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The Quarter Second That Rewires Your Brain

You are in the middle of an important launch that you and your team have been working feverishly to complete. You just realized that one of your important business systems has once again, gone on the fritz. Your immediate inner response is anger, resentment, and you find yourself thinking, “f*#@% it! I’m so sick of this!” And, all you want to do in this moment is throw your hands in the air, fire your entire team and give up on your business completely.

As a business owner who has been working under constant stress that has lead you into, or at the precipice of, burnout this type of scenario may feel familiar to you. Allow me to normalize how you feel.  And, while you embrace your humanity, please read on for important information to get back to feeling stress-free.

Every moment there is opportunity to choose which thoughts and feelings we focus on, and in doing so, we can change how we perceive things.

You can change how you are perceiving things this very moment. 

You can choose a perception of reality that nourishes you and enriches you. Or, you can choose one that deflates you and diminishes you.

Many business owners are passive to all of this and choose to not exercise this power. They are reactive versus proactive.  And, particularly reactive to stress and the plethora of things that can go wrong in the running of a business.

It’s easy to be this way since the brain is literally designed to do this.  The brain is hardwired for fear.  Inside your brain, the Thalamus, the brain’s window into the world, receives all of the messages from your eyes, ears and other sensory organs.  It sends messages directly to the Amygdala (your stress response command center) and to the Neocortex (your “reasoning” and intellect command center). 

The Amygdala is capable of setting off a tidal wave of fear – the stress response that puts you immediately into survival-mode, sending out signals to increase your heart rate, your blood pressure and more. During this time, is typically when you find yourself flying off the handle, shouting expletives inside your head and perhaps doing all sorts of things unbecoming of you.

This is what Daniel Goleman refers to as an “Amygdala Hijack” in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” (1996).  Amygdala hijacks “are emotional responses that are immediate and intense, and out of measure with the actual situation because it has triggered a much deeper emotional threat” (Goleman, 1996).  Think back to the movie series, “Back to the Future.” Our main character, Marty, is normally pretty calm, cool, and collected until somebody calls him “chicken.” Whenever he is called “chicken” we witness an Amygdala Hijack in action.

Yet there is a quarter of a second window where the Neocortex can intervene and override the Amygdala’s stress response. In any moment when you are triggered into wanting to give up, do something self destructive or sabotaging to your business, you can make a different choice. You can focus your attention on thoughts and feelings that nourish you and choose behaviors that resolve the situation.

This moment is what author, Tara Bennett-Goleman calls, “The Mindful Quarter Second” in her book, Emotional Alchemy, and it’s based upon the studies of neurosurgeon Benjamin Libet.  Essentially, what Libet discovered is that every urge that you feel has a quarter of a second window of opportunity when you can disengage from it. In that quarter of a second you can consciously veto the automatic response of your Amygdala to respond to the perceived stress or give in to feelings of burnout.

The idea is this. Whenever you have the urge to respond to an emotion , you have a quarter of a second to choose your response. And, in a state of burnout, that quarter second can make the difference in your ability to move beyond the burnout and back to feeling alive again or getting pulled deeper in. When you are burnt out, its easy to go with the default, “I don’t care”, “who gives a shit anyway” mode but deep down you know that’s not who you are or how you want to be.

How do you build the awareness of the life changing quarter of a second?

It comes down to mindfulness of this in-the-moment of choice that is always available to you.

When you are burnt out (and I know this sounds completely undoable right now yet stay with me) you must make a decision to change it. You must find your way to willpower, to that place within you that KNOWS that you can get back to your old self again. 

Try the experiment below to reduce your stress and create greater awareness of that life-changing quarter of a second.


What’s your takeaway from this blog post? Tell me below…


© 2015, Susan Liddy International
Reprinting and distribution allowed only with full credit to Susan Liddy as the author, including a link to Thank you.


  • whew – I didn’t realise until this very second after doing your burn out test (thinking ‘nah, I’m good’) that I realised I’m not just at risk – I AM BURNING OUT! Ouch. What a huge wake up call. So I’ve now just dropped my anchor, pulled in the oars, and going to beach myself for a bit! Then, I am going to go through all your helpful exercises to get back in touch with what I want to do, and how I can build my own super powers so I can power charge my clients. I REALLY appreciate how you offer the exact tools at the right time for me. THANK YOU, Susan, AGAIN.


  • Hi Susan,

    I’m really fascinated with the Drop Anchor experiment, and I have a question: How does this experiment counter, if it does, the fight-flight-freeze response since our legs, in particular, our thighs, are the muscles that react the most to this emotional state? Have you read anything more about this?


  • Everyone has heard of the “Three Second Rule” – where you drop food on the floor, but it’s ok to eat it if you pick it up before it reaches 3 seconds. Somehow as a child I linked that to staying safe and healthy (vs. don’t eat that because it’s full of germs and NO LONGER safe & healthy for you). Thank you for introducing me to this new “Quarter Second Rule,” which seems like another important way to stay healthy, especially in times of stress. I LOVE the idea that I have clear choices in those moments and appreciate your strategies to remember that fact each day – because, let’s face it – running a business can be stressful!


  • Meryl Shaw says:

    Powerful! As in giving ourselves the Power to switch our response, like the switch on railroad tracks! To take that moment when I can physically feel that response beginning, and to switch the track from the Amygdala to the Neocortex, is an amazing concept. I’m going to visualize a little Meryl inside, with my engineer uniform, pulling the switch from now on! Thanks, Susan!


    Susan Liddy Reply:

    ^ Such a great visual!!!!! Love it!!!!! And, I’ll bet that Little Meryl is adorable in that uniform. <3
    Susan Liddy recently posted…How To Trigger Your Relaxation ResponseMy Profile


  • I’m digging the suggested thinking that “In that quarter of a second you can consciously veto the automatic response of your Amygdala” a heck of a lot…. I’m often repeating my mother’s anxiety in my biz and I’m gonna have a talk with my amygdala and tell her “I’m love.” Or “I’m safe.” I love your tools and look forward to trying them out!


    Susan Liddy Reply:

    Love this: “going to have a talk with my Amygdala.”


  • Sage says:

    WOW, Susan you came through again. What an incredible article for reminding me to slow down, catch that quarter of a second and normalize my stress – it’s all going to be OK! Loving you!


    Susan Liddy Reply:

    It’s all more than OKAY. It’s wonderful. You are FABULOUS! I love you, sister.


  • Fabulous! I’m re-dubbing it “The Goldman 1/4!”
    Very useful! Thank you, Susan Liddy.


    Susan Liddy Reply:

    Fun huh?! Would be more accurate to dub it the “Libet 1/4 second” since he’s the one who discovered and researched it.


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