board photoDid you know that there are three answers to any request? They are: Yes, No, and I’ll Think About It. Yet for some reason, we tend to dismiss the third option and instantaneously go for either the yes or the no.

I am usually quick to say yes, and then after I’ve thought about it (when it’s often too late), I get frustrated with myself for over-booking, over-extending, and for trying too hard to be a pleaser. Why didn’t I ask for thinking time before agreeing to accompany my friend and her elderly mother on a tour of assisted living facilities?

I’m sure that some of you are quite the opposite. Your spontaneous reaction is to say no, and then when you’re sitting home on a Friday night, you wonder why you didn’t join your friends for dim sum.

Are You Aware That Thinking Time Is Good For Your Brain?  Here’s why:

Scientists have long opined that our brains aren’t able to multi-task.  We are hard-wired to think about one thing at a time.  And when we think about a future task or behavior, researchers say we are significantly more likely to engage in it.  This is true whether we’re considering buying a new car, or voting in the upcoming election, or becoming a vegetarian.  Thinking about something can often shift your perception and alter your body chemistry.  Take a moment to think about putting a fresh lemon wedge in your mouth.  Close your eyes and imagine the taste, the way it makes your mouth pucker.  If you’re starting to salivate, your thoughts have just altered your body chemistry.

How Long Should You Take to Think?

While a philosopher might be inclined to ponder the meaning of life, and a physicist might need to quantify the thought process with a series of equations, most of the rest of us will only need sufficient time to weigh our options.  If you’re weighing your options in front of the person making the request, and you haven’t specifically mentioned that you need a moment (or more) to think, the ensuing silence may be uncomfortable.  So uncomfortable, sometimes, that we rush to a response.  That’s because we generally feel the need to fill the silence with chatter.  If this happens to you while you’re thinking, I recommend at least an indication to the other person that your silence is intentional.   Holding up a finger might be sufficient (as long as it’s not the middle one).

I wonder how many impulsive decisions (and not necessarily good ones) we can avoid by simply asking for some thinking time.  I wonder if decisions we’ve made in the past when we’ve felt pressured into saying yes when we really wanted to say no, might have gone a different way had we only asked for some thinking time.

Please put this tool into your toolbox and let me know what you think.  Be sure to take some thinking time.