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How To Use The 2 Second Rule To Avoid Silly Mistakes

How To Use The 2 Second Rule To Avoid Silly Mistakes

You slam your fist on the table and blurt out “Go to hell, goddammit.” After a few tense seconds pass you notice your body calming down. You slap your forehead thinking, “Oh my god. I shouldn’t have done that.”

How to avoid mistakes - 2 second rule

Have you reacted with anger and regretted your words and actions a split second later? Well, we have all been there. You can avoid such anguish by applying the 2-second rule of Receive Pause React.

When you react on impulse you wish you could travel back in time and erase what you did. The most common errors people make are:

  • Uttering words you shouldn’t have
  • Actions which hurt people and relationships
  • Reacting the wrong way
  • Making small decisions which lead to bad consequences

To avoid such discomfort in the future, apply the 2-second rule

What is the 2-second rule of Receive Pause React?

Here is how your normal flow of actions occurs in the absence of the 2-second rule.

Normal flow of events

You receive information from your senses. You might see something, hear words that make your blood boil or encounter a new opportunity which makes your eyes sparkle.

Triggered by what you receive you spring into action. You might scream abusive words or get ready for a fistfight. I am not only talking about cases of anger. You could react to an exciting piece of news and try to grab what showed up without enough thought. Your belief convinces you that you’re doing the right thing.

But your emotions diffuse soon after but it’s too late by then. You already have paved the path for some damage by hurting relationships, making a fool of yourself or making a bad decision. It ends with you regretting the consequences you have to face.

The 2-second rule changes the flow of actions by adding one little step in between – Pause.

Why 2 seconds? Shouldn’t it be 3 seconds based on one second each for Receive Pause React?

I skip the Receive part because only your reaction lies under your control. You will receive information in different shapes and forms which you have no influence over. You can only change how to react to the situation.

Related article: 7 tips to improve your decision making skills

So how do you apply the 2-second rule?

All you need to do after receiving information is pause for a moment to gather your thoughts. A brief pause of 1-2 seconds does the job.

How to apply the 2 second rule

What you do during the pause depends on the situation and your personality. Here are 2 options to try out during your pause:

  • Ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing
  • Think of the consequences of your actions

The second option yields better results in most cases. But irrespective of how you spend the 2 seconds, you will avoid many mistakes you would have otherwise committed without the pause.

Before we get into examples of how to apply the 2-second rule you have to understand why do you go bonkers under the influence of anger.

Why we make bad decisions when angry?

Though the details use anger as a reference, pausing can help you improve your decisions even when you are calm. I will explain in detail a little later.

The human brain has gone through evolution for millions of years before reaching its current state. During the process of evolution, it has carried some parts of the brain from our ancestral mammals and reptiles.

Your brain knows how to process information, apply thought and act. Using the same approach, you solve problems, understand what another person says or make decisions.

However, the brain takes a shortcut to speed up the process when you face danger.

Amygdala Hijack

For example, if you spot a snake next to your feet while walking, you jump immediately. You do not spend 2 seconds thinking, “Oh, I see a snake. It might be poisonous and I will be in danger if it bites me. I need to run.” Instead, you react within the blink of an eye.

Your brain’s reaction in such situations is called the Amygdala Hijack.

This flight or fight response which nature has ingrained in our body helps us stay alive. You will notice animals, birds, and insects exhibit the same behavior when threatened.

The problem is, the same behavior pops up when you face a simple problem that threatens your comfort too, for example, someone cutting you off. Unfortunately, nature does not help you remain calm when angry. It goes against you. Anger is not only harmful to relationships but also your body. Therefore, if you learn how to remain calm when angry, you boost your health too.

Examples of applying the 2-second rule

1. Someone passes a comment you do not like

Reacting with anger

Your usual response involves confrontation with words, body language or physical assault. Before you do it, pause for a second. Ask yourself if your reaction is justified and what possible consequences follow?

One second makes all the difference between an argument you do not even start and a fistfight which ends with both of you on the floor. A small flash of logic works magic to diffuse your anger and let it go.

You can apply this with your partner, coworkers or friends. If you do, you will avoid many conflicts you otherwise bring upon yourself.

2. Already in an argument

Not arguing further

If you have already got into an exchange of words, you cannot take back the damage you have done already. But you know what you can do? Prevent further damage.

Pause for a moment to ask yourself:

  • What good comes out of this argument?
  • Do I get a trophy for winning the debate?
  • Is it necessary to counter-argue?

An argument can proceed only if both involved fire a barrage of comments at each other. If one of them comes to a halt, the other can provoke a bit but will stop soon after.

Using the 2-second rule, you can be the person who applies the brakes.

3. Punctuality


If you arrive late to commitments often, you can apply the 2-second rule to show up on time.

