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MDE 24: Peter Bregman – Four Seconds to change your life


#MDE 24

Those goals you’ve written for yourself? Screw them up and don’t bother, says Peter Bregman. Well, not quite, but he does think that goal setting can harm your performance. The author of Four Seconds, which is published this month, says that when we feel overwhelmed and stressed by our growing to-do list, our knee-jerk reaction is to work longer hours and pack more into the hours we are already working.

He says in the book, “We multitask, dash from meeting to meeting, sneak emails under the conference-room table and work early in the morning and late into the night. Our intention is to reduce our stress and overload. But our actions have the exact opposite effect: we end up more stressed and more overloaded.”

Use it or lose it

Peter is CEO of Bregman Partners Inc, where he advises coaches and leaders at all levels in a variety of sectors and all over the world. He’s also author of 18 Minutes, which looks at how to prioritise our time better and Point B, which looks at how to lead change, as well as contributor to numerous other books and magazines. He says he wrote Four Seconds as much for himself as anyone else. “I needed it,” he says, simply, “I don’t approach these from the perspective of a guru sharing my great wisdom. It’s very natural to have reactions that are not productive and I noticed some of them in myself and I wanted to do something about it.” His approach is all about using your time wisely. “I might choose to say that it was most important to have this conversation with you today but how I use that conversation, show up in that conversation, what I say and how I listen determines how productive that time would be.”

Four Seconds is especially handy for entrepreneurs, who are often the bottom line in their organisations, as efficiency is critical. But it’s pretty handy as a navigation tool for everyday interactions too. Taking four seconds to stop and reassess a situation can make the difference between saying the fast and rash thing and falling out with someone, to having a constructive debate. 

Set goals, but make sure they're the right ones

rsz_102291-fc3dIn Four Seconds, Peter cites a study supposedly done at Harvard Business School whereby 3% of students had written down clear goals and ended up being worth ten times the rest of the class combined: “That study never happened,” he says, “Urban myth.” The danger, he says, is that we achieve our “goals” at the expense of what’s important to us.

His advice comes from a personal place. Back in the 80s and 90s when his business was growing fast, he says, “I wasn’t really enjoying it and I had very little time for family and friends. I had to take a step back.”

Peter cites a great example of a US football quarterback who was throwing too many interceptions so he was penalised financially. The result? It worked, but only because he threw fewer passes.

The power of listening 

One of Peter’s best tips in the book is listening, not arguing. It might seem obvious but many of us don’t do it well enough. “In fact,” he says, “We argue when we disagree. We think it’s productive. Argue because it’s fun, fine, but if you’re arguing because you’re trying to make a point, there are much better ways of getting people to agree with you.” The smartest way of getting someone to change their perspective, says Peter, is to listen and ask questions. He adds, “You also have benefit of hearing reasoning which may allow you to have a better perspective.”

In the book Peter also talks about strategic disengagement and taking responsibility for others’ failure. “It’s always helpful to get feedback,” he says, “even when it’s painful. It can be hard for someone to say to you, ‘Here’s what I think you should do differently’ but it’s incredible data you wouldn’t get otherwise. It’s the kind of pain that’s absolutely worth it…..” Moreover, “If we feel the pain of it there’s probably some truth to it.”

The fact is most of us shy away from this and we can be our own worst enemies. The trick, says Peter, is to keep thinking about the outcome you’re trying to achieve and whether you’re taking the actions because they are familiar to you or because they are driving towards those outcomes.

In an entrepreneurial environment the stakes are often sky-high, with personal security at risk as well as professional reputation. And as anyone who's been around the block a few times will tell you, you never know when people will come back into your life in the future. Resisting the urge to burn bridges can be hard, but in the book Peter gives us a blueprint for staying calm and maintaining our integrity. It's a powerful concept, and a book I'm glad to have in my library.


Favourite business book:

“The one I am reading at the moment is Who’s Got Your Back? by Keith Ferrazzi. He also wrote Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. It’s so important to build these sorts of networks. It’s a really useful book to remind us of that.”

Motivational quote:

"Most of our faults are more pardonable than the methods we think up to hide them.” Francois de La Rochefoucauld (extra marks to Peter for his impeccable pronunciation in the interview!)

Productivity hack:

“A paper and pencil. When I am really overwhelmed I take a paper and pencil and just write lists. It has a direct relationship to my brain. We are configured in different ways when we’re looking at a computer screen.”

Contact Peter at:


or on twitter @peterbregman

Buy the book:

Click here to buy Four Seconds on Amazon

I really hope enjoyed the interview with Peter, whether you just read it here or listened to the podcast (and heard all my failures to implement his wise words!). If you have any thoughts or comments about this episode, please do share them with us on Twitter or Facebook – we’d love to hear from you!

And finally, if you get a chance I would be hugely grateful if you could leave an honest review for The Mission Driven Entrepreneurs Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and greatly appreciated! They're so important to the ranking of the show and I do read every one. If you've left one already, thank you so much!

Click here to open the show in iTunes where you can leave a review and you can also subscribe to get new episodes automatically.

Thanks again to Peter for sharing his story with us.



@ZoeBallTV @BBCRadio2 I never listened to radio 2 - I will now. Great show 👍😊
4 hours ago

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