I‘ve always known the 5-second rule as being that silly idea that if you drop food on the floor and pick it up within five seconds, you can still eat it. But this is not the rule I’m talking about in this article. The rule here not only won’t give you the stomach flu, but it has the capacity to transform your life immediately and powerfully.
Read this again: The 5-second rule can change your life. Radically.
Curiosity Doesn’t Always Kill the Cat
I confess, I read a lot of books. I love reading, not only subjects that interest me directly or topics tangential to those interests, but even about things that are entirely out of the ballpark. In a recent article, I wrote about how a big part of your learning should be researching subjects that you know nothing about as a way to expand your horizons and discover new passions.
I’ve been doing that myself, and one way was to look beyond what I already knew and what those that I admired knew and find a new vine of useful information. One issue with having an extensive reading list is that you don’t know enough about a book until you are well into its pages, although you might know the authors and embrace the subject. Sometimes it happens that a book doesn’t grab you. The subject matter might be interesting, but it’s presented too dryly. Maybe the presentation is excellent, but the information itself is outdated or perhaps not compelling enough. Either way, when you open the first page of a book, you always take a chance that you might end up in that situation.
Being an efficiency freak, I always try to minimize this chance, and one way is to build my reading list from credible sources. Most people that I admire have public reading lists with suggestions and recommendations. From there, the Amazon engine is pretty good at predicting what books might work as well.
How I Discovered the 5-Second Rule
But I have always looked for something better, and one day it came in the form of Blinklist. Blinklist (which I am not affiliated with in any way) is a book summary service. They take books with a certain level of fame and boil them down into several segments they call blinks. You can either listen to the blinks or read them.
When I first got my hands on it, I was intrigued. Within a matter of ten to fifteen minutes, I would be able to learn as much about a book as if I had bought it and spent time reading from it. It allowed me to make a quick decision about whether or not this book might be of interest to me.
And why, you may ask, this long introduction that is seemingly unrelated to the title of this article? Because I wanted to emphasize how this type of curiosity can lead to something amazing, and the reason I say that is because the very first book that appeared in my Blinklist recommendations was a book called The 5 Second Rule. It was written by an author of whom I’d never heard until that moment—Mel Robins.
Somehow, the title grabbed me. What is the five-second rule? Is it about eating food off the floor? That was good enough of an incentive to listen to those blinks.
Minutes later, I knew I was in the presence of something great. I didn’t know yet what it was, but I could feel it in my gut. Something about those ideas, although very condensed in their summary, really pulled me in.
Mel Robbins – The Creator of the 5-Second Rule
Once I finished the blink and returned to my desk, I began researching about Mel Robbins. I wanted to know who she was and why I should read her book. Understanding the author of non-fiction books, at least for me, sometimes sways me toward or away from their books.
So, I looked Mel up, and I learned that she and her husband had lived a somewhat successful life until things started to take a turn for the worse. Little by little, step by step, the family went into financial disaster and a breakdown of their relationship. Mel herself was struggling with alcohol and performing simple tasks such as getting out of bed to get the kids on the school bus.
As Mel describes, the situation was dire. The more I listened to her story, the more I started to feel connected to it. That’s because it was a human story, and we all have our own versions of it. Some deeper, some shallower, some more or less painful, but nonetheless, our stories are of difficulty, challenge, and inability to pull ourselves out of the moving sand. It’s that feeling of drowning and desperately grasping onto anything that might keep us afloat, only to have those lifelines snap and smash us in the face, sinking us deeper until we feel we are out of air.
I then moved on to Mel’s website and then to Mel’s YouTube channel. Pretty soon, I was hooked on her message. It sounds like a long and inefficient way to decide to read a book, but I became really interested in the story. Needless to say, not a long time after, I picked up the book myself-the audio version.
The 5-Second Rule in My Personal Context
This was happening just as I was going through a personal struggle. My mother had been diagnosed with a medical condition that required her right kidney to be removed. As I lived in New Jersey and her in White Plains, I often found myself on trips between my home, the hospital, and her house.
During the first of these trips, I started Mel’s book, The 5-Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage. Three days later and many trips in, I had finished the book.
As I said, I read a lot of books, and I particularly enjoy non-fiction books, especially those that tackle personal development and self-growth. I have to say that this is probably the book that touched me most to the core. As I was listening to its message, something inside me vibrated like a string. That’s because Mel’s story speaks not just to a particular situation but all of our situations as humans.
It speaks about the struggles that we all have and the emotions we all share. It talks about how our own brains get in the way of what we want and what we need, a similar concept to Gary John Bishop’s “inner saboteur.” As you listen to the descriptions, you inevitably find places in your life where this applies. And when you hear about how this can be solved with the simplest, most ridiculously straightforward method, you feel a mixed cocktail of emotions. On the one hand, you want to doubt it, but on the other hand, you feel encouraged. Perhaps there is a way. Perhaps it could work.
And the truth is, there is, and it works, and it’s called the five-second rule.
What Is The Five-Second Rule?
Mel Robbins explains the five-second rule as follows: “If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill it.”
It’s as simple as that. And the instinct to act on a goal can be one of the following:
1) An idea you have
2) A gut feeling that you must do something toward a goal you have
3) A gut feeling that something you feel like doing is bad for you, and you should stop it or do something else.
