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Mastering Your Emotions: The Power of the 90-Second Rule

A Simple Technique for Emotional Management



Emotions are a natural part of being human, and they constantly change throughout our work and personal lives. Did you know there's a simple rule that can help you regain control of your emotions? The 90-Second Rule offers a practical approach to emotional self-management. Let's delve into how it works and explore strategies to incorporate it into your daily life.


Understanding the 90-Second Rule:

According to the theory of emotional construction, we can manage and control our emotions through two aspects: physiological experiences and personal interpretation. This empowers us to take charge of our emotions. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist from Harvard University, explains that when we react to something in our environment, a 90-second chemical process occurs in our bodies. After this time, any remaining emotional response is a choice to stay in that emotional cycle.


The Science Behind the 90-Second Rule:

Emotional triggers set off chemical changes within our bodies, placing us in a heightened state of alertness: fight, flight, or freeze response. The good news is that these chemicals take less than 90 seconds to dissipate from our system entirely.


Utilizing the 90-Second Window:

This 90-second window allows you enough time to recognize the people, events, or situations that trigger your emotions and to become aware of the physiological changes happening in your body. After 90 seconds, the initial chemical response has ended. If you still feel fear, anger, anxiety, or any other emotion, it's no longer your physiology driving it; it's your own thinking that has reactivated the chemical response. These thoughts create a feedback loop, reigniting the chemical reaction and embedding the emotion deeper. This unique ability to think is what can lead us into emotional cycles.


Strategies for Emotional Management within the 90-Second Window:


  1. Identify Your Emotional Triggers: Before the 90-second window begins, take the time to explore what triggers your emotions. Understand when and where certain people or events evoke negative emotional reactions. It could be a colleague or client, a specific time of day, a particular office setup, or even a song. Examples of emotional triggers include "micromanagement by supervisors," "colleagues not completing tasks," "patronizing attitude from others," "cramped living/work space," or "not putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher" etc. Once you're aware of your emotional triggers, you can remain mindful in your daily life.

  2. Recognise Emotional Responses: Every emotion has distinct physiological "markers" that manifest when our bodies activate the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, neuroendocrine, and autonomic nervous systems. Pause and pay attention to these bodily responses when emotions surge. For instance, anger may manifest as clenched jaws, tense muscles, or a rapid heartbeat, while happiness is often associated with a relaxed mind, loosened muscles, and steady breathing.

  3. Label Your Emotions: Naming your emotions can facilitate better handling of them. Use a single word to label your emotion. Expand your emotional vocabulary beyond just "anger" to include terms like annoyance, frustration, impatience, or rage. Start with the basic emotions proposed by psychologist Paul Ekman, such as happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger, and gradually develop more nuanced distinctions using resources like the "feelings list" offered by Nonviolent Communication.

  4. Accept Your Emotions: Emotional control does not mean suppressing or denying our feelings. Emotions are a healthy part of adaptive coping and enriching our emotional lives. Instead, allow your emotions to come and go freely, without judgment or attempts to change them. Become a curious observer of your inner self. When you feel that emotions should not dictate your actions, manage and control them.


The 90-Second Rule provides a simple yet powerful method for emotional management, helping you avoid getting caught in emotional cycles. By identifying your emotional triggers, being aware of the physiological changes in your body, labelling your emotions, and accepting them without self-criticism, you can embrace this powerful tool in your daily life. Now that you've learned about the 90-Second Rule, try applying it and experience the benefits of emotional self-management.


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