Google Mail now allows you to stop an email you’ve already sent – as long as you do it within five seconds. I can think of quite a few occasions when I wish I’d had that opportunity. OH NO! I forgot I was replying to the group rather than one member of it. AAAGH! That’s the wrong Tom I’ve sent that that to. NOOOOO! I should have waited a few minutes before reacting to that. Actually, according to research, five seconds would have been sufficient

Instead of regretting, take five seconds before you speak or act, especially in high-stress or emotional situations. Brain research has shown that by pausing, regulating your breathing, and taking just a few seconds, you are more likely to act rationally instead of foolishly.

The science behind this is a bit complicated:

It turns out while there’s a war going on between you and someone else, there’s another war going on, in your brain, between you and yourself. And that quiet little battle is your prefrontal cortex trying to subdue your amygdala.


Think of the amygdala as the little red person in your head with the pitchfork saying “I say we clobber the guy!” and think of the prefrontal cortex as the little person dressed in white saying “Uhm, maybe it’s not such a great idea to yell back. I mean, he is your client after all.”


“The key is cognitive control of the amygdyla by the prefrontal cortex,” Dr. Gordon told me. So I asked him how we could help our prefrontal cortex win the war. He paused for a minute and then answered. “If you take a breath and delay your action, you give the prefrontal cortex time to control the emotional response.”


Why a breath? “Slowing down your breath has a direct calming affect on your brain.” He told me.


“How long do we have to stall?” I asked. “How much time does our prefrontal cortex need to overcome our amygdala?”


“Not long. A second or two.”

Thankfully we don’t need to understand the process. We simply need to obey the simple command of Scripture: “Be slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). Then we would have less “undo send” and “undo speak” moments.

Picture: 2006 © Suprijono Suharjoto. Image from