How the 5 Second Rule Can Change Your Life

Starting line; change; motivating action; Mel Robbin's 5-second rule

When we think about changing our lives, we typically think about big changes that take time. For instance, “On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic.” Two months!

But what if you found out you can make significant changes in your life in 5 seconds? I was recently introduced to the 5-second rule. Not the one about food hitting the floor and how long before it’s not safe to eat (yuck). The one about re-wiring your brain.

The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage is a book by Mel Robbins that introduces this potentially life-changing concept. Mel Robbins is an expert on leadership and defeating doubt. The 5-second rule is simple: the moment you think about doing something, you should mentally start counting down – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… then GO. The rule acts as a “starting ritual” that breaks bad habits and triggers positive new behavior change. Otherwise, if you let more than 5 seconds pass before you do what you were thinking – your brain will talk you out of it. It’s programmed to avoid change and scary things. And change IS scary.

How often have you had the instinct, or impulse, to say something in a meeting but then start overthinking it, eventually deciding not to speak up? Or, maybe, you decided to speak up, but by the time you and your brain finished your inner debate and came to that conclusion, the conversation had moved on without you. (This is classic me.)

How Mel Robbins’ 5-Second Rule Works

Human Brain Section Diagram with Names

It sounds like something that is too good to be true, but the science behind the 5-second rule is compelling. Your prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that makes decisions, plans, and works toward goals. When you count backward, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – you take control of your prefrontal cortex instead of letting it control you.

That simple act of consciously taking control of your decision-making process creates “activation energy.” The energy it takes to get something started is much greater than the amount of energy it takes to keep something going. It’s that first step that’s the doozy. That’s where the 5-second rule comes in to help you retrain your responses.

Working woman sitting at her desk thinking

You are still going to have urges to skip that workout, have another drink, hit the snooze button, or let self-doubt keep you from speaking up… but how you respond to those urges can make you an entirely different person. Use the 5-second rule to create activation energy. Replace that initial “negative” or “unproductive” instinct with a positive one, and you’ll develop new neural pathways that result in lasting behavior change. You’ll become a doer instead of a thinker.

I used Mel Robbins’ 5-second rule this week to do simple things like get up and go to the store instead of putting it off for another day. (Or two.) I used it to motivate myself to make the phone calls I was putting off. I also used it to reach for a bowl of fruit instead of ice cream: small victories, but victories all the same.

Don’t Just Think It – Do It!

Getting out of bed; feet by the bed; morning

So here’s the caveat with the 5-second rule. You can’t just do it and assume by some miracle that something will get done. You have to put into motion whatever you were counting towards. For example, if you have a busy day ahead of you and you know you need to get up and get moving, but the house is cold, and the bed is warm (sound familiar?), you can’t just count down, say Go, and expect yourself to start moving as if you’re a robot. You have to do the work. Get out of bed and get going. 

That might sound simple, but it’s true. The premise behind the 5-second rule is a good one. Stop waiting for the change or action you want to happen on its own; do something. This is a great tool to motivate you to step outside your comfort zone or do something you’ve been putting off, but that’s all it is—a tool. If you elect to use it but not take the next steps, well, you’re just adding one more tool to your mental box that will sit and collect dust. Honestly, if you’re even considering putting the 5-second rule into action, that’s a pretty good indicator that you need some sort of change or motivation in your life. That in itself should speak volumes to you.

What will you do with the 5-second rule? Give it a try and find out how good it feels. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – GO!

If you are interested in learning more about the science behind Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule, watch the video below.


The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage
The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage, $15.59


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