The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage
by Mel Robbins
The 5 Second Rule has topped national bestseller lists in the United States and inspired countless people in the process. In this book, Mel Robbins explains the five second rule, discusses the science behind why it works and proposes easy applications in key areas of life. She also opens up about her own life journey and how it led to the discovery of the rule. The examples she provides do not come just from her personal experience however. She draws on numerous social media stories and emails gathered over the years and even illustrates her insights with anecdotes about public and historical figures.
Divided into five parts, the book starts out by providing the definition of the rule along with specifics on the supporting research. The second part expands on the power of courage, drawing primarily from Robbins’ own journey from career uncertainty and relationship issues to a fruitful career and marriage that is now into its 18th year. The third touches on how to tackle some important areas—health, productivity and procrastination. The fourth combines the rule with other scientifically tested methods for combatting worry, anxiety and fear. Finally, the last part, the soulful part as the author puts it, shows how the rule can be used for building a meaningful, empowered life full of passionate pursuits and strong relationships.
Here’s what you’ll learn about in this summary:
- How to consistently push yourself to accomplish the goals that are the most meaningful to you
- How to overcome worry and anxiety with simple, scientifically proven tools
- How to gain confidence based on authentic pride and live a more fulfilled life in general
“In using the rule for more than seven years and hearing from people all over the world, I’ve come to realize that every single day, you and I face moments that are difficult, uncertain or scary. Life requires courage and that is exactly what the rule will help you discover, the courage to become your greatest self. Now you may be wondering, how can one simple tool work in so many ways? It’s a great question. Here’s the answer. The five second rule? It’s only ever working on one thing. You. You’ve got greatness inside of you. Even at your lowest point, greatness is there. The rule is going to give you both the clarity to hear that greatness and the courage to act on it.”
“I knew what I should be doing or could be doing to make things better. I knew and so do you. . . . [B]ut here’s the deal. . . . [K]nowing what you need to do isn’t enough to make yourself do it. . . . [T]hat’s the thing that makes changing so hard. Change requires you to do things that feel hard. It may not seem hard when you look from the outside but when you’re the one who has to make the change? Holy cow. Not only hard, it’s scary. . . . You know what I did spend a lot of time doing? Thinking. Oh yeah! Thinking made it worse. The more I thought about the situation Chris and I were in, the more afraid I felt. That’s what your mind does when you focus on problems. It magnifies them.”
“The ending of the story? Irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the beginning. . . . That’s how you listen to your heart, whether you’re starting to date again, starting a company, starting a YouTube channel, starting to exercise, you must find the courage to start. . . . [G]etting the girl isn’t the point. Life is not a Nicholas Sparks novel. Life is gritty and hard and then suddenly it’s brilliant and amazing. . . . The girl is not the source of the power. . . . The treasure in your life is buried in you.”
The 5 second rule is simple but powerful: Next time you get an impulse to make a positive change, count down from 5-4-3-2-1—and start moving
Links / downloads
THE BIG IDEAS:
1. Act within five seconds of getting an idea to advance your goals.
The five second rule as Robbins lays it out goes like this, “If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill the idea.”
An example she provides of a common situation is seeing someone you’re attracted to and getting the impulse to talk to them. From that instant, count down from five and start moving in their direction.
Otherwise hesitation and doubt will take over and talk you out of taking action… As Robbins tells us: “Right before we’re about to do something that feels difficult, scary or uncertain, we hesitate. Hesitation is the kiss of death. You might hesitate for a just nanosecond, but that’s all it takes. That one small hesitation triggers a mental system that’s designed to stop you. And it happens in less than—you guessed it—five seconds.”
Mel suggests actually counting down rather than up because the natural thing to do after you get to five is to keep counting whereas there are strong associations with using countdowns prior to action.
The rule is what habit experts call a “starting ritual” and has the power to replace negative habits by interrupting them and replacing them with a better one—a key habit-change strategy.
Additionally, it activates the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that is used when taking deliberate action.
