“90 Second Rule”

The “90 Second Rule” is a tool that helps me understand my reactions and empowers me to make choices that serve me, keeping me connected to those around me. It is a concept introduced to me by a friend after she read Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight”.  I found it fascinating at the time and have found reason to revisit it recently.

Below is a snip from an interview with the “Bleeping Herald” where she explains it in her own words:


BH: I love the part in your book where you discuss that when a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body and then after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.

Dr. Jill: The 90 second rule and then it’s gone. It’s predictable circuitry, so by paying attention to what circuits you are triggering and what that feels like inside of your body, you can recognize when it has happened. We all know what it feels like when we suddenly move into fear. Something happens in the external world and all of a sudden we experience a physiological response by our body that our mind would define as fear. So in my brain some circuit is saying something isn’t safe and I need to go on full alert, those chemicals flush through my body to put my body on full alert, and for that to totally flush out of my body, it takes less than 90 seconds.

So, whether it’s my fear circuitry or my anger circuitry or even my joy circuitry – it’s really hard to hold a good belly laugh for more than 90 seconds naturally. The 90 second rule is totally empowering. That means for 90 seconds, I can watch this happen, I can feel this happen and I can watch it go away. After that, if I continue to feel that fear or feel that anger, I need to look at the thoughts I’m thinking that are re-stimulating that circuitry that is resulting in me having this physiology over and over again.

When you stay stuck in an emotional response, you’re choosing it by choosing to continue thinking the same thoughts that retrigger it. We have this incredible ability in our minds to replay but as soon as you replay, you’re not here, you’re not in the present moment. You’re still back in something else and if you continue to replay the exact same line and loop, then you have a predictable result. You can continue to make yourself mad all day and the more you obsess over whatever it is, the more you run that loop, then the more that loop gets energy of its own to manifest itself with minimal amounts of thought, so it will then start on automatic. And it keeps reminding you, “Oh yeah, I was mad, I have to rethink that thought.”


This is so powerful to me.  It is something I have done, without even knowing it.  And I think it might help bridge the gap for people who think I’m crazy to say “it’s always a choice”.  I didn’t realize that I naturally wait and observe when I have a reaction and in talking to my friend realize that many others do not, their natural reaction is to react 🙂    But even for me, being aware of the 90 seconds has been so cool.  Today, my friend was telling me something about a local woman and it kind of irritated me and I could feel myself amping up to launch into a diatribe and then I remembered the 90 second rule and just sat quietly while that passed.  I could actually feel it (the irritation) melt away, afterwards I had no desire to get amped up about this woman, none at all.   Had I reacted during the 90 seconds I think I would have stayed in that place of anger/irriation for a while.

I’ve seen it work with my husband and my kids.  It’s a neurological explanation for the advice to  “take a deep breath and wait”.    I think it’s a great tool in helping to find solutions because if we can wait through our “reaction time” and then *choose* the path we want, we are that much closer to connecting with whoever we are dealing with.  I think it helps us not feel trapped or like we can’t control our rage because we can, we have the choice, we just need to honor our reactions for 90 seconds and then decide where we want to go next.

~Anna M. Brown~