The Three-Second Rule

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” ~ James Taylor

Decades ago, in my thirties, I was reading Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits for Highly Effective People (who wasn’t), when I stumbled upon an important concept embedded in the description of one of his seven practices. I actually stopped mid-paragraph to read it again and again.

I’ve never forgotten this little idea, although, I found the practice of which almost impossible to execute. Don’t be discouraged, I’m slow but steady.

He said our life is defined in the seconds between stimulus and response, meaning, what we do in response to an impetus is how we create our future.

So all you millennial manifesters, it’s not thoughts that invoke a future, it’s your actions in response to those thoughts.

For example, when something or someone pisses you off, you have like three seconds to decide how you will respond. You can have a physical reaction to the person that has ignited your anger, you can lose your temper by cussing, yelling, and assaulting your victim verbally, or you step back, take a breath and consider a more appropriate response, and if you’re feeling magnanimous, one that benefits both you and the antagonizer.

I’ve done all three but I’m gaining on the more appropriate response as I age.

Road rage is a great example of how we exploit those three seconds to retaliate with the idiot who just cut us off. I believe I failed the three-second rule miserably less than a week ago. The thing is I can take a breath, reholster my wrath, stop signing through the window, slow the hell down, and put some distance between me and the nitwit causing all the ruckus.

In three seconds we can radically change our lives and the lives of those around us by redirecting our thoughts, recalibrating our attitude, and exhibiting some control over our response. It’s not easy and I’ll never be a hundred percent, but as if a synchronized swimmer, I improve with practice.

This is an equal opportunity credo, because it applies when something good happens too, maybe even more so.

For example, when good fortune visits a stranger, friend, or family member but you are unable to feel the joy because you are so caught up in your anger over how it affects you, how it will change the relationship, or how those feelings of jealousy, insecurity, resentment, and spite bubble up when our envy is ignited.

We all have those same three seconds that define not only who we are but can obliterate our ability to rejoice over the fortuity of others and sadly this influences the experience of those who happened to be caught up in the vortex of our diminished response.

The impetus to do better is when I consider how my loved ones will remember me, this drives my intentions as if a bat out of hell because I want to leave behind not only a more sanguine picture of myself but an example of living well for my children and grandchildren. As Thich Nhat Hanh says our own lives are the instruments with which we experiment with truth.

Hey, better late than never!

As the matriarch of a large family, I’m at the top of the organizational chart so to speak, I set the example for my constituents (Larry’s listed as my CFO and handyman). There is a trickle-down effect in families and organizations, those listed at the top of the chart decide what will, and will not be tolerated. If I want my clan to be generous, kind, and loving then I have to lead by example, check my ego at the door, or it’s all hogwash, and everyone knows it.

When I discovered the significance of reclaiming those three seconds for myself it was like taking back my own power. I’m no longer (most of the time, okay, occasionally) at the mercy of irrational emotions as if the tail wagging the dog. I know I make decisions in the blink of an eye, we all do, and recognizing we have the ability to create a more profound future by simply taking a deep breath, and allowing our more sublime nature to reign is a game-changer. As Glinda, the good witch, says to Dorothy, “You had the power all along, my dear.”

I utilized this technique just the other day when my husband said, “I signed us up for a bicycle ride through Europe but the event is full so they put us on a waitlist.”

I look up from my computer, glance over the brim of my glasses to see if this is actually my husband addressing me, and give myself a second to consider how a non-bicycle person would respond. I have the opportunity to ask more questions, demand equality when vacation planning, condemn his ingenuity or come up with my own idea for an exciting new adventure. All paths lead to a different future. I know, take the one less traveled, it makes all the difference.

I said, “tell me more.”

He goes on to enthusiastically explain that this is actually a river cruise in Europe, each day when you arrive at port you exit the boat with a tandem bike and the two of us head off on a prearranged excursion with options for beginner, intermediate, or advanced riders. Lunch is provided and when you complete your ride, the bike is stored for you on the ship, and you return to the pleasures of a river cruise.

Glad I asked.

Recently my friend Nancy Slomin Aronie took this radical concept to a whole new level. She wedded it with our current reality, our inherent nature, and ultimately our freedom.

