With her book The 5 Second Rule, author and public speaker Mel Robbins lays out a psychological hack you can use to motivate, encourage and (in a way) trick yourself into doing the things you know you should do, but don’t necessarily want to do.
The rule itself is extremely easy to understand: you simply count backwards, 5-4-3-2-1, then take action. There really isn’t anything more to it than that, which begs at least two questions:
“That’s a f@¢&ing book? Couldn’t she have just tweeted it?”
Somewhat surprisingly, the answers are “yes” and “well, sorta.” The rule may be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. Robbins spends the first part of the book laying out the psychological research behind the rule and explaining in great detail why something that sounds so simple can be so effective.
She then devotes her attention to demonstrating how you can use the rule to achieve specific goals, including becoming more productive, conquering your fears, increasing your happiness and improving and enriching your relationships with other people.
When your central premise is that people can change their lives by counting backwards, you damn well better have enough information to overcome the inevitable eye rolls you’re going to get from skeptics.
A lawyer by trade, Robbins anticipated this skepticism, and was clearly determined to overcome it. She spent three years researching and writing The 5 Second Rule, delving deep into behaviorial psychology and other related fields in an effort to uncover why such a seemingly simple trick has such a profound effect on our brains.
As it turns out, her answer was pretty comprehensive, and she offers more than enough research and evidence to make you think there may be something to this whole NASA-sounding countdown thing.
While the book is well researched and her points are well argued, it never feels like you’re reading a legal treatise or academic paper.
Robbins writes with a conversational and straightforward tone that makes you feel more like you’re getting in-person advice from a friend or mentor than reading three years worth of research by a lawyer.
The result is a book that, while packed with useful information, proves pretty easy to read.
One thing that makes Robbins’ writing feel more conversational is the way she bluntly and refreshingly calls you, the reader, out on your own shit.
Her message is ultimately very positive – you can overcome fear and achieve a lot by using the 5-second rule to force yourself to move forward – but this book is far from fluffy feel-goodery.
After leaving the law, Robbins went into personal/professional coaching, and she’s clearly aware of the many ways people procrastinate, bloviate and make excuses.
She frequently acknowledges all the quirky, strange, self-defeating and unhelpful behavior we humans tend to indulge in, and she’s not afraid to point out that in 90% of cases, most of our excuses for inaction are total bullshit.
Simply having her draw your attention to this fact repeatedly serves as a helpful reminder that we’re all much more capable than we give ourselves credit for.
Real World Examples
Once again anticipating her audience’s arguments, Robbins acknowledges many readers may think her rule sounds good in principle, but fails to work in practice.
To help make her case, in each chapter she shares messages collected from her large social media following (including, in many cases, screenshots of the actual message and photos of the messenger), to reinforce the notion that real people grappling with issues similar to yours and mine have used her rule to achieve great things.
This is a fairly minor quibble, but one that may be worth mentioning if you’re the type of person who prefers to learn through storytelling.
Robbins shares plenty of personal anecdotes, from both her own life and those of her followers, but the book is not crafted in the form of a journey or a story. This sets it apart from books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, for instance, which leads the reader down a path to increasing levels of effectiveness.
Robbins’ book tends to jump from one application of the rule to the next, which no sense of progress along the way. While each application of the rule is fairly universal – she shows you how to use it to get healthier, become more productive, build stronger relationships, etc. – she doesn’t spend any time connecting these various spheres of a person’s life.
While Robbins clearly did loads of research for this book, she is not herself a psychologist or a scientist of any kind. As a result, what you’re reading is her well-informed but ultimately layman’s interpretation of and conclusions about scientific data.
This wasn’t much of a problem for me – I often find that when scientists write books themselves, they fail to communicate their expertise effectively – but it’s worth noting that you’re not getting the information straight from the horses’s mouth here.
Can this book help you improve?
Since reading the book I’ve used the 5-second rule multiple times, to great effect. When I find myself starting to hesitate or delve down the rabbit hole of procrastination, I close my eyes, count backwards from five, and before I even get to one I realize I’m being stupid and I need to get my ass in gear.
(Fun fact: it literally happened with this blog post! I had a choice between writing this and watching the next episode of House of Cards. Because I used the 5-second rule, you now know a little something about this book, while I know nothing of what becomes of the Underwoods.)
Having used the rule a number of times now, I feel an added sense of confidence knowing that I’ve got this little trick in my back pocket. There’s a certain sense of pride that comes from knowing that while other people are talking themselves out of action, I know how to talk myself into it.
And if it can work for an avid binge-watcher like me, it can work for you.
Pick up the book to learn how to apply Robbins’ rule to some of the most important aspects of life and become a more proactive person.
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