Robbins tells us that there are ways we can positively manipulate/trick our own brains into taking the actions we know we want to take, but somehow allow ourselves to chicken out of taking because of fear, anxiety, or over-analyzing ourselves into paralysis… It seems that after you count backwards, you mentally shift the gears in your mind. You interrupt your normal thought-patterns and you instead do what psychologists refer to as ‘assert control’. The 5-4-3-2-1-countdown shifts your attention from focusing on excuses to focusing on taking immediate action in a new direction… And once you physically get going and start moving, rather than stopping to think, your entire physiology changes, and your mind follows suit.
Another reason why the rule works so well is that it gets us STARTED… Now why is that important? Because we tend to remember unfinished tasks better than those we have already completed. And since big goals and projects aren’t achieved in one sitting, our brains will actually want to loop us back to whatever big project or goal we started working on—THIS is the power of the five second rule. Starting on a project makes it much more likely that we will remember to act on it than if we had just thought about it when first getting the idea.
2. Push yourself to do the things that matter to you whether you’re motivated or not.
“See, there’s this myth in pop culture, in motivation, in psychology, in self-improvement . . . that you have to be motivated. I think it’s complete garbage. I want you to understand something. There are always going to be things in your life that you hate doing. You still got to do them. . . . This rule is going to be incredible in helping you push yourself to do the things you just don’t feel like doing. . . . Now as you use the rule . . . you’re going to see it too, there’s a five-second window. . . . In five seconds, either I could make a decision to push myself forward, or my excuses and my fears and procrastination would hold me back. That’s it. That’s life. It literally comes down to that insight. We’re done. The book is over. That’s all you need to know.”
There’s a lot of advice out there in the personal development world about how to motivate yourself. Robbins turns that entire paradigm on its head by rejecting the very premise that you need to be motivated in order to act. How she gets people to move towards their goals is by having them sidestep the paralyzing effects of hesitation and self-doubt by acting before the negative self-talk kicks in at the five-second mark. She very bluntly asserts that we will never “feel” like making the required changes in the areas we are dissatisfied with and so waiting for motivation is a losing proposition.
On the other hand, there is tremendous power in taking the first steps toward a goal. Activation energy is higher than the energy it takes to continue once you are already in motion.
Robbins writes, “I made a simple promise to myself. I want you to make this promise to you. If I knew that I should do something that could change me for the better, I promised myself that I would use the rule to push myself to do it regardless of how I felt. I want you to do the same thing.”
3. Get out of bed as soon as the alarm rings.
As a first step in applying the five second rule, Robbins suggests the following exercise:
Tomorrow, wake up 30 minutes earlier than usual and get out of bed the moment the alarm rings.
The resistance to getting out of bed is what you have to contend with when pushing to make any change. As hard as it might have been to throw off the warm blankets, you will note that once you are up and about, it’s not that hard to stay awake anymore.
Waking up earlier is not only an exercise in facing resistance — it serves as concrete proof (to yourself) that you can look at something you don’t feel like doing, and do it anyway. That’s powerful. And the confidence-boosting effect of getting yourself to do something that you’re too lazy/afraid/tired/nervous to do, but would be genuinely proud of yourself for having done, is also your first shot of confidence for the day… Which usually results in a positive upward cycle of confidence-boosting actions and emotions throughout the rest of your day. All because you set the tone for success from the get-go.
Another reason why it’s important to get out of bed immediately is because of sleep inertia. Hitting the snooze button and falling asleep again can make you tired for up to four hours following your wake up time. To ensure that this won’t happen, Robbins recommends keeping your phone or alarm in the bathroom at night. The key idea though, is to keep your phone or alarm close enough that you’ll hear it go off in the morning, but far enough that you’ve got to force yourself out of bed to turn it off.
4. Establish a morning routine to increase productivity.
Keeping your phone out of the bedroom at night has other benefits besides ensuring you get out of bed when the alarm rings. Leave it in the bathroom because it will stop you from reading your emails first thing in the morning or when you should be sleeping. One out of three adults checks their phone in the middle of the night, which is an unhealthy disruption of the sleep cycle.
The morning also presents a key opportunity to take time for yourself and cultivate focus on what is truly important to you before the day and other people’s priorities take over. This, along with eliminating surface-level distractions, is the key to productivity.
Here are a few more ideas on turning your morning into a productivity ritual:
- Spend three to five minutes while you brush your teeth to figure out two ways to advance your goals today.
- Before you get started with your day, write them down. Research shows that you are then 42 percent more likely to accomplish them.