Nancy makes this holy grail available to anyone with potent examples, inherently life-changing ideas, as she gently leads us to a notion of freedom that borders on our intrinsic purpose as prescribed by God. She says we have the ability to procure a life not imprisoned by our innate biases, our formative experiences, our rush to judgment, or our alienating opinions, but informed by the inherent joy that surrounds us.

Holy Moly.

In a recent article, Let Your Opinions Go (full article linked here), she said, “Freedom is the time between your perception and your opinion.” She started to notice how her initial joy to a stimulus was held hostage by her overarching opinions that sabotaged her preliminary delight.

It’s as if two people were observing the same beautiful sunset but instead of enjoying the marvelous kaleidoscope of color dancing before their eyes, one of the participants was focused on a dilapidated dock that was maring the view. She couldn’t get past it and in the meantime, she missed the beauty of a spectacular sunset, the intimacy of a shared experience, and quite possibly she polluted the moment for the other person.

“I started to make a practice of noticing how often I would be experiencing something interesting or pleasurable and suddenly stop the curiosity or pleasure and slip into some kind of weird judgment. Once I started catching myself, I made a new practice of switching back into the original feeling of joy before I got into the negativity.” ~ Nancy Slomin Aronie

I do this all the time without realizing I’m actually convicted by opinions that sabotage my joy. I’m sort of an introvert and often allow my desire for time alone to conflict with my desire to gather and celebrate with others. For me, socializing with large groups is exhausting, sometimes I find myself sitting alone observing how others are easily conversing with each other, enjoying the camaraderie, actually feeling energized by these encounters.

I’m confounded by large gatherings and I allow my appreciation, joy, pleasure in communing with others to be diminished by my own thoughts. I’ve decided on three things that can enhance my enjoyment of socializing. First, set a time limit for the event that doesn’t terrify me, second, don’t dampen my anxiety with excessive alcohol, and thirdly, instead of allowing every conversation to apprehend me, try and engage in one on one conversations that ground me.

Honestly, redirecting the chatter in my head is imperative, instead of thinking when can I go home and put on my sweats, I can focus my thoughts on talking with people of interest, how I might add to the conversation, elevate discussions instead of withdrawing. None of this comes naturally to me.

“But it was hard to keep this practice up. I had to ask myself, Do I really have an opinion about absolutely everything? And the answer was yes. So if freedom is the time between my perception and my opinion, it turns out I’m a prisoner of my preconceived notions. In a flash I assume, I react, and I jump to conclusions that have nothing to do with factual information.” ~ Nancy Slomin Aronie

I’m not a Black Friday fan. I never have been. And I would take bets that I never will be but that doesn’t mean it’s not a special tradition for many and something anticipated with great joy and excitement, even hopefulness for thousands of eager shoppers.

I’ve been very judgy about Black Friday participants in the past, today I say, “You do you,” and “I share in your joy of searching out and claiming the best deals in town.”

For me, the idea of fighting crowds of energized shoppers for limited supplies of trending items in stores and malls randomly attacked by looters. No thank you. I’ll be home, sipping coffee, watching sappy Christmas movies, reading Nancy Solmin Aronie’s new book. Memoir as Medicine: The Healing Power of Writing Your Messy, Imperfect, Unruly (but Gorgeously Yours) Life Story. Pre-order here.

Nancy nails it when she says, “Little kids don’t judge. They’re in awe of everything! They’re wide-eyed and completely in the moment, with no stories attached, no emotional baggage. They’re innocent. I want my innocence back.” Amen sister.

Heaven has been described as available to those who change and become like little children, meaning this is available to us now, heaven on earth so to speak. So I say, this Christmas give yourself the gift of three seconds, reclaim your joy, you had the power all along, my dear.

I’m Living in the Gap, following my joy, letting the rest go.

Thanks, Bonny McClain for posting:

“Rivers do not drink their own water;
trees do not eat their own fruit;
the sun does not shine on itself and
flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves.
Living for others is a rule of nature.
We are born to help each other.
No matter how difficult it is.
Life is good when you are happy
but much better when others are happy because of you.

