The Five-Second, Five-Minute Rule

The Five-Second Five-Minute Rule

Mel Robbins, the American entrepreneur, author and speaker, has won a lot of attention — and, no doubt, helped a lot of people — with her “Five-Second Rule” principle.

The premise of Robbins’s rule is simple and powerful:

If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill it.

Now I’m not sure your brain will “kill it” if you don’t take immediate action, but there’s no doubt that action can be a superpower.

Amazon has become one of the biggest companies in the world in a little over two decades, and one of its core principles which it gives to new staff is, “Bias for action”.

I’ve mentioned once or twice here an old African proverb that I love, the one that goes,

When you pray, move your feet.

So I’ve remoulded Mel’s five-second rule for my own ends. During really down days, when bleakness or melancholy or despair or depression or whatever you’d like to call it inflicts its paralysis on you, the five-second rule in and of itself is usually insufficient.

The reason is probably because it wasn’t necessarily designed for people whose brains have gone on semi-shutdown.

“An instinct to act on a goal” is an alien concept for anyone struggling with depression or any of its non-label equivalents. When nothing at all seems worthwhile and everything feels futile, the very notion of acting on anything, never mind something so out there as “a goal”, is a bridge too far.

But I do respect the need for action — any movement at all can generate even the frailest spark of energy — and I also respect the simplicity behind the five-second rule.

So I added a second bit.

I call it The Five-Second, Five-Minute Rule.

It’s for those times when you can’t start.

Those times when you can’t even think about starting.

Those times when Netflix in a darkened room might be just about the healthiest distraction you can muster, and all sorts of unhealthy and self-destructive temptations press themselves in on your brain.

It goes like this:

  1. Count down from five seconds, then start. (Start anything. Cleaning. Writing. Phoning the bank. Any one thing you’ve been putting off.)
  2. Set a timer for five minutes, and after that timer goes off you have full permission to stop.

My bet is that at least some of the time, that timer will go off and you won’t want to stop.

And if you do, stop with full permission, and console yourself that today, you were able to start. A few days like that and things might just start moving again.

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