The 90 Second Rule

Can we simply choose to be the people we want to be in this world and that we can do this in as little as 90 seconds? How can that be?

Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor discovered an important truth during her recovery from a rare stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain (My Stroke of Insight). She learned that the behaviours prior to the stroke that were tied to previous neural pathways and circuitry did not have to come back with her during the recovery. She could choose what emotional circuits she would reactivate and what circuits she would leave behind.

In other words, the physiological response to a trigger lasts only about 90 seconds in the body from beginning to end. Anger for example or fear can trigger an adrenalin rush – and that chemical rush lasts about 90 seconds before it is flushed from the body.

After the physiological response passes, if you are still angry or afraid it is because you have chosen to remain connected to that neurocircuitry.

Think about that for a minute. Is it really possible you have a choice?

The brain has many learned behaviours of neural pathways where things can “push your buttons” and trigger an emotional response – and you can just feel that surge of hurt, or indignation, or fear powering through you.  A typical response is to fight back with more hurt, indignity, and anger. In my mind I picture someone’s thoughts going “I can’t believe they said that to me? Who do they think they are? How DARE they! After all I do for them! The NERVE! I’m just going to tell THEM what I think about THEM and see how THEY feel! I know exactly how I’m going to hurt back because I know which buttons to push on THEM and no one speaks to me like that and gets away with it! I’ll show THEM!”

Sound familiar? Has that happened to you?

Now what if you waited 90 seconds after that emotional button was pushed? What if instead of counting to ten, you counted to 90 and waited out the chemical response in the body of that trigger? And then took a breath…

And then choose not to react, but to respond with compassion. That does not mean you must be a victim – not at all! But what if you started practising accepting that “their stuff” is their stuff, and your stuff is your stuff and that more often than not, you are being hit with “their stuff” that in turn is a product of both biology and environment. And just say to yourself “in this moment, I am choosing to walk away from my typical response”.

Once the 90 seconds have passed start saying to your brain “I am not going to hook into this again because I do not like how it makes me feel.” I have said to myself sometimes “just STOP IT! I don’t want this negativity in my head! GO AWAY”. And if necessary on really persistent loops, I have even stomped my feet and said “NO!” Sounds crazy? It isn’t! It just means that for extra effect you sometimes have to add a physical component to your response – much like slapping a hand on a table will get your attention faster, so too will adding a physical component to the response you are telling your brain.

Just think what we can accomplish if we all practised the 90-second rule. We have the power to choose who we want to be in this world. Take your 90 seconds and choose well.


  1. I really enjoyed this one. it is not what is said to us that matters, but how we react to it. Now I can see that if I count to 90 the effect will be gone …how cool is that.

    I have just finished doing three Avatar courses, there we spent many hours just as this post says working out our frustrations, angers, pains etc it really does help to change the pathways in the brain. Interesting to think after all the years man has used his brain we are just discovering how to put it to a good and positive out- come… what you think is what you believe and is exactly what you get. If you do not like what you are getting, put it out there what you want, think only good and posiitve thoughts be compassionate to others and put those thought into actions.

  2. This is so true…this morning I experienced a bit of road rage, something that I prided myself of giving up some time ago. This bus driver just parked himself in the middle of the road and wouldn't move and I had my kids in the car who were getting late for school. At first I just hooted a couple of times and this guy (conductor) comes to me and starts shouting at me …that just did it and my anger just flew out at him.

    Now if I had only counted upto 90 🙂 kids would probably be late but at least I would have kept my sanity.

    Thanks for this…I will definitely use it!

    Stay blessed!


    To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.