The 5 Second Rule

We often see people do things that make us think! “I wish I was like that” We admire their courage, their ability to pick themselves up and get things done as well as their capacity to believe in their selves. But these people are no different than we are, we breathe the same air and have the same five senses. So why do we have this self-doubt in the stead of confidence? Why do we procrastinate in the place of getting things done? Why do we hesitate to speak when we should, not move when we know we’re supposed to and not act when it is clearly the right time to do so?

Realistically speaking, the truth is that these people didn’t do it with magic and they weren’t just able to jump into it immediately. 5, it took time. 4, it took practice. 3, it took the right mindset. 2, it took belief in the past three numbers. 1, it took 5 seconds to push forward from any problems that may have been holding them back. You too can get to achieve any goal you have by winning the 5-second battle with your mind.

[Enter the 5-second rule]. As soon as you feel like you ought to do something, but feel yourself hesitate, you have the choice to move forward by counting backwards from 5-4-3-2-1 and then you move. If you don’t move from this point you’re still capable of doing it at a later time, but your brain has killed the idea for you and you’re now less likely to do what you had initially planned on doing.

Let’s say you have a meeting or a class or an arrangement by 10, you were supposed to be up 8 so you could arrange, shower and at least have had your breakfast by 8:45, leaving you with 30 minutes to get to your destination by 9:15. However you did wake up by 8 but chose to hit that snooze button till 8:45 when you should’ve at least had something to eat by now. Showered, dressed up, grabbed your stuff and left the house at 9:15, took you 30 minutes to get to your destination by 9:45. You managed to get there before 10, but you just started the day and you’re already rushed and hungry, Five seconds is all it would’ve taken to make a decision that would avoid the latter choice.

Five seconds is how fast it’ll take for doubt to seep in to your thoughts and work against your plan. Brought to light by Mel Robbins, The Author of “The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage”. She states that as much as counting down from five starts off a bit silly, it is a trick that outsmarts your brain and interrupts the habit of overthinking. If you’re about to go to the kitchen, you brain goes “Am I really hungry? It’s too cold to walk to the kitchen, I don’t want to have to start putting all these things together just to grab a bite”.

Soon as you get thought of getting something to eat, and you start counting down to make a move, you’ve already interrupted the brain process of thinking about the down sides of grabbing that bite. See how that works? A game changer that can be applied to many aspects of our lives, you’re now focused on taking a new action when you countdown, you activate a different part of your brain when you assert control and various goals can be achieved when you use this rule to eliminate procrastination.

A lady thinking

Procrastination is something that we’ve faced at some point or another in our lives, it is the act of deferring or delaying an activity or set of activities up until a time where we feel like we are able to carry out that activity. The concept of procrastination is not a new one, it has been around since or even before the era of the great philosophers Aristotle and Socrates, much so that they developed a word for it: Akrasia.

They conceptualized Akrasia as the state of being able to act against your own better judgment. Loosely put, it is when you engage in one thing when you are quite certain that you should be doing some thing else. Sound like procrastination?

Why do we do procrastinate?

“Time Inconsistency” a phenomenon that has been revealed from behavioral psychology research seems to explain why procrastination instead of following our initial plans and intentions sucks us in. It refers to Time inconsistency as the tendency for the human brain to hold immediate rewards as more significant than future rewards.

We can get a clearer picture of this when we imagine our selves in two forms: the Present Self and the Future Self. Now setting a goal like learning a certain language or learning to cook is the equivalent of making a plan for your future self. You start to picture what your life will be like in the future when you’re able to do these things that you’ve set out to do. Your brain sees the value in thinking about your future self and the long term rewards it holds.

We are all able to set out these goals for our future self, but it is in the hands of our present self to carry out the action. When the time comes to make the decision to carry out certain actions, the brain thinks about the present self and your current situation and searches for the instant gratification instead of the long-term payoff. Creating procrastination.

The significance of five seconds.

The push that we need to achieve our goals or to interrupt our self-sabotaging habits is in its simplest form, Motivation. An author of several emotional intelligence books identified the elements that make up motivation.


  • Commitment
  • Initiative
  • Optimism
  • Personal Drive

These four elements, if we have them can help us feel motivated and fulfilled as well as have an overall quality of life. The thing is looking at four things makes it seem like a lot, but in just five seconds as human beings we are able to take charge of our situations and summon self-motivation. What’ll it cost me? What do I have to lose if I do it? What am I scared of anyway? Just move and get it over with!  And in 5 seconds you’ve made a decision to get up and put your workout clothes on, to talk to the attractive gentleman by the hot dog stand, to grab your pen and pad. You might not be ready; you don’t even feel like you’re ready but hey! You’ve begun. A quote from Marcus Aurelius Emperor of Rome [161 to 180] states, “Begin - to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished”.

The Science behind the five-second hack.

When you count back from five it causes you to break away from the familiar mechanism of your brain contemplating the idea to find variations of what other thing you could be doing or why you shouldn’t be doing what you need to do. You’re now occupied with this countdown that encompasses the four elements of motivation and you know that decision has to be made by the end.

The prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that is activated when decisions are made, learning something new, changing your behavior or directing your thoughts gets stimulated during this 5-second countdown. Robbins describes it as “Using a meta cognition technique to switch the gears in your mind instead of letting the brain sabotage you. You can do whatever you intend on doing as long as you do not let your emotions and feelings dictate what to do.