The thing is-our brain is designed to keep us out of harm’s way. One of its functions is to keep us alive by making sure that we stay away from what could be painful. We all understand that change requires pain. Accomplishing goals requires struggle. All of these things mean stepping out of our comfort zone.
Your mind hates that. Your mind wants you to sit inside your comfort circle and wait for your slow decay. Your brain doesn’t want you to venture to the edge of the cliff and leap out on a bungee rope. That’s crazy, in your brain’s opinion.
Your brain doesn’t want you to quit your job and start a business. That’s scary. You could lose everything.
It takes only five seconds for your brain to make those connections, stifle the joy, replace it with fear and anxiety, and fire up your flight instinct.
But, what if…?
How the 5-Second Rule can Hijack Your Brain
What if you had moved in that direction before your brain had a chance to stop you?
What if you had leaped into the cold pool before you dipped your toe in it and allowed your brain to remind you that you hate cold water?
What if you could snap your fingers and move with your instinct?
The idea behind the five-second rule is just that: As soon as you have the instinct, count down from five. Say it out loud if you need to. 5-4-3-2-1 and go!
It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But it works.
The idea behind this is that as soon as you feel the instinct, you distract your brain. When you start counting down, your mind is wired to expect that the next step is some action once number one is reached.
In the book, Mel describes how the idea of the five-second rule came to her after watching a video of a NASA rocket launch. As the countdown went from five to one, the rocket launched.
And that’s what this is all about.
- Catch yourself having the instinct. For example:
- I should wake up early.
- I should work out
- I should not smoke
- I should tell my spouse I love them.
- Once you acknowledge the instinct, do not think about it. Do not try to rationalize it.
- Count: 5-4-3-2-1
- Do it
Why Does This Crazy Thing Work So Well?
It’s just as ridiculously simple as that. The thing is, although it takes a mere five seconds for your brain to react and turn your gut feeling into nothingness, by counting down right away, you do two things:
A) Distract your brain from focusing on the negative aspects of your gut feeling
B) Force your brain to anticipate that something’s about to happen ( 5-4-3-2-1-Go!)
Once you start moving toward that direction, it’s already too late for your brain to sabotage your action. You’ve won. And the action doesn’t have to be big.
Waking up early might mean 5-4-3-2-1 pull the covers off, get off the bed, and make your bed right away. Now you are awake.
Going to the gym means 5-4-3-2-1 get one foot into your gym shoes. Now, you’re on your way.
Do not smoke means 5-4-3-2-1 toss the cigarette pack away and grab an apple instead.
Once you’ve made a small step, your brain now must go with it. That’s because once you made the decision, your mind will now strive to find solutions for you to be able to do it. It no longer stands in your way. Now, you control it.
But if you let those five seconds pass, your brain will kill the instinct.
Wake up early – Why? You’re tired. The bed is warm. It’s cold out there. Snooze for thirty minutes, and you’ll be so much better.
Go to the gym – Why? Everyone there is better than you. You don’t even know what you’re doing. Plus, the weekend is way better for doing that.
Go to bed early – Why? The couch is so comfortable, and if you binge-watch all six episodes, then you’ll have so much more time tomorrow. Plus, you can talk to Susan about the plot.
Your Brain Loves You In All The Wrong Ways
You see, your brain is a bitchy, bitchy negotiator. If you let it talk, it will talk you into anything and out of anything. The problem is that your brain doesn’t want you to change. Your mind hates change. Your mind wants everything to be the same. It seeks the familiar, and it doesn’t want anything to be different.
That’s why it makes you sweat when you’re in unfamiliar places, and it dries your mouth and throat when strangers talk to you. That’s why you feel shivers down your spine and want to run away when you step into a job interview.
You know intellectually what you must and must not do, but your own brain doesn’t agree with it. So you have to trick it, and the 5-4-3-2-1 five-second rule is the best way to start.
Remember that long-lasting, significant change begins with simple, tiny, tiny changes. Your big changes are not going to be five-second splits. For the love of God, please take more than five seconds when you decide to get married or have a child or move to a new town. Those are big decisions that require thoughtfulness.
But the little things that drive your day to day, they stack up. As you accelerate your actions in different parts of your life, your velocity increases. With it, your confidence grows. At first, it will be slow, but soon you’ll see an exponential explosion in self-confidence and self-worth. As you see yourself doing the things that seemed impossible, you will start to believe in yourself.
Applying the 5-Second Rule in The Real World
This gives you the fuel you need to make those big decisions and to be certain that you’ve made the right ones. And even if a decision turns up to not be the right one, that’s okay too. Paralysis, and no decision, is far worse than a bad decision. Bad decisions are inevitable, and they sharpen your judgment over time. After a while, you’ll start making more good decisions than bad. Soon enough, you will make a few great decisions that will shift your life toward the vision you never thought could be within your grasp.
But it all starts with that small change: Getting started is the hardest part of anything. Once you are in it, you’ll go with it, and soon you’ll get better at it.
The five-second rule has transformed my life, and it can transform yours. Use it, and you will become unstoppable.
Additional Resources on the 5-Second Rule
- The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage (audio)
- The Five Elements of the 5 Second Rule
- Science Says This 5-Second Rule Will Make Your Brain Stop Procrastinating
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Have you used the 5-second rule in the past, and if yes, how did it work for you?
- If you haven’t used it, does it seem like a tool that would be useful in your day-to-day life?
- Have you encountered times in your life when you feel your own brain sabotaged your ability to act?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!