The Best Notes From: “Four Seconds”, By Peter Bregman

Many of my faithful readers know that I’m suspicious of corporate types who are overly identified with their statuses, or the roles that they’ve been herded into in our society.

There is a lack of human feeling present in these people, something which Erich Fromm highlighted exceedingly well in his book, “The Sane Society”.

But Peter Bregman doesn’t appear to be like the rest of those people.

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His book, “Four Seconds” seems to pierce the cloud-cover, and it’s evident that he sees further than other men. The clarity that’s present throughout his work, and his self-awareness can’t help itself from leaping off the page, and many of his messages have stuck with me for good.

We all need to take a step back. We need to re-evaluate why we’re doing what we’re doing, and if it’s important to us, how to do it better. Four seconds is all the time you need in order to take a deep breath, and get focused on what matters.

What follows are my best notes from his book, “Four Seconds”.

Some Notes on Note-Taking

For every single book that I read, I take notes on everything that I want to remember. One year, I read 170 books, and another year ‘only’ 39.

I absolutely have to take notes because I will never, ever trust my memory. I just read too much. If you take a look at my reading list, you’ll see that there’s just no way that I would be able to remember even 10 notes from each book. My advice: “Write it down!!!”

I never intended to sell these notes, or try to imitate SparkNotes, so some of my notes may go further in depth than some professional book summaries, and some not so deep at all. These aren’t something you might find from Blinkist, or even from James Clear, or Derek Sivers. They were never meant to be.

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They are simply what I have personally taken from each book, and I hope that they have some value for you.

That being said, many of these notes are from some of the most important books ever written.

I’m interested in the human condition, the biggest questions ever asked, and the giant mystery that we’re all a part of. I’m interested in nothing less than what constitutes a meaningful life. That’s what you’ll find within my multiplicity of notes and sources.

Remember to think critically! Some notes are just interesting ideas taken from the text that I may or may not agree with.

Regardless, I wanted to remember them so as to stimulate my thinking at a later date. So don’t confuse my notes here with something that I staunchly believe. Sometimes you’ll be right, and other times you’ll be wrong. So it remains important to think for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

I have turned them into a product which I sell in return for donations to Doctors Without Borders.

But I’ve decided to release some of my notes periodically on my site, for free.

So let’s get to it…

From Amazon: Peter Bregman, author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller 18 Minutes, offers strategies to replace energy-wasting, counter-productive habits that commonly derail us with truly effective ones.

The things we want most — peace of mind, fulfilling relationships, to do well at work — are surprisingly straightforward to realize. But too often our best efforts to attain them are built on destructive habits that sabotage us. In Four Seconds, Peter Bregman shows us how to replace negative patterns with energy boosting and productive behaviors. To thrive in our fast-paced world all it takes is to pause for as few as four seconds — the length of a deep breath — allowing us to make intentional and tactical choices that lead to better outcomes. Four Seconds reveals:

  • Why listening — not arguing — is the best strategy for changing someone’s mind
  • Why setting goals can actually harm performance
  • How to use strategic disengagement to recover focus and willpower
  • How taking responsibility for someone else’s failure can actually help your team

Practical and insightful, Four Seconds provides simple solutions to create the results you want without the stress.

My Personal Notes From “Four Seconds”:

*Goals can sometimes encourage myopia and unethical behavior instead

Lesson: When you become hyper-focused on a goal, sometimes you may be tempted to stretch the limits of morality in order to realize it. Resist this temptation; say nothing untrue, and do nothing unjust. It’s also good to step back from your goals once in a while and decide whether they still matter to you.

*Try using areas of focus instead of goals

Lesson: While they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, sometimes it might work to concentrate on your areas of focus instead of on specific goals. You can become dedicated to following a workout plan without setting specific goals for how many pull-ups you’re going to be able to do in six months. If you fall short, you’re going to feel bad about yourself. But if your area of focus is fitness, and you do your best every workout, you’re going to be able to do more pull-ups regardless.

*When your mind starts to argue with you, ignore it

Lesson: You don’t have to listen to your mind. Just because you think you can’t do any more, doesn’t mean you actually can’t. Challenge your own assumptions, and think of your thoughts as suggestions, especially when they are self-defeating or negative.

*Get used to not getting what you want, and you won’t experience as much stress

Lesson: Marcus Aurelius could have written this! When you are basing your entire self-worth on getting exactly what you want, no wonder you are experiencing stress when you don’t get it. Life can take everything from you, and it always does in the end. Security and safety don’t exist anywhere, and you’re not always going to get what you want. Be ok with this, and you’re going to have an easier time.

