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.

A few more posts you might like:


A zero-cost investment with a massive impact

Energy is the currency of the world.

Energy spreads from person to person every moment of every day.

Energy is not neutral.

If we’re not spreading positive energy, it’s almost certain we’re spreading negative energy.

Setting this one intention — just to be conscious of the energy we bring to every room, every exchange,every situation — is probably the best investment any of us can make.

It costs zero and can reap significant rewards.

For us, yes, but also for all the people who share space and time with us every day.

Posts About Energy #2: The Ripple Effect

I was never a brilliant science student at school, but I remember something that means a lot more now, with all the experiences of adulthood.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

The first action takes energy. And the energy generates the equal and opposite reaction.

If we put it another way, energy creates energy. Put another way again, we get back energy when we give it.

We can be intentional about the kind of energy we’re giving out today.

We can be intentional about this every day.

Every moment of every day is an opportunity to generate energy. It doesn’t have to mean a sudden overhaul of our entire personality. It can start small. It can start with an intentionally warm smile for the barista, or a brighter-than-usual hello for the bus-driver.

You might not get this energy back with interest the first time, but what happens if we do it twice, three times, four times?

What happens is a ripple effect.

And when we start to generate positive energy, those ripple effects are a sight to behold.

Chances are, if we’re not creating positive energy, it’s very likely we’re unintentionally bringing the negative variety. And here’s the thing: negative energy creates a ripple effect too.

Which is it to be?

[This is the second post in an open-ended series of musings on energy. Click here for all posts in this series.]

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Posts About Energy #1: Energy = Currency

I will write about energy more than once on this. I will write about energy a lot. So it makes sense to start off the initial energy post in this daily blog series — about energy is currency — with the #1 attached, as this is likely to become a miniature series in its own right.

Over the past two years, I have paid close attention to how we, as people, react to certain things happening. I’ve paid close attention to how we behave in certain situations. I have studied in depth how we make a choice between either navigating a way past the pitfalls of everyday living, or allowing ourselves instead to see ourselves as victims of negative external forces.

During those two years, I have come to realise this.

Energy is the currency of the world.

Time might be money, but energy is more important than both.

Without energy, time and money are useless.

We work, or start businesses, or try to invest wisely, to generate money. We manage or save or try to make the most of time.

Too often, though, we don’t treat energy with the respect it deserves.

Energy is currency. Energy is everything. Energy makes everything happen.

Thinking consciously today, even for five minutes, about what gives you energy and what takes your energy away, and deciding to spend just a little more time on the first, and just a little less time on the second, could be the most important five minutes your week.

If you like to receive Shane’s daily blog on living a life well lived as an email straight to your inbox every day, add your details to the form below. (There are checkboxes for Shane’s weekly bullet points and longer monthly newsletter too. Check them to receive everything.)