Ten Seconds at a Time

For better or for worse, we all have moments—in our careers, our relationships and our personal lives—that are emotionally and mentally tiring, challenging and degrading. These are the moments that make us want to stay in bed for the day, call our moms in tears (no matter how old we may be), start happy hour at 2 pm or move to a hermitage and settle into a life of simplicity and solitude. 

We may know in the back of our minds that these are the moments that make us: they push us to grow, cultivate resilience and build confidence as we rise to the challenges they bring. But in the present moment, we likely long to escape them. Sometimes taking a sick day is an option, and it’s always good to reach out to the people who give us strength. But how do we deal with these situations when, at the end of the day, we know that we just have to buckle down and get through them? What do we do in the face of circumstances that call to mind the phrase “there’s no way out but through?”

We take the struggle 10 seconds at a time. 

There’s this great scene from Tina Fey’s Netflix series, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” in which the protagonist (spirited and spunky twenty-something Kimmy, who’s living up life in New York City after 10 years of being held captive in an underground bunker) shares some wisdom that she discovered while underground: when life hands you a seemingly insurmountable challenge, all you’ve got to do is take it ten seconds at a time. Kimmy recalls being forced to fuel a power generator by turning a crank, and how she would get through it by counting to 10. “You can stand anything for 10 seconds,” she cheerfully bubbles. “Then you start on a new 10 seconds!”

This 10-second mindset does two things. First, it reminds us of our own strength, while offering perspective. Imagining dealing with a particularly tough situation for a lifetime is enough to make any of us feel weak-at-the-knees and despairing. But 10 seconds? We’ve got that. What we may not be able to stomach indefinitely we can find the strength to handle for 10 seconds. And then 10 seconds after that. Or one week, and then one week after that. Sometimes this sense of strength is all that we need to get to the other side of a challenge.

Secondly, the 10-second mindset forces us to look rationally at our circumstances and make a plan for dealing with them. This may mean figuring out what we need to nourish us as we fight on (10 seconds at a time) and committing to investing in this nourishment. Or, it could mean deciding “I can handle this for three months; maybe not more than that, but three. So, I will stick to this, 10 seconds at a time, and as I do so, I will consider what other options I have.” It’s amazing how much having an end in mind can make the present moment endurable. 

We remind ourselves: “I’ve done hard things before. I can get through this. If only for a day, week, month or year. And as I endure, I’ll dream and plan to make a better situation my reality.”  In other words, the 10-second mindset shifts our role from being the acted-upon (these bad things are happening to me) to being the actor (I have some control). 

Whether it’s an awkward social situation (the company party), a physical challenge (dealing with a broken bone), a difficult family dynamic (vacation with the in-laws) or a career challenge (a project that feels destined to fail), the 10-second rule can help you get through it. 

Where could you utilize the 10-second rule in your life right now

Teresa lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church and dabbles in hospital chaplaincy. She has a BA in English, a Master’s in Divinity, and a passion for thinking about the intersection of spirituality, self-improvement, and well-being. Her perfect day includes slowly savoring a morning cup of coffee, reading for work and for fun, and receiving snail mail.