How to “Tune In” Before You Act

Before you do something that could be problematic, Rick Hanson invites you to pause and forecast the consequences. 

Alekss/Adobe Stock

Doing therapy with a child who’s learning better self-control, sometimes I’ll ask if he or she would like to ride a bike with no brakes. The answer—even from the most spirited ones—is always no. They understand that no brakes mean either a boring ride or a crash; paradoxically, brakes let you go fast and have the most fun.

It’s the same in life. Whether you’re faced with criti­cism at work, a partner whose feelings are hurt, an internal urge to lash out verbally, or an opportunity for some grati­fication that will cost you later, you’ve got to be able to put on the brakes for a moment—to pause. Otherwise, you’ll likely crash, one way or another.

Your brain works through a combination of excitation and inhibition: gas pedals and brakes. Only about 10 per­cent of its neurons are inhibitory, but without their vital influence, it’s your brain that would crash. For example, individual neurons that are over-stimulated will die, and seizures involve runaway loops of excitation.

In daily life, pausing provides you with the gift of time. Time to let other people have their say without feeling interrupted. Time for you to find out what’s really going on, calm down and get…