Freezing time is a well-loved trope of fairy tales, science-fiction and magic fiction.
From X-Men to Doctor Who to Star Trek to mangas, Dungeons & Dragons and video games, there is always a delightful and highly visual scene where a quicksilver character runs to and fro while everyone else looks like an extra in Sleeping Beauty. When I was younger I didn’t see the point at all, though. Teleportation or flying seemed a lot more fun.
And yet – in my coaching practice, time-freezing is the super-power I try to foster the most.
One reason is that it’s actually within our reach.
The other is that it is much more useful than I ever dreamed it could be.
Time freeze for beginners! The golden second
I was recently talking with a friend, a lovely, dreamy and graceful woman, and the very loving wife and mother to 3 men, big and little. What weighed on her was the impact of her own sudden and devastating bouts of anger. Her partner adores her and they make a wonderful couple and parental team, and yet whenever her rage erupts, it cast a pall over the whole family, sometimes for weeks or months. She felt bad, guilty and yet she felt that she couldn’t help herself. The anger was always incredible swift and able to blindside her in a second.
Aaaahhh, but that second… That second is the precious golden second, the breath, the answer.
No matter how quickly rage can erupt in any of us, there is always that second. Just like when you stub your toe against a 3-ton wall and have that 1 second of painlessness in which you go “OH FOR F-“ before you actually feel the soul-crushing pain, you have that one second between your synapses registering rage AND sending out marching orders to do a karate chop.
Sometimes it’s less than a second, arguably. That’s the exact perfect moment for a time freeze.
Emotions come and go
Imagine you could actually do that. Imagine the whole world around you simply stopping while you vent and vent and vent (and karate chop). How long would it take you to get it out of your system? An hour? Two hours? Bear in mind, our emotions are actually very quick to dissipate – how long do you feel the flush of happiness after you’ve received a gift?
Doesn’t anger last longer? Actually, it does, doesn’t it? …but that is because some of us love to fan the flames over and over again (it makes you wonder why we don’t do that with emotions that actually makes us happy… but that is the subject of another blog post…)
Anyway. The point here, is that even if you had that wonderful power or magic gizmo – would you think to freeze the frame? The actual magic power here is the awareness of that golden second.
If you miss it, well, you can always try to rein in your horses down the road. The earlier the better, since anger usually creates its own momentum.
In order to identify this golden second, getting in touch with our emotions and our bodily sensations – and our thoughts too, as this is the royal trio – can help us stop ourselves. Some people feel a burning sensation in their chest and their throat. Some people’s vision narrows (this has been confirmed by science). Some people feel adrenaline bolstering them and making them shake. Those are alert signals. We can catch our anger before it takes on a will of its own – not because anger is ‘bad’ but because it is a blunt instrument and usually causes more damage than we would wish.
Many people have said that time seemed to slow down during terrible accidents, or that they ‘saw their lives pass in front of their eyes’ in brushes with death. These are times when our time-freezing superpower expresses itself.
If we can recognize the warning signs of anger, and have just a few moments to regroup and decide what to do with it, we will express it much more efficiently. More importantly we will have choices. We will not be the pawn of our anger, just as we learn to not be the pawn of our run-away minds with meditation (and Pause!).
Wouldn’t you rather be in charge?
Expressing your anger is not communicating.
You can explain your anger.