The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins

Today I want to share with you what I’ve learned from reading the book The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins.

Before we start. No, this book is not about how much time you have to pick up your food after dropping it on the floor but something much more important. It’s about “finding everyday courage and to push ourselves to live up to our full potential”. More than 100,000 people across 80 countries shared their 5-second rule experiences with Mel which inspired her to write this book. I’m only mentioning this to show you the magnitude of this one simple rule.

Hopefully, after reading this post/watching my video summary you will find the courage within you to act on the things that you were most afraid of. And stop making excuses why you haven’t done them so far! I hope the lessons I’ve learned from the book will help you change your mindset and confidence as much as it changed mine.

So let’s get started!

Mark Twain once said:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do…”

Have you ever felt like you have to do something important but didn’t feel ready, or you just didn’t feel like it? So you just put it off for the next day, and the next day until you can’t avoid the deadline anymore? Well, I have… plenty of times…

But what about the things in our life that don’t have a fixed deadline? Like seeing your friends and family regularly or improving your health? What then?

Have you ever noticed when you had a great idea how easily fear and self-doubt stopped you from action? You just made up a list of excuses why you shouldn’t say or do something.

While reading this book I realized how many times that happened to me in a day! I just got used to it. My insecurities were my biggest limitation and as soon as I started implementing the 5-second rule and broke my habit of self-sabotage, I became much more confident in my abilities.

The crazy thing is that small things like asking a question in class, speaking up in a meeting, telling someone how you feel about them, making a decision, finding time for yourself, working on and hitting ‘send’ on emails can be the most challenging.

Mel explains that we all have moments when we just don’t feel like it but let me tell you something that I learned from Mell. You’re never gonna feel like it! So stop searching for the ‘right time’.

How does the rule work?

Mell describes it like this: The moment you have an instinct to act on a goal you must 5-4-3-2-1 and physically move or your brain will stop you. Just say to yourself 5-4-3-2-1-GO and do it without hesitation!

Mel created the 5 Second Rule at a time in her life when everything was falling apart: her marriage, finances, career, and self-esteem. Her problems seemed so big that she was struggling each morning just to get out of bed and she was 41 years old at the time. And just like that one day after seeing a spaceship launch she had an instinct to launch herself out of bed the next morning and face her situation head on…like a rocket. She had the determination to move so fast that she wouldn’t have time to talk herself out of it. It was just an instinct. One that she could have easily dismissed. But she acted on it. And thanks to that one decision she’s now the most-booked female speaker in the US.

I believe there is a reason I found this book exactly at a time when I needed it the most. I was just starting my first internship at a big corporation and was beginning my research for my bachelor’s thesis.  I just got out to the real world and it was scary as hell! Starting your first real job can feel overwhelming. Making phone calls in my second foreign language was even more so. At the time it felt like the scariest thing I’ve done, and I did jump out of an airplane from 4,000 m. But today making a phone call almost feels like second nature and it has a lot to do with the lessons I’ve learned from this book.

Now I’d like to explain to you why simply counting backwards works so well. That way, you’re also able to explain it to others if the method works for you too.  The first thing you need to understand is that by counting backwards you shift the gears in your mind by interrupting your default thinking.

In psychology, this is called “assert control”. By focusing on the count down, you distract yourself from your excuses and focus your mind on moving in a new direction. When you physically move instead of stopping to think, your physiology changes and your mind follows.

In habit research the 5 second rule is called a “starting ritual” that activates the prefrontal cortex that helps to change our behavior. What you need to know is that the prefrontal cortex is part of our brain that plays a major role in our rational thinking, decision-making and focus.

So what can you use the 5 second rule for?

You can use the rule in every area of your life. Now let me give you some examples that were the most beneficial for me.

Start tackling the morning- Snoozing

You can use it fot getting out of bed

In chemistry “activation energy” is the initial amount of energy needed to begin a chemical reaction. This initial amount of energy is much higher than the average amount of energy required to keep the reaction going.

