That title is a little misleading, I’ll admit, but during my latest library book reading journey (yes, a library book, my dentist acted like I was holding an ancient artifact – “is that a…library book?” he asked) – excuse that digression – I came across Mel Robbins and her 5 Second Rule (The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage). In a nutshell, she claims that whatever your goals are, your fear to act, your anxiety, all can be helped by the 5 Second Rule. (And it has nothing to do with the rule of eating something off the floor within five seconds.)
It’s simple to do, whenever you’re faced with procrastination (to exercise, work on a project, get out of bed) or if you’re afraid to act upon an impulse (introduce yourself to a new person, speak up in a meeting or in class, ask for a raise) you start a countdown of 5-4-3-2-1, then physically move in some way, and do the thing! She writes, “Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi applied this concept to human behavior, blaming activation energy as one of the reasons why making change is so hard. He defines activation energy as that ‘initial huge push of energy’ that is required to change whether it’s to get a stalled car to move forward or yourself out of a warm bed in the morning.”
According to Robbins, the countdown and physical movement interrupts the part of your brain that is unmotivated, afraid, or stuck and will create that “activation energy” to start whatever you’re avoiding. For her, it began with just getting out of bed in the morning. She was in a tough life situation being unemployed, her husband’s restaurant businesses were doing poorly, they were deep in debt, and had two young children. She avoided life each day by hitting the snooze button multiple times every morning, then she would rush out of bed at some point, get her kids to school late, and start a stressful day of not facing her problems, ending with alcohol in the evenings to block it all out. She lived this way for a long time and beat herself up about it. But after seeing a rocket take off on TV and hearing the countdown, she did that to herself the next morning – counted down from 5 to 1 then leapt out of bed.
For her, that small step proved to herself that she could do it, and she slowly started using the 5 Second Rule in all areas of her life: to find a job, to face their debt, to cut down on self-medicating her problems away, and to work on her goals. According to Robbins, she changed her entire life by using the Rule. She says, “What I discovered is powerful: pushing yourself to take simple actions creates a chain reaction in your confidence and your productivity.”
In the book, there is testimonial after testimonial about how the Rule has helped thousands of people accomplish their goals, move past fear to move forward in life, fulfill unreachable desires, or quit a bad habit. She writes, “That’s the power of everyday courage. When your heart speaks, honor it, 5- 4- 3- 2- 1- and move. One moment of courage can change your day. One day can change your life.”
As usual, however, that is easier said than done, but according to her, that little initial action will start a chain reaction. I tried it and it did help get me get off my butt and do things I didn’t feel like doing. But, of course, my brain found a workaround and negotiated not starting the countdown because I would have to get moving once I did. I guess she would tell me to stop doing that before I even start, but it is hard to change. I read her book over a month ago and have conveniently forgotten that the Rule even exists many times since. Still, if I remind myself, it really can help, not only procrastination, but with anxious thoughts too.
Robbins was extremely afraid of flying for most of her life, but realized that if she applied the Rule once an anxious thought entered, then physically moved her body to interrupt her brain, along with picturing an “anchoring thought,” a future scene she was looking forward to (for example, flying home to her family and picturing them all eating dinner together once she got back), she was able to beat this overwhelming fear. She says she doesn’t even think about her flying worries anymore. “Everyday life is full of moments that are scary, uncertain, and difficult. Facing these moments and unlocking the opportunity, magic, and joy in your life requires tremendous courage.” For her, the 5 Second Rule forced her to face those moments and in doing so, found herself being courageous. “The more that you practice acts of courage, the more that you will believe you are in control of your life, and as a result, the more confident that you will become. Even when what you need to do scares you to death, the Rule helps you take courageous action.”
So, give it a try the next time you’re faced with uncertainty, procrastination, or just plain old laziness, and let me know if it works for you. In the meantime, I will 5-4-3-2-1 myself onto my next task.