Attributed to Pope Francis


Leave a Comment

  1. And here I was, thinking you were talking about what we cal the three-second rule.
    You drop something on the floor while cooking or eating. Pick it up within three seconds, and it is still good to go in the pot, or in your mouth. That’s the only three-second rule I ever heard of. 🙂 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Pete, here in the United States, when it involves to food, we call that the five-second rule! When it has to do with buggers I give myself three seconds to breath, respond, and move on. I fail more than I succeed but I’m giving it more attention as I age and find myself assailed by my own jaded opinions and rash judgments. I love that in your head this applies to food, not actions, although it’s not a bad insight! Hugs my friend, C

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A lovely, insightful post! Thank you for sharing the three-second rule. This book has been on my to-be-read list for so long, but I shall have to make time for it now. The river cruise with bicycle trips sounds a lot of fun. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Aaysid, thank you, I think the concepts in Covey’s book are still relevant but might be more common today than in the 80’s! Larry just informed me that we’re 7th on the waiting list and have a 50/50 chance of making the cruise! Better be getting in shape…hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You are pretty cool Fraggle! We have a 50/50 chance of making the cruise, we’ll see, time to get my legs in shape, although I am planning on Larry carrying the weight on a tandem bike! Happy holidays to you and yours, C

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is brilliant. I’m just mad I didn’t think this up. Oh wait…see what happens when I don’t wait three seconds for a response? Ego comes in the front door…excellent post. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When you use the word “brilliant” LA my ego steps right up and wants to lead! No wait, I can give her the boot, breathe, and lead with that more “sanguine” gal! Thanks for the lovely encouragement! Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That would have made a much better title Leigh, Get Your Thinker Thinking! Love it. I catching myself at the door too, pausing, walking through life with a more thoughtful attitude. It’s good to be informed by our emotions but they don’t make good leaders! Thanks for the kind words, hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Holy Moly Cheryl. What a great post!

    I could easily write more than you posted in response, but I won’t because my initial joy of sharing my thoughts was quickly diminished by my fear of rejection by doing so. 😉

    So, curbing my enthusiasm, I’ll try and limit myself to just two comments. But before I get to that, I must share that IMHO? This is where that human interaction stuff really shines, i.e. if we were at a gathering together? We could enthusiastically discuss this informative and thought-provoking post for at least 6-7 ounces of a nice white Bordeaux, or Edna Valley Pinot.
    I say that, because in person we communicate so much more, (body language, tone, the pace of speech, eye movement, etc) helping to gauge the direction of the conversation to hopefully benefit the others’ experience of the evening. It’s tough to do that with a keyboard.

    To be clear? this statement directly above wasn’t a ‘third’ comment being snuck in. It was a short ‘observation’. Bahaha! Okay then. . .

    1. “Freedom is the time between your perception and your opinion.” She started to notice how her initial joy to a stimulus was held hostage by her overarching opinions that sabotaged her preliminary delight.

    That’s an interesting perspective. It’s going to take my aging brain ~4-5 weeks of mulling that around until it is fully processed I’m afraid. Another perspective would be that initial joy and enthusiasm diminishes in correlation to the rational and sometimes irrational considerations of emotional and sometimes physical risk of being rejected/judged in some way by others.
    In the Bible, we are taught not to judge. Tall order, n’est-ce pas? But the reciprocal experience of actually not judging others frees us up to accept and own in our hearts that only God’s judgment matters. If we are doing our best to ‘please God’ by emulating his will, then we don’t need to worry about ‘human’ judgment. Simple as that.

    2. “Living for others is a rule of nature. We are born to help each other. No matter how difficult it is. Life is good when you are happy but much better when others are happy because of you”. Attributed to Pope Francis

    These are beautiful words that unquestionably hold the great wisdom of our creator’s urging for mankind to love one another. And, they are clearly symbiotic with the message of Jesus Christ which is a good guess as to why they were falsely attributed to Pope Francis.

    There was quite a controversy back 4-5 years ago on the internet when this passage first showed up as being attributed to Pope Francis, as it was proven that these words were never actually spoken by him in public, or recorded in any way.
    I wish he had said them, acknowledging them as being from the ancient Vedas writings of Hinduism. That would have been such a meaningful and unifying message for all people of goodwill.

    Bonsoir, and Pax Christi!