But what does that have to do with getting up? Mel points out that the initial amount of energy to push yourself out of bed is much higher than the energy you need once you’re up and moving. Makes sense, right?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi a well-know Hungarian psychologist applied this concept to human behavior, blaming activation energy as one of the reasons why making change is so hard. According to him, activation energy is the “initial huge push of energy that’s required to change” That’s the push you need to move yourself out of a warm bed in the morning.

This is why you should start applying the rule first for getting up.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that you should NEVER hit the snooze button. This is probably not new to you but up until I read this book my motivation wasn’t strong enough to stop snoozing.

But there’s actually a neurological reason why snoozing is so bad for you. Scientists have recently discovered that when you hit the snooze button it has a negative impact on brain function and productivity that can last up to four hours!

We sleep in cycles that take about 90 to 110 minutes to complete. About two hours before you wake up, these sleep cycles end and your body starts to slowly prepare to wake up. When your alarm goes off, your body is in wakeup mode. If you hit the snooze button and go back to sleep, you force your brain to start a new sleep cycle that is 90 to 110 minutes long. When the ‘snooze’ alarm rings a couple of minutes later, the cortical region of your brain, which is the part of the brain responsible for decision-making, attention, alertness, and self-control, is still in the sleep cycle. It won’t be able to snap awake because it needs the rest of the sleep cycle to finish what that snooze button started.

It can take up to four hours for this feeling of sleep deprivation to wear off and for your cognitive functions to return to their full capacity. That’s why you feel so sleepy when you get up after hitting snooze. It’s not because you didn’t get enough sleep. It’s because once you hit the snooze button, you started a new sleep cycle and then interrupted it. On days when you hit the snooze button, there’s no way you’re at your best. So next time the alarm goes off just 5-4-3-2-1 and jump out of bed and start the day.

Procrastination

You can use the rule to stop procrastination and become more productive as a result.

Back to my phone call story. Whenever I had to call someone to get some information that I needed for my work I scheduled it for 3-4 hours later. I thought it would help me set a deadline but what it did to me instead was to make me super nervous until I procrastinated on some other important but not phone call related tasks. Have you ever done anything similar?

To understand why you procrastinate you have to understand what it is first. Procrastination is not a form of laziness at all. A psychology professor at Carleton University found that the main thing driving procrastination is not avoiding work. It’s avoiding stress. Procrastination is “a subconscious desire to feel good right now” so you can feel a little stress relief. It’s a coping mechanism for stress.

We procrastinate because we feel stressed out. Here’s the catch…you aren’t stressed about the work. You are stressed about the bigger stuff: money, relationship problems, or life in general. When you blow off work or studying for online shopping, watching TV shows or checking social media, you are taking a mini stress-break from the bigger stress you feel overall.

So the next day when I had to make a phone call I didn’t let myself make up excuses, I just 5-4-3-2-1 and started dialing the number before my brain could have stopped me. For my colleagues, nothing changed they didn’t even notice it but for me and my confidence, this was a game-changer!

Panic attacks, fear and public speaking

You can also use the rule to overcome any fear and anxiety. It can also help you stop having panic attacks. And this is big! I’ve only had one panic attack in my life but if I can help even one of you overcome it then it’s worth talking about.

There are two causes for panic attacks: the first one is when you have something scary to do such as public speaking or getting on an airplane.  And the second is when there’s no reason at all.

Mel describes panic attacks, as your mind and body having a “near miss” experience that’s totally out of context.

When a “near miss” happens to you on the highway, you can feel adrenaline racing through your body. Your heart races. Your breath speeds up. Your cortisol goes up. Your body goes into a state of hyper-alertness, so you can take control of the car.

When your mind has an explanation for why your body just freaked out, it won’t escalate the anxiety. It will allow your body to calm down because it knows the danger has passed.

