How will you react or respond in those moments of a critical decision? Will you have the awareness and consciousness to make a wise choice that serves your long term goals and happiness? Will you jump to a conclusion or get caught up in an emotional reaction that could derail something you worked hard to achieve?
We don’t always get to see those critical moments of decision coming. We can’t prepare for them once they arrive. If we are to make wise decisions in those moments we will have to prepare for them before they arrive.
To give yourself the best preparation for those moments of milliseconds, develop your awareness so you make better choices. Awareness will allow you to maintain your perspective of important strategic goals in moments where you would otherwise react.
Being able to maintain perspective in potentially life changing moments is what can make the difference between success and failure, or between happiness and regret.
I’ll use an example about basketball to make my point. It’s a bit of a long story but I think it illustrates how you can destroy a lot of hard work in a matter of milliseconds.
In game 4 of the NBA basketball playoff series between the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs there was an incident that changed the course of the Suns playoff chances.
The Phoenix Suns had the win in hand and only 18 seconds left when Robert Horry of the Spurs flagrantly fouled Steve Nash of the Suns. It was a senseless hockey check of Nash into the scorer’s table. It cost Robert Horry a two game suspension.
But in the spark of a moment, what the Phoenix Suns players did to themselves with their emotional reaction was far worse.
Seeing their floor leader get hip checked, Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire got up from the bench and headed off to engage the enemy. Diaw and Stoudemire are two of the Phoenix Suns top players.
They caught hold of themselves shy of any confrontation and returned to the bench area but damage was already done. By leaving the vicinity of the bench during a court incident they had violated a well known NBA rule to prevent brawling. Both Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire were suspended for critical Game 5 of the best of 7 series.
Without the play of Diaw and Stoudemire the Suns were crippled in game 5. They lost and went down 3 games to 2 in the series. The next game was in San Antonio where the Spurs had the home court advantage that helped them win the deciding game and close out the series.
The San Antonio Spurs are headed off to play for the NBA championship. The Phoenix Suns will sit in front of their televisions and watch other people live out what they dreamed and worked hard for an opportunity to do.
What’s the difference between playing for the NBA championship and going home early? Milliseconds.
What does NBA playoffs and championship basketball have to do with you and your life? Milliseconds.
You and everyone else you know makes decisions in milliseconds. Sometimes they are snap decisions. Often they are emotional reactions where the bigger consequences are not considered. The direction of your life changes depending on what you do, and what you refrain from doing in those milliseconds.
In the period of milliseconds two players lost their perspective and ran on the court to fight for their friend. Did Steve Nash need their intervention? No. The hip check was over and the opponent was walking away. Referees were on the scene to put things in order. Trainers were going over to check on Steve Nash. Stoudemire and Diaw’s involvement wasn’t going to improve anything about the situation. But they lost the perspective in the heat of the moment to consider any of that.
I understand helping and protecting team mates and friends. But what I wouldn’t want to do is jump in unnecessarily, get suspended, and cost my team mates an opportunity to win an NBA championship. That’s not helping my team mates. I’m not sitting in judgment condemning what they did from my vantage point days later. I’m just using the incident to make a point about the difference between choices and reactions in your life.
By losing their perspective they lost the ability to make a better choice. That loss off choice for a split second added to season ending consequences.
It’s easy to see where milliseconds matter to NBA players, but where do milliseconds make a difference in your life?
What happens in the moments leading up to firing a comment at your boss or an employee that sets the relationship off balance? It might send you looking for another job?
What happens in the milliseconds that lead up to an angry outburst? What if you could shift to a different point of view and make a different choice in that instant?
What happens in a moment of emotional reaction like jealousy when you say something you regret? Perhaps you say something that you can’t take back.
What happens when you are considering asking someone out, but then tell your self, “No they probably wouldn’t be interested in me?” In those milliseconds the mind creates a feeling of insecurity, and then that feeling determines your actions, and inactions? You talk your self out of taking action for what you want.
What happens during those holidays with family where in milliseconds a family gathering can turn into an emotional blow out?
In milliseconds reactions happen that cause relationships to break up. In flashes family members decide not to speak to each other and are estranged for years. In milliseconds people quit their jobs.
Paying attention to milliseconds may not seem like a big deal until you see the chain reaction of consequences for years afterwards. When you see the link between milliseconds and consequences, the milliseconds become as important as years of your life. You discover that you want control over what happens in those milliseconds.
The more self awareness you have heading into those unforeseen moments the less chance emotional reactions have to overpower you. When you learn to manage and master the choices made in milliseconds, everything else about your life becomes much easier.
For an excellent read on understanding decisions and reactions made in milliseconds is the best selling book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Malcolm Gladwell does an amazing job of detailing the process of choices made in an instant. He points out that with practice you can change how you react and make a better choices.
For exercises awareness so that you can gain control over those milliseconds I suggest the Self Mastery Courses. The first few sessions are free for you to sample. They will guide you to focus your attention on those critical moments and prepare you to choose more wisely.
All of life happens in the smallest of moments. The opportunity to change the direction of your life lies in the smallest slices of time.1