A person who arrived late did not just start late. The story begins much earlier where he was lazy to wake up, snoozed the alarm, delayed the bath or spent 20 minutes on Instagram.

If you have developed a name for yourself as a latecomer, take a 2-second pause before any actions leading to the event. Ask yourself if you need to delay your bath. Think for a moment if checking social media is necessary right now.

The minor pause can help you realize the uselessness of the delay. You may not always arrive on time, but you will show up earlier than before.

Related article: 5 actionable tips to be punctual

4. Eating excess calories

Excess calories

As you walk in a supermarket, if you notice a delicious looking chocolate frosted donut, you give in and pick it up.

If you spend 2 seconds asking yourself, “Should I indulge in such sinful calories when I am already overweight?”, chances are, you will place the donut back in silence.

If you want to pick the donut even after asking yourself, go ahead. But on some days, you will change your mind. Those days can be the difference between wearing a pant that fits your waist and the one that requires you to hold your breath to zip up.

5. Choosing between alternatives

When you have 2 options to choose from, one of which is your current situation and other is a possible option, you fall victim to another option syndrome.

Triggered by an opportunity

It is the gut feeling that the other option might lead to a better outcome. You feel so because you are facing problems with your current situation and you do not know enough details about your alternative.

You compare the problems of your current situation with the benefits of the alternative. Now that isn’t a fair comparison. To make the right choice you have to compare the pros and cons of each side. However, your mind chooses a simpler alternative of looking at the current bad vs the possible good.

A common example I use to explain the syndrome is trying to choose an alternative on Google maps when your current path shows jam-packed traffic. If you take a moment to ask yourself if the other route might have traffic too, you will stop yourself from turning the steering wheel.

6. Making a decision during pressure situations

Decision under pressure

When you are under pressure, you feel the need to act quicker than required. For example, you might be playing a sport or betting on a hand of poker. When the opponent makes his move, you feel the urge to react on impulse even if you have time on the clock to make a logical decision.

Again, such responses occur due to the Amygdala hijack mentioned above.

All you need is to take only a second to evaluate your decision. A split second can help you win games and avoid losing the money you bet.

7. Approaching a lady

Approaching a lady

One day you muster the courage and walk towards your crush to make a move. The reason behind the audacity can be liquor or encouragement from friends.

Take a second to think, how would your move appear to the other person? Maybe you have about starting with “Hello, I am …” But have you thought what will you say next? If you have thought of a pickup line, run it by yourself to hear how it sounds.

A second can help you sweep another person off their feet or turn you into the butt of all jokes.

Pitfalls to avoid

The 2-second rule can work wonders when applied. But here are some common mistakes to avoid while applying the rule:

1. Underestimating the value of 2 seconds:

You might think 2 seconds is not enough to make a great decision. Yes, you’re right.

But we are not talking about coming up with a pathbreaking idea or transforming your life in a moment. You need to harness the power of 2 seconds to avoid silly mistakes.

Your brain can think and process more data than you think in a fraction of seconds. Give your grey matter a chance and you will surprise yourself.

Related article: Cognitive Biases – Why your brain makes poor decisions

2. Undergoing decision paralysis

decision paralysis

One common way of avoiding problems is by not making any decisions. Such a flaw of the mind can lead to decision paralysis. As per psychology, decision paralysis is the tendency to do nothing at all when we have to choose between two difficult options.

The 2-second rule applies during small issues, so avoid the urge to do nothing. Make a choice and understand that you can make a wrong decision at times.

3. Expecting a detailed analysis in 2 seconds

The power of the 2-second rule lies in avoiding silly mistakes by analyzing the most important parts of available information. If you push this too far, you make the process no different than sitting down to think and solve a problem.

For example, if you over analyze how your words come across to a person you have a crush on, you will never muster the guts to make a conversation. The purpose of the 2-second rule is to make sure you do not say something stupid. Do not expect 2 seconds to help you draft a perfect opening line.

In the long run, you will succeed by avoiding mistakes.

4. Considering the rule useless after one or two failures

Giving up

Even after spending 2 seconds to gather your thoughts, sometimes you will still start an argument, react with anger or use a cheesy line as a conversation starter. But a few failures are not enough reason to discard the rule.

Do not expect the rule to have a 100% success rate. Even if it helps you only a few times, you still have nothing to lose. But most people succeed in making the right choice using the rule.


Your brain is a masterpiece of nature over a period of millions of years. No scientist has ever figured out the complete functioning of the brain. Your brain has way more abilities and processing power than you think of.

If you give your brain 2 seconds, it can alter your state of mind and teleport you to the right track. If you want to avoid simple mistakes in daily life you do not need the brainpower of Einstein. You only need 2 seconds.

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