Mindfulness, Reducing Stress

3 Things to do While Waiting at a Red Light

“Life is what happens when you’re busy playing Angry Birds”

– John Lennon (paraphrased)

Our brains don’t like to stop.

It doesn’t have to be fast, but it craves a sort of minimum speed, just enough to give it something to process.

Do you notice this when you’re driving? When the car is in motion, the simple bits of processing changing scenery and pressing the gas pedal is enough to keep all that grey matter up there distracted and content. Even watching TV, while your brain isn’t being productive, it is processing information at some basic level.

But once that steady flow of information to your brain stops, it panics! Suddenly, you get restless and look for new stimuli to distract you temporarily.

Here this idea beautifully illustrated in graph form:


I’m going to go ahead and propose this as my contribution to the psychology verbatim: the Red Light Response (Nobel nomination pending). The red light response is that twinge of panic we get when we’re in a situation our brain considers to be boring.

30 years ago when you were in line at the bank, you had to stop and just ‘be.’ You were waiting in line and nothing else.  You were riding an elevator and that’s it. You were waiting for that Napster song to download and you just had to sit there.

However, to our brains great relief, the 21st Century arrived! The glorious invention of smartphones suddenly provided that hit of information it craves. But is this really the healthiest, most productive solution?

Gallup Poll in 2015 discovered that around 40% of smart-phone users check their phone a few times and hour and roughly 15% check every few minutes. Yikes!

There has to be a better use of those little moments of discomfort. Because when we add them up it represents a big chunk of our day. Here’s three ideas of how you could better use these micro-chunks of time:

1. You could use the red light as a cue to be mindful for 30 seconds. Take in your surroundings. Do a quick check on how your body is feeling from head-to-toe, then back up toe-to-head.

2. Use it as your gratitude signal. Think of one thing you’re grateful for in your life at that moment.

3. Consider it a moment as a brief period of time in your day when you have no responsibilities whatsoever. You don’t have to do work, you don’t have to deal with anything. Forget all the future-you’s crap that you have to deal with when you arrive at your destination because, well, you’re not there yet. There is no stress at that moment because all you’re doing is being simply stopped at a red light, and that’s all the world expects of you to do.

The crazy thing is, it’s not easy! Try and notice that feeling of wanting to check your phone when you’re waiting for the microwave finish heating your burrito. Or you’re in line at the cashier. Can you resist the temptation to leave that present moment, no matter how boring you perceive it to be?

If that’s not enough, here’s Louis C.K.’s amazing take on it:


    Touche . . . Momma J could not agree more. Please let’s all ditch the phones, more often and actually spend face to face time with one another! I’d be so keen to see what happens . . .

      Awesome post. I remember talking about this a couple of years ago with you guys. Louis C.K. summer it up perfectly. If you hadn’t posted that, I was definitely going to throw it your way.

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