Ideas to Read and Pass Along

Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

Choose to Be Happy

A Quarter Second That Could Change Your Life!

  • In his book What Happy People Know psychologist and physician Dan Baker reveals a fascinating discovery. Using advanced imaging techniques researchers have found that between a negative stimulus that automatically stirs up fear and your response to that stimulus, the brain gives you a quarter second to reinterpret the event and disengage from the fear it evokes. Here’s how it was discovered:
  • Benjamin Libet, a neurosurgeon conducted research with patients undergoing certain brain surgeries while they were awake and alert
  • Libert wanted to know how much lag time there was between when people get the urge to act and when they actually do it
  • He asked the patients to move one of their fingers while he electronically monitored their brain activity
  • Libet discovered a quarter-second delay between the urge to move the finger and its actual movement

This is Good News!

It means that you don’t have to be hijacked by fear or any other automatically triggered emotion that starts to wreak havoc before you know it. You have a potentially “LIFE-CHANGING QUARTER–SECOND” to look for alternative explanations to bad things that would otherwise cause you to panic and launch a debilitating, knee-jerk response. It also means you no longer have an excuse for flying off the handle in anger and saying, “I just couldn’t help it.” You don’t have to be a victim. You can leverage the power of this fraction of a second by using it to change your perception or you can stay on autopilot—it’s your CHOICE.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “What, are you crazy? A quarter second is nothing!” Right, but in the realm of brain messages it is more than enough time for you to change your perception of—and choose your response to—a negative event.

A Quarter Second is enough time to realize that:

  • a stupid comment from your spouse wasn’t intended to hurt
  • an insensitive response from a colleague/boss wasn’t intended to wreck your day
  • a drop in altitude is turbulence, not the plane going down
  • the slammed door isn’t a gun shot
  • the stick in grass isn’t a snake and the log in the water isn’t an alligator
  • the irritating noise your children are making isn’t a malicious frontal attack on your peace of mind


If you habitually disown or abandon this quarter-second your brain gives you, the amygdala—the part of your brain that automatically registers and warehouses pure fear—will get better at overreacting. As this happens, your chances of being held hostage by fear, anxiety, depression and victimization dramatically increase. However, if you constantly capitalize on this split-second by activating CHOICE and expanding your options, your brain will get better at interrupting and derailing your automatic reactive responses.

It’s Your Choice!

As we’ve said, life is real, life is full of pain and suffering—bad things do happen to good people. And this is certainly true at work. Whether these bad things weaken us or make us stronger depends on how we respond to them. If we forget about the life-changing quarter second and allow the amygdala to take over and respond primarily through fear, the hard times will chew us up, spit us out and cause us to become dead people working.

If we use this life-changing quarter second to reinterpret and derail our automatic fear response we stand a much better chance of learning from our pain. When we make this choice, bad things then have the potential to strengthen our character by teaching us how to become wiser, more optimistic and resilient.

For more details about how the brain functions to create this quarter-second…