Even without knowing what happens in 6 seconds, you have read or been told dozens of times what happens when your hot buttons are pressed. Why have people advised you to take a deep breath, count to 10, bite your tongue, pinch yourself at moments when an outburst is about to happen? Slow down, and practice patterns that do no escalate. It turns out that in about 6 seconds, the cortical (thinking/reasoning part of the brain) can catch up and create a conscious, thoughtful response. For the Six Second Pause to work, the brain has to focus on cortical thinking. So, six seconds of thought on something that excites you or moves away totally away from the domain of the stimulus that causes you to take this pause.
A Little Brain Science
The prefrontal cortex right behind your forehead is the newest part of the brain – this is where we strategize, make plans for the future and other complex decision making takes place here. The amygdala (where feelings take place) has superhighways to talk to our pre-frontal cortex which is why when there is a stimulus that violates our values/beliefs, we are almost immediately jolted into reaction, However, if we wanted to tell our amygdala to ‘cool’ it or ‘take it easy’, it does not have the same superhighways and express lanes to connect back to the amygdala. It only has back roads and side streets which obviously take longer. Hence, a message you send to your brain to cool it does take longer to sink in. This is the main reason why we need to take a pause or deviate from the stimulus as our brains are not designed to manage emotions that quickly. It is still evolving.