The 5 Second Rule

Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule is something that has been around for a while but I only heard about this year. There is a book and TED Talk on it (which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend) but all you need to know is its principle:

When an idea or an instinct to do something crosses your mind, physically move and begin an action that kickstarts it within the first five seconds.

I have made a recent commitment to act according to this principle in my personal life. It’s quite an impulsive approach to life, acting on things immediately as they pop into your brain – it basically eliminates motion and focuses purely on action. I have found it to be very effective at breaking bad habits, absorbing myself in one thing at a time and never letting my to-do list get too long. I now never have an outstanding pile of laundry to put away (in comparison to there always being one) because I see it, I think ‘I should put that away’ and so I do it.

This rule doesn’t magically make all your mundane chores exciting – it still takes mental effort to do what you don’t think you really want to do – but it doesn’t allow you the time to build it up to be worse than it really is. Putting away my laundry still isn’t my favourite thing, but the difference is that I spend no time ruminating on it anymore.

Person folding and stacking clothes.

All this principle takes is your commitment to it. If you get overwhelmed or stressed by having too much on your plate, the 5 Second Rule will likely befriend you. For me, I no longer feel that I am running to catch up with where I would like to be. The things that I need to do are done before I even have time to register them, and I get started on the things that I would like to do before I can over-think or over-plan them.

I used to get overwhelmed by my to-do list and so step away from everything and do crafts or a jigsaw instead. I thought that this would be most enjoyable but all those tasks and the overwhelm was still there, I was just choosing not to focus on them. This is a common response to stress where you try to relax by doing activities that make you feel calm. This is a short-term fix for the emotional response but it can just make you feel worse the next day/week. What I needed was to be able to do my tasks without thinking about what would come next.

When I looked into the 5 Second Rule, I found myself in a headspace where I could calmly overview my lifestyle and understand why I was so often reaching this point of mild panic. I realised that part of my problem was having a to-do list in the first place. For example, I used to think ‘I need to do the laundry’ and add this to my list. Following the 5 Second Rule, the response is to start putting away the laundry in the first five seconds of having this thought, not to jot it down in a notepad. Changing this system has reduced overwhelm drastically for me in my personal life because instead of writing down everything I should be doing, I am simply doing them.

List of ironic, procrastination-style tasks including ‘make coffee’ and ‘drink coffee’.

What I love about the 5 Second Rule is that it forces you to pay attention and commit to one thing at a time. I cannot multi-task or even think about the rest of my day because I’m solely focused on the task at hand. It is much more time-efficient this way. I latch onto one thought at a time and hold onto it until it is finished. Then, the next one crops up and I focus only on that until it’s finished.

Out of all the pieces of advice and self-help tips I have read about, this is easily the most simple and rewarding. It’s also something that everyone battles with: having a thought and then choosing whether to do it now or later. With the 5 Second Rule, the excuses of ‘that can wait’ or ‘maybe tomorrow’ are out the window.

Scrabble letters spelling ‘go for it’.



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