- Right after, carve out a little time to make progress against your daily goals. Robbins spends 30 minutes on this part, but even five minutes makes a difference. This is especially true since the first two to three hours in the morning are the ones where your brain is operating at its peak, allow you to produce a higher quality of work.
- When you feel your brain fluttering away and getting distracted—slide the written reminder of your goals a little closer and take a 5-second look at what needs to get done today. Simply looking at your goals when you start feeling the distractions trying to hi-jack your brain will help you re-focus and get back on track anytime you find yourself losing focus.
- Finally, Before you start checking your phone again or just generally interacting with the world, have a quitting time set up. Parkinson’s law says that work takes up the space you give it. An article you could write in an hour takes up a whole week if you let it. Setting up a deadline makes you more judicious with your time.
5. Apply the three-step process for defeating procrastination.
“When you push yourself to take simple actions, it creates a chain reaction in your confidence and in your productivity, by pushing yourself to take simple steps, by pushing yourself to move forward, you create momentum and you start to experience a sense of freedom and power that’s really hard to describe. . . . The more that you believe—that you believe—that you are in control of your life, your actions and your future, that the control is in you, the happier and the more successful you are going to become and there’s only one thing after 50 years of psychological research, only one thing, that is guaranteed to increase your personal feelings of control over your life. It’s a term called a bias toward action. . . . [I]t means you become the kind of person that stops thinking about everything and you start pushing yourself to take action.”
First the good news, not all procrastination is bad. Believe it or not, there is a good kind of procrastination, particularly when it comes to creative work. Robbins admits that she herself faced it while writing this book but stated that the final product was all the better for it. In the space away from her work, her ideas had time to develop.
The destructive kind of procrastination, where you are avoiding something you know you should be doing, can be treated by getting to its root cause. Procrastination is not laziness but rather a form of stress relief. Cat videos and Facebook-checking provide a small dopamine boost that relieves you of the stress of bigger things going on in your life like financial uncertainty or relationship issues. As such, procrastination is usually not about the task at hand at all.
Robbins’ solution is a simple three-step process:
- First, forgive yourself for having already procrastinated. Not doing so would only perpetuate the vicious cycle by adding to your stress.
- Second, fast-forward in time to the person you will be when you achieve your goals. What would this person do? Imagining a time when you no longer have to live with your stressful life situation provides the relief you need in the present.
- Finally, get started, and here it would be helpful to note that the five second rule is one of the very best starting rituals. For this step, Robbins only asks that you take a small step in the right direction. Do 15 minutes of work and then you can take a break and watch the videos that had been tempting you earlier.
6. Treat anxiety by telling yourself you are excited.
Robbins used to suffer from anxiety and had panic attacks on a regular basis. She explains that telling someone who is anxious and panicking to calm down is counterproductive. A person undergoing this stress is like a freight train going at full tilt. And what happens when you try to stop it, with a rock for instance? It will jump the tracks, also known as a train wreck in the making.
A panic attack starts with the mind noticing symptoms like excessive sweating and a heart that’s beating very fast. Then, in trying to explain these physical manifestations, it concludes you are in danger and goes into overdrive with negative anxious emotions.
The solution? Instead of going against your freight train of anxiety, redirect it by telling yourself you are EXCITED. This is a technique called “reframing.” Here’s how it goes:
- First, use the five second rule to interrupt the pattern. (5-4-3-2-1—GO!)
- Then tell yourself you are excited, repeat it a few times if you have to. Excitement is a plausible explanation to your mind because the way it manifests physically is very much like how you experience danger. Because the mind found a good reason, now it won’t assume the worst. Your physical symptoms won’t go away, but your mental state won’t get worse either. You will stay in control of the situation and of your thoughts and perhaps even start to feel truly excited. Remember, the earlier you apply this method when you are experiencing anxiety, the better it will work.
7. Act on your curiosity and envy to experience passion.
“That’s an instinct reminding you of the goal. That’s your inner wisdom, and it’s important to pay attention to it, no matter how small or silly that instinct may seem.”
Robbins is very clear that passion is not something outside of you. It’s not in the cooking classes or on the mountain biking trails you love. Instead it is inside you and must be activated by engaging with the impulses you have about different areas of your life.
