Research from Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor says it takes 90 seconds for the natural chemical process to flow through our bodies, in response to a stressful trigger event. After that minute and a half? It's just our emotional response to the stories we tell ourselves about what just happened.
In other words, it takes only a minute and a half for any of us to fully respond to a discrete event such as a negative performance review or the success of closing a big contract. That's all the time our bodies need to fully flush out the chemicals that have been naturally stimulated.
Our physical bodies know what they need to respond to a stressful situation. Everything beyond that physical response is due to our own re-stimulating that circuitry, even though it isn't biologically necessary to do so.
Try it out for yourself.
See if you can recognize when a trigger event is happening. At that point, and for the next minute or two, watch for the flow of responses coursing through your body and see if you could even name them. Anger. Pain. Fear. Anxiety. Aggression. Pity. Desperation. Compassion.
In the time it takes to become cognizant of those responses, you've given your own body a pause during the fight-or-flight instinct that is at the root, evolutionarily speaking, of that ninety second reaction. What that means, in day to day practice at the office, is that we're less likely to fly off the handle or act on a knee-jerk response that we'll come to regret.
Remembering this scientific insight has been a boon to my own mental health and balance these past few months, as my team and I have ridden the roller coaster of the entrepreneurial journey: high highs (triggered by closing that big contract, for example) and low lows (such as the agony of a too-long sales cycle).
Here are two examples from that roller coaster, a high and a low in the day-in-the-life of a startup, when it could be particularly helpful to keep that ninety-second insight in mind.
Advice for Coping with a Big Win
Jack Kornfield, one of my meditation teachers, wrote a book with a title that pithily captures its biggest takeaway: After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. In the spiritual sense, "ecstasy" means moments of enlightenment; in the entrepreneurial sense, "ecstasy" means moments that the ego recognizes as a big win, such as an exceptional public speaking performance or exceeding your quarterly sales goal for the third time in a row.
In both cases, the high of those moments is finite, as in, ninety seconds long. After that, it's a matter of "coming back to earth" and being grounded again in the day-to-day reality of our startup lives, including mundane tasks like fixing the printer or doing the dishes or the laundry at home.
Often that grounding is a crash landing, especially when the people around you-- co-workers, spouse, kids-- haven't experienced the same high you did. That's when the most compassionate thing you can do is enjoy the full flush of emotions during the "ecstasy" moment, and then set it aside kindly but firmly.
Better yet, metabolize the emotions so that they inspire your behavior moving forward.
Advice for Coping with a Big Loss
Let's say that, rather than exceeding your quarterly sales goal for the third time in a row, your best salesperson announces their resignation. There is the immediate "hit" of adrenaline in response to this news, which likely ranges from disappointment to anxiety to anger.
Instead of waffling in the sentiment of that range of responses, let your physical body feel them completely (for ninety seconds, say). After that, however, move forward intentionally but compassionately.
Certainly you want to understand why the salesperson has resigned, but not for the purpose of assigning blame or dwelling in the disappointment or anger any longer. Instead, try to understand how your business can intentionally learn from this setback in order to do better moving forward.
That is, perhaps, the biggest takeaway for me of keeping this ninety-second insight in mind: to feel the full range of responses thoroughly and completely for a discrete period of time, and then being sure to metabolize or channel that energy into improved behavior in the future.