Why "Six Seconds"?

The Inside Story & Neuroscience Behind Our Intriguing Name

What can you do in six seconds?

In 1997, our team was sitting around the kitchen table talking about how to launch this new nonprofit organization. After about an hour of listing names (and if you think “Six Seconds” is strange, you might like to know that “Platypus” was on the list for awhile!), we took a break and went onto new topics.

We talked about how important it is for our organization to show how emotional intelligence is something simple and practical — that anyone can practice and build without complex processes. We were educators versed in an experiential approach to learning that’s both joyful and meaningful, so we wanted to be sure our organization maintained a commitment to distilling big ideas into bite-sized pieces.

The Founders!

Six Seconds’ founders Anabel Jensen, Karen McCown, Joshua Freedman at our 2013 conference at Harvard.

In her usual style, Anabel “research says” Jensen (our President) was sharing some of the latest research on emotional reactions, and said she’d been looking into how long it takes for someone to recognize the feeling of compassion — and it was around six seconds.

Aha Moment!

We all looked around at each other as if a light went on, and someone said, “that’s it!” As we reflected on this unusual name, we decided it captures some of the science, some of our unique approach, and some of our commitment to using emotional intelligence to spread emotional wisdom.

To learn about the science behind the name, here is an interview with one of our advisory board members, neuroscientist Candace Pert.  We also have many articles about the neuroscience of emotion, here’s one about how we become reactive, and how to be less reactive… and, if you don’t have it, be sure to get this beautiful free eBook with neuroscience tidbits and practical tips

As we like to say…

Six Seconds of Neuroscience

Emotions are neurohormones; chains of amino acids that flow through the brain and body carrying messages.  Produced primarily in the hypothalamus, these chemicals affect literally every living cell in our bodies serving as part of our master-regulatory function.  Each “burst” of these chemicals, from the time they’re produced, to the time they’re completely broken down and absorbed, last 4-7 seconds.  Thus, if we miss the opportunity of those six seconds, we miss the wisdom and energy the feelings offer; also, if we’re feeling something for longer than six seconds, we are – at some level – choosing to recreate and refuel those feelings.

Watch a 2-minute explanation on the neuroscience (to the right). Source: Personal correspondence between Joshua Freedman and Six Seconds’ Advisory Board member Dr. Candace Pert (author of The Molecules of Emotion), 2001


Most of all, we want you to know that emotional intelligence is right there inside you — everyone has it, and everyone can learn to use it more effectively. While we deliver powerful in-depth trainings and approaches to EI development, the tools you really need are already inside you — and if you’ll commit just a moment now and then to practice, six seconds at a time, you’ll enhance the quality of your relationships with yourself and others.

Updated by Annie Chu from the original version published 2/5/2004

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