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This Psychotherapist-Approved Tip Can Reduce Anxiety In 23 Seconds (Yes, Really)

Corey Yeager, Ph.D., LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
By Corey Yeager, Ph.D., LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Dr. Corey Yeager, Phd is the psychotherapist to the Detroit Pistons and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the author of "How Am I Doing?: 40 Conversations to Have with Yourself." His research centers on better understanding the plight of African American relationships, while educating service providers to utilize the family system context while facilitating meaningful change in both their personal and professional lives.
Girl Looking Peaceful
Image by Ryan Ahern / Stocksy
October 18, 2022
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In basketball, a player who gets fouled gets a free throw. In between the foul call and the throw, he's got 23 seconds. I asked one of my players, "What do you normally do in that 23 seconds?" He stared back blankly.

That response helped us come to an awareness. His 23 seconds weren't being used. He gave that time away. What if he approached it differently? What if he said he was going to be intentional with even that little fraction of time?

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A reduced heart rate gives players a better shot at making a basket. So in practice we did a test. A player got his heart rate up to 160 beats per minute on a stair-stepper. Then I gave him 23 seconds to bring down his heart rate. With some mindful breathing, he brought it down to the 140s. He was in a much better zone for making a free throw. All it took was an intentional use of that 23 seconds. That's how much control we have!

That player took this knowledge to the game. Now, after a foul, he is intentional about utilizing those precious 23 seconds to bring down his heart rate and center himself.

How to use the 23-second technique in your everyday life.

If NBA players can use 23 seconds effectively under that kind of pressure, I know you can effectively use little moments throughout your day. And guess what? No one else has to know you're doing it. Maybe before a meeting or an important phone call, you can settle yourself, check in. Instead of scrolling mindlessly, be mindful about your next meeting or task. Instead of checking your texts in the three minutes before the kids get home, take some deep breaths and be fully present when they burst in the door.

This 23-second framework is a fun and challenging way to think about how much you can accomplish in a small fraction of time. When I realized that some of the basketball players had developed an ability to center themselves on the go, it reminded me what incredible power we have, moment by moment, to ride the waves of all that life is going to bring our way.

Even when you aren't able to slip away to spend time engaging yourself in the mirror—maybe you're mid-meeting or at a tense dinner—you still have access to your intentionality. You can always stop to refocus, get a pulse on how you are and where you are, and bring that heart rate down—in almost no time at all. All it takes is 23 seconds.

A quick exercise. 

First, take note of your mood at the current moment. Write a sentence or two about it. Time yourself for 23 seconds. Simply breathe deeply. Notice how your breath moves throughout your body. As your attention wanders, invite your focus back to your breath. Stop the clock and notice whether your mood has changed at all.

Look for micro-mindful moments throughout your day, times when you can take a breath and re-center. Now start tracking when you were successful re-centering yourself and when you couldn't bring your heart rate down. If you'd like, get more specific in your record-keeping, noting date, time, location, and other important variables.

Look for patterns. Are you better able to re-center in the morning than at night? Do you have trouble re-centering when you're in public? Does the presence of certain individuals or certain tasks make you particularly tense? If nothing else, perhaps you'll get guidance as to where you need the most practice, or a relationship you need to repair, or a deeper value system you need to spend more time with in the mirror.

Remember, every time you go through the steps—deep breathing, maybe saying your mantra—you are practicing, whether you reach your goal of re-centering or not. I've seen many practices in my day. Whether you call them touchdowns, points, baskets, hits, or goals, sometimes hours and hours go by without reaching a single one. You put in your time on the field. That's all you can do.

From the book HOW AM I DOING?: 40 CONVERSATIONS TO HAVE WITH YOURSELF by Dr. Corey Yeager. Copyright © 2022 Dr. Corey Yeager. On sale October 18, 2022, by Harper Celebrate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

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