy instead; it communicates trust. and people feel most connected--and perform best--when they feel trusted.

Listen for the Unspoken When someone expresses a request, demand, assertion, or thought that doesn't seem to make sense, resist the temptation to react. Instead, pause. Ask yourself what's going on. Ask the other person. And if it's an easy thing to do, then consider just doing it.

Give the Gift of Appreciation The more someone feels appreciated without pressure to perform, the better they'll perform.

Appeal to People's Generosity When you are interacting with someone who has power over you, don't engage in a power struggle by issuing demands and threats. Instead, appeal to their generosity. If asked respectfully, people will often happily do the very thing they're refusing to do when they think you're trying to push them.

Don't Skip Your Thank-Yous While skipping sending a thank-you message might seem like a time-saving strategy, it rarely pays off. People like to have their efforts and their own messages acknowledged. Doing so creates the kind of goodwill that might make your relationship immune to future time-sucking conflicts. Saying thank you is never a waste of time.

Establish Boundaries with Others For many of us, our instinctual response to a request is to say yes. But in a world that will take what it can from us, graciously saying no is the way to stay both productive and sane. Preserve your bond with the other person by saying no to the request, while saying yes to the relationship.

Ask Questions. Don't Attack Back. Whenever you're taken by surprise or feel attacked by someone, resist the impulse to act defensively. Instead ask a question. It is much more likely that the situation will be diffused, and you'll save the time wasted arguing and recriminating.


Keep Your Cool If you're in a situation in which your professionalism is hard to maintain--for some reason you've become upset, riled up, or anxious--and a deep breath or glass of water isn't enough, go for a walk. Leave the office--or whatever space you're in--entirely.

Offer to Do Other People's Work Our reaction to feeling stressed about how much work we have is often competitive complaining. But while it makes us feel good for a short while, it ignites a spiral of negativity into the workplace and our day. Instead, flip it around by offering to help someone else with their work. Reaching out in an act of generosity will make you feel better and move you away from your stress and toward your productivity.

Focus on Outcome, Not Process Overcome your impulse to be disciplined and follow processes, especially if they don't appear to be working. Instead focus on the outcome and what you need to do to achieve it.

Be Helpful Instead of Nice Although we often avoid giving critical feedback because we don't want to hurt the other person, the nicest and most helpful thing you can do for someone is to be honest and direct with them. Giving critical feedback with respect will help you build a deeper relationship with them. First, ask permission. As in: "I noticed something I'd like to share with you. Are you interested in hearing it?" Or simply, "Can I share some feedback with you?" Second, don't hedge. Hedging dilutes and confuses the message. Instead, be clear, be concise, use a simple example, make it about the behavior, not the person, and don't be afraid of silence. Third, do it often. That's how you create a culture in which people are open and honest for each other's benefit. If you only offer feedback once in a while, it feels out of character and more negative.

Accept the Gift of Criticism Next time you are blindsided by criticism, avoid reacting defensively. Criticism can be an incredible gift, if you are able to pause and look beyond your feelings and the delivery, collect good data, and decide, later, what to do with the feedback.

Tell Stories to Get Others to Change Often, the way we try to get people to change doesn't work and ends up encouraging the exact behavior we're trying to change. Since we tend to conform to the behavior of the people around us--and that behavior tends to conform to the stories people tell and hear--create change by telling the right stories.

Forget Willpower. Restructure Your Environment. Relying on willpower is an uphill, never-ending battle. Instead, structure your environment and life so that you are more likely to accomplish your most important priorities.