    P.S. the French above was intentionally placed to subconsciously prime you for your Euro River Bike tour. No matter the river in Europe? Speak a little French Neighbor. It’s like Chicken Soup for the River Biking Tourer’s Soul!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Chris, I always enjoy wrestling with your comments, you vear off in unexpected directions, so one never knows what’s coming next. So you like the post and would prefer discussing it over a fine wine, person to person. I get it. Our ability to understand each other is greatly enhanced by our body language, something impossible to convey with mere words but I’ll give it a go anyway. In response to your first observation, the opinion part was more about interference then judgment. Meaning, when the dead fly on the counter mars your enjoyment of the flower arrangement right in front of you. Obviously the fly was enjoying the arrangement to excess and expired, no judgment, but my reaction to the fly deferred my joy. We’re imprisoned so to speak by our unwarranted thoughts rummaging around our brains. I think that’s what Nancy was getting at? But I think you’re right, she includes our judgment of others in this observation, which as you say is self sabotaging unless your safety is at risk. And I have to thank you for posting the information about the origin of the quote, it’s from the Vedas, that makes total sense. I studied Hinduism just a little in a world religion class and discovered how these deeper truths find their way in most of our sacred scriptures wrapped in a new story or circumstance. I’ve often wondered if Jesus was familiar with the Hindu verbal history? Anyhoo, here’s to Euro bike tours, good cheer, and blessed joy, hugs, C


      1. “I could easily write more than you posted in response, but I won’t because my initial joy of sharing my thoughts was quickly diminished by my fear of rejection by doing so. 😉”

        I wish I paid more attention to my fears. . . The entire response was intended to be tounge-in-cheek. Apparently I missed the mark by a wide margin.

        Apologies Cheryl.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Okay, now the whole “this should be an in person discussion with good wine,” makes total sense! Bahaha, no apologies necessary, but you might rethink comedian as a career option! Hugs, C


  5. Hey Friend,

    It has been a really long time… Do you remember me from TCW? I read almost every one of your letters, enjoy them immensely, and have passed a few on to my sister-in-law. Today’s spoke directly to my heart. I am a pea in your pod!

    Thank you Cheryl!

    Love to you, Gail


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gail, of course I remember you, and I so miss our daily interactions back in TCW days! It’s interesting that our workshop and all the COVID craziness started about the same time. The timing was uncanny but it filled my days during lockdown. It gives me such pleasure to know you are reading and enjoying the posts! Thank you. I’m so glad this one spoke to you, it’s a challenge for me, although I keep trying to improve! Wrapping you in much love Gail, wishing you a fabulous holiday, hugs, C


  6. What a great post. I have heard about this concept before and how we internalize stimulus, evaluate it and act. It’s impossible not to bring our own biases into any situation, but we can strive to leave our ego at the door. FYI, on a somewhat related topic — Britain Covey is one of my favorite Utah Ute football players. He’s Stephen Covey’s grandson. From watching him in the public eye for his college football career, he’s mastered the art of the three second rule. Also, Utah won the PAC 12 championships last night and are headed to the Rose Bowl 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Elizabeth, leaving the “ego at the door,” can be challenging for me but I keep trying because it a worthy goal. Speaking of goals THE UTES ARE GOING TO THE ROSE BOWL! I didn’t know Britain Covey was Stephen’s grandson. My son-in-law already has tickets to the Rose Bowl, he’s a University of Utah graduate, and a serious fan. Go Utes!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Crystal, Nancy is an amazing writer, she runs a writing workshop called writing from the heart, tapping into our inner wisdom. I attended one of her workshops and it was a life changing event. Enjoy her book and maybe attend one of her workshops some day! Hugs, C


  7. Delightful Cheryl. Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve checked in. Things are manic.

    What an important topic and I’m delighted that you’re sharing your important, helpful, and fully vulnerable thoughts on it… which is why it’s so helpful as I know I can relate to those moments where I don’t choose to spend my 3 seconds wisely on a product that I would like to put on the shelf of my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Daniel, thank you, I know you are under a lot of pressure right now, and I’m tickled pink that you found a moment to read and respond. I consider myself a work in progress, sometimes I wish I could go back in time and as you say, “spend my 3 seconds wisely,” but that’s not possible. It’s rather beautiful that in December we celebrate God’s solution to this dilemma, a love so profound is about to enter the world, powerful enough to lift the burden of sin for all. If we (collectively) are ever able to fully comprehend this gift it would surely change the world. xxoo, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi HB Sue, I agree, I packed a lot into this suitcase, and if I was flying, it would not make the weight. Hopefully you were able to enjoy a garment or two! I agree, we are a complicated lot, Happy New Year to you and yours, Warmly, c


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