An impulse might manifest itself as curiosity… For instance, do you keep thinking about bullet journaling? That’s a sign to try it.
You might also feel an impulse when someone else has something you want. The feeling of envy can help you become aware of a goal that would wake up your passion if you were to take it on.
When you have these impulses, use the five second rule to start moving towards your interest—sign up for a class, buy a book about it, join a group…
Robbins advises exploring your interests as hobbies first. Her belief is that the surest way to kill your passion is to depend on it for money. Eventually, should your hobby grow to the point where it starts to interfere with your professional life, you can think of making an actual career-move. Here, Robbins emphasizes that it is important to make a well-considered decision. Even the five second rule has its limits and a career change should not be a snap decision… The major crossroads in life certainly deserve to be treated with full consideration.
That said, the bottom line with this Big Idea is this: Even if you’re not ready to make a major change yet—like a career change, for instance—doesn’t mean you’re not ready to take action.
You can always take some sort of action to perpetuate your goals and ambitions—to nudge them just an inch or two forward.
Going back to the career change example, you might not be ready to give your boss the finger and become the founder of a multi-billion dollar empire yet, but you are ready to start researching the viability of your business idea… You are ready to pickup the five best books written about your field and dedicate an hour a day to reading them… You are always ready to take some kind of action—however small that action may be—to make your most meaningful ideals come true.
Robbins puts it this way: ”When it comes to change, goals, and dreams, you have to bet on yourself. That bet starts with hearing the instinct to change and honoring that instinct with action.”
8. Speak up in your relationships.
Across the board, the biggest step you can take towards improving your relationships is to speak up about the important things.
Silence can create distance and it perpetuates unfulfilling life situations. Robbins advises us to just “say it” …According to her, those are the two most important words when it comes to building deep, lasting relationships. This recommendation extends from bringing up difficult issues to laying yourself bare emotionally by telling your near and dear ones just how much they matter to you.
With the five second rule, any time you feel an impulse to communicate something important, you can count down from five and speak up before doubt or fear silences you.
Robbins recounts the story of Josh, a man who left nothing unsaid. Though he died a sudden and tragic death, he left behind people who knew how much he cared about them—just hours before his accident, he had sent his parents a message telling them just how much he loved and appreciated them—and serves as an example for how to live without hesitation.
- To attain the life of your dreams, make the following promise—every time you get an impulse to act on your goals, you will use the five second rule to follow through on it.
- Before a stressful situation, prepare an anchor thought of a positive outcome. When you feel your worry surface, you can use the five second rule in combination with your anchor thought to calm yourself down.
- Rather than obsessing over a diet or exercise plan, just pick something and start. It’s more important to get started than to choose the perfect plan.
- Because interruptions are “the kiss of death” for productivity, don’t make it easier for you to compulsively check email. Remove notifications from your phone and delete any addictive apps.
- Finally, never forget the power of the five second rule: Begin by counting backwards to yourself: 5-4-3-2-1. The counting will help you focus on your goal or commitment and distract you from the fears, thoughts, and worries in your head… And then, as soon as you reach “1,” move! Again: anytime there’s something you know you should do or have the desire to do, but you feel uncertain, fearful, or overwhelmed about doing it…just take control by counting backwards 5-4-3-2-1. The counting quiets your mind. And then, the moment you get to 1 — GO!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mel Robbins | Starting her professional life as a criminal defense attorney, Mel Robbins went on to launch a retail and Internet technology company before changing tracks entirely. On the media front, she is an award-winning on-air CNN commentator, television host and contributing editor for Success magazine, but she wears many other hats as well. Robbins is accomplished as a keynote speaker, a life coach and, of course, as a best-selling author. Learn more and connect: www.melrobbins.com
BONUS NOTES + CRUCIAL QUOTES
- What I discovered is powerful: pushing yourself to take simple actions creates a chain reaction in your confidence and your productivity.
- When it comes to goals, dreams, and changing your life, your inner wisdom is a genius. Your goal-related impulses, urges, and instincts are there to guide you. You need to learn to bet on them.
- You can’t control how you feel. But you can always choose how you act.
- There is a “Golden Rule of Habits” and it is very simple: In order to change any bad habit, you must replace the behavior pattern that you repeat