The five-second rule

The five-second rule

This week at improv class we played a new game.

In a series of two-person scenes, we had to wait five full seconds before responding to the other player on stage.

Our game was to do that every time we alternated speakers.

Five seconds felt like forever.

First, it left us guessing—one, two, three, four, five—Was the other player finished yet, or would he have more to say?

But moreover, it forced us to confront our fear of silence.

Most of us are in such a hurry to respond, that we talk over other people. We begin speaking even before others finish.

And we don’t even know that we do it.

But an experienced improv player, or consultant, or partner, can wait for a scene to unfold. She learns to be OK in the gap.

Our rush to respond—to be answer-ready at all times—is habitual.

In meetings with clients and colleagues, we are desperate to appear smart. So we offer solutions before we fully understand the needs.

With friends and family, we hope to maintain order. So, we reel conversation in before it strays too far afield.

And with a new lover, we rush to agree. We want to listen and learn. But we prefer to be loved.

According to Pema Chödrön, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher, “When we are on automatic pilot, dictated to by our minds and our emotions, there is no intelligence.”

She recommends that every day we find ways to pause. And in those pauses, that we connect with the stillness, the magic, and the power that surrounds us.

In a special-edition article in from the Lion’s Roar magazine, she called the pause “The Most Important Thing in Life.”

She wrote: “One of the most effective means for working with that moment when we see the gathering storm of our habitual tendencies is the practice of pausing. Or creating a gap.”

Certainly, meditation practice is a way to create gaps. But there also are many opportunities to create gaps as we go about our daily work.

“In any moment,” she wrote, “you can put your full attention on the immediacy of your experience…Instead of not being here, instead of being absorbed in thinking, planning and worrying, you can just be here.” 

Improv—or meditation—or simply being aware of our monkey mind—can teach us to let go of our inclination to orchestrate or micromanage what will happen next.

We can take frequent pauses and listen intently.

We can allow a gap, a gap, a gap.

And we can respond with confidence, generosity, and an open mind.

In business, in life, and in love.

The ukulele effect

The ukulele effect

Eyes wide open

Eyes wide open