The Five Second Rule

Here’s something I re-discovered recently: the Five Second Rule.

Picture this: it’s 2001. A younger Daniel is dialed into his university’s modem bank, looking for information on how to talk to women. One message stands out: you have about three seconds to either approach a woman or you’ll talk yourself out of it.  I then use that trick to reach out to women I’m interested in and start relationships with some of them. I fall in love, get heartbroken, fall in love again, and forget all about this three-second window.

Flash forward 16 years.

I’m surfing the web (yes, some things never change) when I come upon a video:

This totally dovetails with what I’m thinking with my action experiments project: you can’t think yourself into success, you can only act your way there. I watch more videos then buy her book and devour it over a 24-hour period.

Mel Robbins has been talking about something called the five second rule which is this:

Once you have the impulse to do something, you have only about five seconds before you talk yourself out of it. So the trick is this: rather than waiting five seconds and then doing nothing, mentally count backwards: 5-4-3-2-1-GO! and do it. 

This five second rule sounds so simple that it seems ridiculous, but as Mel reveals in her book, it can be used in a bunch of different scenarios:

  1. Not doing something you know is bad for you (smoking, eating sugar, doing drugs). Using this simple countdown technique helps you re-assert control. I’ve used this to avoid eating stuff that I know I shouldn’t eat and avoid drinking a second (or third) drink.
  2. Doing something that’s scary (talking to someone you are scared to approach, trying something new, flying on planes). I’ve used this to talk to my neighbor whom I had never met about a potentially difficult subject.
  3. Doing something you’re resisting (buckling down to work, doing another set in the gym, getting out of bed in the morning and getting to work). I’ve used this almost every day to help move from something I know I should do to something I’m doing.
  4. Beating analysis-paralysis (trying to think yourself there rather than act yourself there). I’ve used this to publish stuff before I think it’s ready. To paraphrase Mel, “It’s never going to be ready!”
  5. Stopping worry and anxiety (Mel describes how she went off Zoloft — a powerful anti-anxiety medicine she had been using for nearly 20 years — using the 5 second rule by counting backwards and re-framing panic as excitement). This is a great reminder of how powerful the “frame” is. You can frequently find an empowering frame for negative situations that crop up.

One of Mel’s key coaching points is “you’re never going to feel like it”. Workout? You’re never going to feel like it. Wake up? You’re never going to feel like it. Do something hard? You’re never going to feel like it. The five second rule gives you a way into that loop so you can re-exert control.

This stuff really works. Like a lot of things that work, it sounds incredibly dumb, but no one ever has to know you’re doing it. It’s an entirely mental meta-cognitive tool that you can (and should) use, starting now.

That being said, if you get some value from this idea, I highly recommend buying the book and reading through deeper explanations of how and why this stuff works, alongside examples that you can use to immediately improve your life – truly. I’ve just scratched the surface of what she has written. Beyond that, Mel includes an amazing bonus with the book: hours of video mentoring in 5-10 minute chunks presented over 30 days along with a daily coaching challenge. This alone would be worth several times the price of the book and it blows my mind that she is including it. I was watching the third day of coaching on my smartphone and I realized that I was going to want to save these so I can repeat the series next month: they are that good. The information is broken into the smallest usable chunks, and presented alongside a challenge to actually use it. Since I know that action is more important than thought, this gives you 30 small chances to practice the concepts in action which really cements them in your mind.

I have used the five second rule over and over again since I learned about it and it has truly changed my life for the better in a very short time frame. Check it out for yourself and see.

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