H.A.L.T. Before it's Too Late!
By Joseph Shaffner,
North Rock Leadership
One of the lessons I have learned in my adult life is that some lessons need to be taught to us repeatedly and some lessons are timeless. I am re-reading Dale Carnegie’s book How To Win Friends and Influence People. Written in 1934, most of his principles are still relevant today. One that I particularly find relevant is his Principle #4 – “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.” For this article, I am going to share with you a simple, yet powerful tool called H.A.L.T. I have mentioned this tool in past articles and the concept bears repeating. H.A.L.T. is easy to adopt and is something I encourage my clients to embrace. If practiced, it can have a huge impact.
What does H.A.L.T. stand for?
H - Hungry
A - Angry
L - Lonely
T - Tired
Have you ever opened up your email in the morning and seen a flood of flaming responses to a somewhat angry email you sent late at night and cc’d a large group? Have you ever just lost it with a colleague, customer, spouse, or someone in traffic? Have you ever made a poor decision because you were tired or not feeling well? I have and wish I had not. The implications can be damaging to your career, health, and personal relationships.
Most people believe that decision-making is a purely intellectual activity. It is not. Your brain is an organ, and if not functioning well, it can lead to poor decisions. I was introduced to the H.A.L.T. acronym by my late father, who was very involved in the drug and alcohol recovery community. He shared with me that H.A.L.T. is used in recovery to prevent people from relapsing, but it also has applicability to everyone—in their lives, relationships and jobs. I have been sharing H.A.L.T. with my clients for years, and I am amazed how few people are familiar with it.
The basic framework is that you should never do important things (i.e., make decisions, solve problems, take critical actions, or have crucial conversations) when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. You’ve probably heard the old adage “Why don’t you sleep on it.” This comes directly from the same concept: Delay important decision-making until you’ve had sufficient time to reflect and consider your decision.
Why is this? The brain is the primary organ used to make decisions, take actions, and conduct conversations. These activities require a combination of aptitude, learned skills and the ability to recall past experiences. At the same time, there are always emotions and feelings that may influence these activities, and your brain requires its own care and feeding. When you are in a “H.A.L.T. state” your brain is not operating at its peak, and you are more susceptible to irrational feelings and emotions—and subsequently poor judgment.
The brain operates most efficiently when you are well rested, healthy, at peace, well fed and feeling loved. Research shows that when you are in a H.A.L.T. state, you are less productive and more prone to make mistakes.
In his article “H.A.L.T. – A Basic Rule Of Decision Making For Success, Stewart Borie says;
H: When you are hungry, your mind and metabolism do not work well.
A: When you are angry, your mind is reactive, clouded with irrational emotions.
L: When you are lonely, you are needy and vulnerable.
T: When you are tired, everything doesn’t work well – often coupled with hungry
I have been a victim of H.A.L.T. and I would go as far as to say that it altered the course of my career. Many years ago, I was at a conference on the West coast. I was fighting a cold and jet lag. I missed lunch, and was about to deliver a complex presentation to a large audience when I made the mistake of reading an email that upset me. A senior executive at my firm had sent out an email (copying a large group of my colleagues) basically telling me that I had dropped the ball on something. I felt like he had cc’d the large group just to be mean and expose my gaff. At that moment I lost my cool and instantaneously lashed out to the executive with an email of my own (not a recommended format for lashing out). It was a mistake. I had acted too quickly and emotionally. Regardless of my repeated and heartfelt apologies, it was not forgotten, and I never really regained the respect and trust of that executive. I wish I had known then, what I know now…and halted.
Here are some strategies for recognizing and dealing with a H.A.L.T. state and avoiding potentially poor outcomes;
1. Learn to check in with yourself throughout the day - Take a moment to listen to your mind and body and acknowledge its state. Meditation and daily journaling are great tools for this. Get to know yourself under stress.
2. Don’t do anything important late a night - If you have a traditional job, you sleep at night and working during the day. Therefore, at the end of the day you are tired. If you stay up late, or have problems sleeping, chances are you are wiped out in the evening. Most of us are at our best in the morning.
3. Don’t do anything important when you are under the influence of anything - Although it sounds pretty obvious, we know how this usually turns out. (This includes your libido.)
4. Practice good nutrition and don’t skip a meal - Skipping breakfast or lunch because you are too busy is a surefire way to put yourself into the H.A.L.T. state. If you have a poor diet, your brain is not getting good fuel.
5. Exercise regularly - A healthy body creates a healthy mind, makes for better sleep and less anxiety.
6. Monitor and recognize your emotions - If you are agitated or angry, learn to acknowledge it and avoid. If you had a heated conversation with a spouse, colleague, or child, you will have an elevated negative emotional and physical state.
7. Take a nap - Take the T out of H.A.L.T. A short nap is usually recommended (20-30 minutes) for short-term alertness. This length of nap provides significant benefit for improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep. I nap several times a week in the afternoon. Studies say a nap is better than coffee, and you will more than make up the time in productivity.
8. Hone your self-management skills - There are some soft skills that can always be improved such as empathy, gratitude, managing your inner critic, and taking ownership of your failures.
So there it is! It’s simple, easy to remember and can save you a lot of headaches. Write it down on a sticky and paste it to your monitor, mirror, or refrigerator. I would love to hear your comments and experiences. Check out my other article that references H.A.L.T.
About North Rock Leadership
At North Rock Leadership, we provide personal, professional and career development coaching, team-building workshops, and leadership development programs. Joe is a certified Everything DISC and Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team facilitator.