Ever say something that you soon regretted? Ever lash out at your partner in anger and then find it took days – or weeks – to mend the damage? The Three Minute Rule is for you.
To some extent, we are all prisoners of our emotions. Emotional states are powerful, because when you feel strongly angry, for example, you are flooded by chemical signals created by your nervous system. In other words, your brain is temporarily being influenced by natural drugs like adrenaline – and most of us know that drugs can influence how we think. An old part of your brain, the amygdalae, takes over and temporarily blocks the ability of the neo-cortex – the newer part of the brain that controls rational thinking – and you experience the kind of black and white thinking that’s common with rage. Your blood pressure goes up too.
So what’s the solution? Learn to pause. When someone says something and you start to feel angry, give your body at least three minutes of deep breathing before you try to respond. You may want to excuse yourself and go down to the washroom and wash your hands and face. Or take a walk around the block. If you’re on the phone, you may want to say, “I need a short break; I’ll call you back in a few minutes.” The key is to do something non-destructive to help to let the flood of emotion pass and get control of your thinking brain back.
Truly, when our brains are flooded with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortosol, we simply can not think straight. So don't try. Give yourself a chance to calm down BEFORE you speak, and you may find you have less to regret later.
It may take practice to learn to do this. But it’s so much better to train yourself to pause and think before you act. It will make you a better partner, a better parent, and overall, just a nicer person to be around. And that makes you the ultimate winner, because you’ll enjoy the rewards of improved relationships.