*On a scale of negative events from one to ten, the things that stress us out would usually rate around a one or a two

Lesson: Being late always seems to stress me out. Before I made a commitment to being on time, it was one of the only sources of negative stress in my entire life. But was it really worth stressing so much over? Is anything that we deal with on a daily basis worth losing our health and our lives over? Rate the things that stress you out, and you’ll find that most, if not all, of them rank very low on the scale of actual disasters.

*Breathe before you do each thing, out of reverence for the present moment that allows all of this to be

Lesson: I swear this Peter Bregman guy is some sort of yogi. Four seconds is all the time you need to take a replenishing breath, and most of us can find four seconds in our day with which to do it. If it helps, think about the empty space that ‘allows’ the earth to be, or the silence that allows sounds to be. It deserves your respect, and you can show it by taking four seconds and breathing deeply before diving into the next thing.

*Money can buy happiness, as long as you spend it on other people

Lesson: I’m not “against” money. It’s incredibly useful as a tool, and you need a certain amount of it in order to be happy. But that amount is surprisingly small, and sometimes, the best use of your money is to spend it on making other people happy. When your bare necessities are taken care of, put more of what you earn into helping others. After all, what are we here for if not to make life a little less difficult for each other?

*Try introducing yourself to people by name only, and not by your role or status

Lesson: Can you do it? If you could ask a computer what it is, it would say something like “I am a computer”. And if you ask people today what they do, or who they are, they give you the same type of answer! They’re total automatons, blinded by the vision of what society wants them to be. They’re not individuals, but you can be. Give people your name, a firm handshake, and a warm smile. Everything else is superfluous.

*Communication is hard and often done poorly

Lesson: Give people a break! Most people are not very good communicators, and though we wish they were better at it, they aren’t. So let’s deal with the world as it, instead of how we would like it to be. We can ease our expectations of people without becoming doormats. Although we shouldn’t let people walk all over us, we need to realize that most people just suck at communicating. It’s not our problem, and we don’t have to give in to anger.

*Listen during an argument, instead of forming your opinion while the other person is talking

Lesson: This is not easy. I would never pretend that it is. But you’ll notice that many people, when they’re “listening” to you, couldn’t be bothered to focus on your words, but are instead formulating their reply, and just waiting for you to stop talking. But if you actually start to listen to people instead of doing what the masses do, then some real communication can take place.

*Your appreciation is unlimited in supply, so there’s no reason to keep it to yourself

Lesson: You think you have to stockpile your appreciation for the people who deserve it the most? Keep in mind this simple heuristic: lavish your appreciation on whoever is standing in front of you at this very moment.

*Someone yelling invariably means that they want to be heard

Lesson: My experience as a nightclub bouncer has taught me this lesson repeatedly. When people feel like their views are being respected, they’re not going to yell. When they resort to yelling, however, that is a clear signal that they believe that you aren’t listening to them, or hearing what they have to say. Their clumsy approach is just to say it louder. Recognize this, and show them that you are listening.

*Your performance WILL go down if you’re learning

Lesson: Beginners are terrible at what they’re doing. Why? Because they haven’t done it before! There is a learning curve that comes with everything that you are attempting to do, and my advice is to become very comfortable with looking like you have no idea what you’re doing. There will be an initial dip, and then you’re going to see your progress accelerate. Ride out the dip, and you’ll be on your way.


As you can see, there’s some good stuff here. Peter Bregman is a smart man, and when I read “Four Seconds”, I took notes. Mindfulness has a place everywhere in our lives, and by taking a step back before we advance forward, we can save ourselves a lot of heartache and frustration.

We don’t have to unconsciously react to the demands and actions of others. We can deliberately choose how we respond to every situation in which we may find ourselves throughout the day. We can do something different than we’ve done before.

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Because self-discipline is an expression of our own will, we have the power to choose how we show up in the world. It’s my hope that you will execute that power.

I hope these notes sparked your interest, or led to some new questions, or just made your life better in some way.

If they did, I’d love for you to consider donating to the phenomenal international non-profit, Doctors Without Borders. We operate all over the world, proving free medical services to those hardest hit by war, famine, and other disasters and atrocities. We never discriminate on the basis of gender, religion, ethnicity, etc. And we would be honored to receive your support.

All the best,

Matt Karamazov


Four Seconds — Goodreads

Author Website — Peter Bregman

Join the Godlike Discipline Mailing List

Meditations — Marcus Aurelius


Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, boxer, and writer who reads at least 100 books every year and throws 300 punches per minute. His website, Godlike Discipline, is dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.

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