Could your feelings be the problem?

You need to stop living in your head. We are all capable of creating those ideal thoughts of how we feel we can improve our lives and get closer to our dreams by learning to play the piano or staring a fitness group or looking for a job, but the transition from thought to real action seems miles away for us when it really isn’t.

Anthony Damasio, a neuroscientist articulates this by saying humans are “feeling machines that think, not thinking machines that feel” and 95% of the time it is our feelings that are the deciding factors. Before we think we feel and before we act we feel. This in turn ultimately forms how we make our decisions, based on how we feel.

In an excerpt taken from the 5-second Rule, Robbins gives us the instance of a lady “Christine” who is called in to a meeting with her boss, fellow coworkers and other top-level executives. Christine has a great idea regarding the topic being discussed until her boss asks for any more suggestions and Christine’s feelings start to wage a war against her decision to pitch this idea. Many of us have had to face these moments before, and sadly we have been Christine. Should I say it? What if they don’t like it? Has anyone else suggested it?

As soon as you realize that your feelings are the problem when it comes to decisions, you already have the ability to beat them. The Christine story for example, her feelings rose up in that meeting an even though she had a brilliant idea, she was filled with doubt in less than five seconds. Here are some things you need to know.

Every time there is a decision to be made, within a split second we have a subconscious judgment scale in our heads weighing the advantages and disadvantages of that choice and then we make a decision on based on how we’re feel about said choice at that moment. Like Christine, she wasn’t really asking herself if she should share her idea, but rather she was asking if she felt okay with sharing that idea. You could ask yourself, what do I want to eat? But really mean what do I feel like eating?

Graphic design of a ladder

Soon as you stop to consider how you feel regarding a decision on your goal, you stop heading towards that goal. It is not that weighing your pros and cons are the wrong thing to do. But rather don’t let the excuse of how you feel be used to talk yourself out of doing it. Don’t stop, Don’t Hesitate, Do it.

The 5-second rule is an outstanding tool when it comes to separating your feelings from the actions you are meant to take. How you feel in the present is never in the same position as your aspirations. Your goal can be the same but your feelings change. If you only chase a dream or a goal when you feel like it then you’ll probably end up not getting what you want. Rise to the occasion and don’t let those feeling get the best of you.

When you get that moment you decide not to go for a run because you suddenly “feel” too tired. Do your countdown, and you’re on the road thinking why did I want to miss this? When you “feel” like you don’t have the energy to carry out the activities on that to-do list of yours, Do your countdown and you’re suddenly moving towards the first item on the list. When you feel like letting her know how you really feel is something that’ll bring a plus to her mood but you’re to shy to spill it out, Do your countdown. 5-4-3-2-1 and you’re saying it. As long as you’re able to untangle the way you feel from the way you act, you’ll be able to unlock what you’re truly capable of doing.

These feelings come and go and they change from time to time. You can’t control the way you feel, but you can control the way you choose to act. The ability to separate ourselves from our emotions when necessary and let our body carry out that physical move is special. Picture footballers or other professional athletes, have you ever thought how they’re capable of doing so much? They’re human beings as well and yes some of those achievements may stem from talent but their future self and their present self are both able to agree on one thing. They need to move forward.  And so they push.  They had an intensive training the previous day and they’re too weak to do the same today, but they weren’t able to achieve their desired outcome from that practice yesterday and today is another day to achieve it, So they push. Future self   wants to hold that trophy as recognition for al the hard work, so even if this game is dragging to fourth quarter and present self is tired, present self has got to forget that tired feeling and work to achieve that goal.

Feelings are nothing more than suggestions, the type of suggestion that some of the greatest athletes have learnt to ignore when it comes to their goals and aspirations. In order to change, you too must do the same, you need to face self-doubt head on, don’t wait until you “feel” like it’s the right time. Ignore those feelings and start now with a 5-4-3-2-1.

A small but gigantic step, the 5-second rule can create a change in behavior. Just like confidence, which is a skill that is built through action, by deliberately and consistently using this tool you can overcome feelings that would prevent you from doing things and be more assertive in your engagements and activities.

A great ally in your life’s journey, the 5-second rule pushes you to realize that you will need to do more than think if you’re going to get through certain stages to change your life, it is a great tool for action and for getting things done.

Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist agrees that you cannot simply tell your mind to think positively, you have to give it more than a nudge. You have to push through the old habits that you’re used to, push past the feelings that stop you as well as anything that will hold you back and then replace them with courage, one successful countdown at a time.

Confidence like every great virtue grows within us, one small step at a time. Build your confidence as you let the 5-second rule become your starting ritual.

If you intend to lose weight, do your countdown 5-4-3-2-1 and follow up with your exercise activity, if you plan on being more visible at work, do your countdown and 5-4-3-2-1 speak up when you have an idea that you feel could make an impact or bring a change. You can 5-4-3-2-1 put down that drink, 5-4-3-2-1 speak to a person you’ve wanted to for some time, 5-4-3-2-1 stop living in your head and start turning the goals in your dream to goals in reality. No one gets to live someone else’s life, your life and your choice, Make it count.