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The 10-second Rule

Have you ever caught yourself saying or doing things and thinking after? Have you ever felt that your heart or your body took a decision before your brain could intervene? I definitely have. A lot of brave decisions, a lot of crazy one’s and a considerable amount of stupid one’s too. What fascinates me is that short moment before the reasoning switches on, before your mind starts rationalising and weighing the outcomes and how the most courageous things happen in that window of… approximately 10 seconds. 

Every now and then during a dance party when a fast song comes up, there’s a jam. People come out and throw down (or at least they try to). Everything happens really fast and spontaneously. Even though I’ve taught multiple classes on how to jam, I’m still usually not the first one to go out and dance in the middle (if I manage to go out at all). It depends on the mood of the party, how “party-full” I feel and so on. But more than anything it depends on how long I wait to go out and let my brain take over the spontaneity.

Standing in the outside of the jam circle I usually have three options: 1) go to the bar and get a drink (easily my go-to) 2) keep standing there watching people dance and start a discussion with myself if I should go in or not and if so, with who, what do I do, what if my skirt breaks (that actually happened), etc. 3) physically make one step forward and find myself leaving the comfort zone and entering the middle of the dance floor (where magic happens as inspirational quotes suggest). Seriously, there are moments (and those are the most beautiful ones) when I'd come out to the middle of the jam without realising it, I’d just catch my body starting to move forward as if someone had pushed me out, as if I’ve been possessed by a higher power. However, If I wait too long, usually longer than 10 seconds (according to my scientific data) there’s a big chance I’ll lose that magical moment, that window of spontaneity and action. I might still come out (if I strike a good deal with my rational-self) but it will be way less care-free, way less heartfelt. 

Starting a conversation with a stranger, asking a question, giving an honest answer, expressing a feeling, pitching an idea, initiating a kiss, pressing “send” before evaluating all the consequences (aka the modern definition of courage).. This 10 second rule works in so many situations. 10 seconds to act from your heart/gut feeling instead of rationalising and making pro’s and con’s list in your head. I’m not saying it’s always the right thing to do, it can definitely lead to having to deal with the outcome you did not expect, to situations you don’t want to be in. I have definitely burnt myself with the fire of impulsivity and childish decision making (“I want it, why can’t I have it?” philosophy of a 10-year old).

Nevertheless, the important question is would you rather regret trying or not trying. The next question is where do you want to push yourself to be brave and where you’re fine staying in the comfort zone (for that, knowing yourself and your needs/values helps). I know I’m fine with letting my brain say no to rope jumping or trying ayahuasca but I’m not fine when my brain tries to talk me out of putting myself out there, being straightforward and brave whether in art or in relationships with others. When I think of it, some of the most beautiful connections, conversations and ideas were born in those 10 seconds and some never saw the daylight because 10 seconds had passed too quickly and feeling was overruled by reason.

The brain is not to be blamed, it is doing it’s best to spot danger and to protect us. Our reptilian brain searches for unfamiliar (=possible dangerous) things, situations, foods, evaluates and soon after sends us signals to remove ourselves from the situation. That’s how our ancestors knew better than to eat poisonous berries and pet tigers. Our brain does a wonderful job helping us to survive, however, today we aim for more than mere survival, we wish to feel connected, to be seen, to create meaningful relationships with people around us, to express and to show ourselves, to be valued for who we are and what we do. That’s where reptilian brain goes into "404 not found” mode and tries to talk us out of situations that actually don’t pose physical threat. It interprets situations where usually the worst that can happen is making fool of ourselves or feeling embarrassed and marks them with a big red flag. But the thing is, no one has ever died from the embarrassment (not that I know of), so it’s more a danger to our ego than our physical body. 

Striking up a random conversation with a stranger in Taiwan that brought me a beautiful friendship, sending my essay to a magazine that led me to my first publication and a push to keep writing, saying a ridiculous pick-up line to a guy in a bar that resolved into a short but sweet dating story. All those things happened in more or less 10 seconds from the moment an idea or a feeling was born to the action that proceeded it. 

When I’m afraid to speak 

Is when I speak.

That is when it is the most important.

-the freedom in fear 


When afraid, that’s when it’s the most important. 10 seconds that separate you from where you are to where you might end up if you lean in, make that step forward, lift your arm up, start saying the first word just before your self-consciousness kicks in. I don’t know what that place is, but I’m willing to find out. 


Illustration: my sister Luka, you can find a lot of her art works here:

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