The capacity to withhold an action that we have prepared but reconsidered is an important distinction between intelligent and impulsive behavior.
~ Marcel Brass, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and of Ghent University.

Several years ago, I related a Ki Moment in which my ability to center and regain emotional control was tested. In the middle of multi-tasking kitchen chores, I turned around and walked into the open door of the dishwasher, cracking my shin and careening in pain. Instead of tearing the door from its hinges, I caught myself, took a breath and re-centered.

The incident came to mind recently when I attended a presentation on “Free Will and Free Won't." I'd never heard the phrase “Free Won't,” and I was intrigued.

Free Will
The presentation was about what impulses and behaviors we do and don't have control over. Most of us believe we control our actions. We decide to turn on a light, for example, and act on that intention. But the speaker offered research to suggest we may not have the control we imagine.

In 1983, Benjamin Libet (1916-2007) and his colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco; conducted a series of experiments on the locus of control. The experiments determined that brain activity shows a preparation to act before I am conscious of making the decision to act. The question that followed was: If my brain is preparing for the action before I’m aware of my intention, am I truly acting intentionally?

Free Won’t
Even more interesting, Libet’s experiments showed that once my intention is conscious, I can reverse its direction. I can choose not to act. Libet called this reversal Free Won't.

So, although my decision to turn on the light may not be conscious, my ability to reverse that decision is. I begin to reach for the light switch and … change my mind. Or, as in my interaction with the dishwasher, I reverse my decision to scream and kick the door. The pain and accompanying emotion initiates a path that I can follow - or not.

From Impulsive to Intelligent Behavior
Further research by Sharon Eakes says that our brains change and create new neural pathways through repetition. Like forging through a thicket of brambles, if I travel the new route often enough, I eventually make a new path. When I choose a new emotional response and repeat it often enough--no, I won't scream, I'll breathe and center instead--I form a new habit. I move from impulsive to intelligent behavior.

The next time you’re about to react impulsively, remember that you have the ability to withhold that action. Exercise Free Won’t, and make a new choice:
#1) Stop.
#2) Breathe and Center yourself.
#3) Take another path.
#4) Reflect on your success. You are creating a more intentional behavior.
#5) Smile and celebrate to reinforce the new habit.

Author's Bio: 

Judy Ringer is the author of Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict ( and the award-winning e-zine, Ki Moments, containing stories and practices on turning life's challenges into life teachers. Judy is a black belt in aikido and nationally known presenter, specializing in unique workshops on conflict, communication, and creating a positive work environment. She is the founder of Power & Presence Training and chief instructor of Portsmouth Aikido, Portsmouth, NH, USA. To sign up for more free tips and articles like these, visit