When you have a panic attack, that same “near miss” experience happens, without any warning or preceding event. You’ll be doing something completely normal and out of nowhere, you have a sudden surge of adrenaline race through your body just like what happened when that car nearly missed you on the highway. Your mind is racing to try to understand why. But If you don’t have a valid explanation, your mind will think you must be in actual danger. And it will escalate the fear, thinking that the danger is close.

If your mind can’t find a reason, your brain makes the anxiety worse so that you want to physically run away from the situation and leave the room.

Mel had suffered from anxiety all her adult life which she treated with Zoloft to control her panic attacks until she realized that her children were suffering from the same condition. She then applied the rule in combination with anchoring thoughts to face her anxiety head on. And she’s been panic attack-free since.

So how does this work? Whenever you feel like you’re getting worried about something you just, 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 and direct your mind towards the solutions rather than worrying about the problems.

As adults, we spend way too much time and energy worrying about things that we can’t control or that could go wrong.

A professor of Human Development at Cornell University met with 1,200 senior citizens to discuss the meaning of life. What he learned was that most people near the end of their lives had the same regret: I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my lifetime worrying. Their advice was that worry is an enormous waste of your precious and limited lifetime. The key is catching yourself when you drift into worry, and then regaining mental control by using the rule.

Trying To Calm Down Does Not Work. When you feel like worrying takes over, try asking yourself two simple questions instead:

What am I grateful for in this moment?

What do I want to remember?

When you ask these simple questions, you impact your brain at a biological level. In order to respond you have to look at your life, relationships, and work and search for an answer in the moment. I wish I’d done that when I was in that situation, but I hope it can help you or someone you love who feels trapped in his or her own negative thoughts.

You can use 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 to quiet the mental chatter in your mind and learn to appreciate all of the small things in your life. Feeling grateful is so important! It doesn’t just feel good. According to neuroscientist Alex Korb, it changes your brain chemistry by activating the brainstem region that produces dopamine.

Mel uses another trick to beat anxiety. When she gets nervous before giving a speech: she doesn’t call the feeling “nervousness” she calls it “excitement” because physiologically anxiety and excitement are the exact same thing in your body. The only difference between excitement and anxiety is what your mind calls it. She uses the 5 Second Rule to gain control over her mind and then reframes the anxiety as excitement so that her brain doesn’t escalate it and her body can calm down.

Like the “near miss” example. If your brain has a good explanation for why your body is freaking out, it won’t escalate things. Reframing your anxiety as excitement really works. Harvard Business School professor Alison Wood Brooks has conducted several studies to prove that it not only works to lower anxiety but it actually makes you perform better in math tests, speaking, and so forth!

It’s much easier to convince your brain that all those nervous feelings are just excitement rather than to try to calm yourself down. When using this technique in experiments ranging from singing karaoke to giving a speech to taking a math test, participants who said, “I’m excited” did better in every single challenge than participants who said “I’m anxious.”

I’m excited doesn’t actually lower the feelings surging through your body. It just gives your mind an explanation that empowers you. Next time you have a panic attack while making coffee, experience stage fright, or are worrying about a big exam or a job interview, use the 5 Second Rule and this new research to beat your anxiety.

As soon as you feel the anxiety take over your body, take control of your mind, 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 just start telling yourself “I’m so excited” and push yourself to move forward. I just used this strategy this week when I had to give a presentation and for the first time, I convinced myself that my nervousness was excitement.

Time to act!

One more thing I want to ask you to do! Check out Mel’s TED X talk here. I promise you, it’s gonna be life-changing.

Alright, these were the most important lessons I’ve learned from The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins. Let me know down in the comments below what you learned from this blog post/video and for what area of your life you will use the 5 second rule!

P.S.: I used the rule myself and send my video to Mel to thank her for being an inspiration to so many people including me! And here’s what happened…

Dream come true- My animated book review featured in Mel Robbins’ weekly newsletter

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