Editor: A very simple little trick can nip procrastination in the bud. This month I am following Dave Wentworth’s advice in his article on medium.com and employing the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown to get out of stalling and into action. Read on to do discover more about this effective productivity hack and its origins with Mel Robbin and her book 5 Second Rule.
No, not the rule that says you can eat off of the floor if you are quick enough to pick the food up in under 5 seconds.
I just read Mel Robbin’s book 5 Second Rule and I loved it. It teaches the impossibly simple, but weirdly effective 5 Second Rule, where you count backwards from 5 whenever you want to begin doing something you don’t immediately have the motivation to do.
The classic example is that when your alarm rings, instead of hitting that snooze like we’re all so used to doing, you count down to yourself, 5–4–3–2–1 and then you just get up.
My wife laughed at me when I told her the premise. I have to admit, I laughed at it at first too.
Count backwards from 5 and then just do it? C’mon…
When I tell other people about this, it seems like, how can that be an entire book?
This book lays out the hundreds of ways people are using the 5 second rule to improve their lives and they are all really motivating. It’s a simple idea, so simple it feels silly, but it really works.
Why does it work?
There are two reasons this works. The first is that when you count backwards from 5, it feels final. You are naturally inclined to say “Blast off!” or “Go!” or “Jump!” at the end and that’s helpful to getting started. You already associate a countdown with taking action.
The second reason is that you have committed to yourself not to lie to yourself or to others. When you tell someone “I am a early riser”, you tend to act in accordance with that statement so you aren’t perceived as a liar, even if the person you told will never know the truth. You tend to not want to act in direct conflict with the things you say.
The same goes for when you say that you will take action at the end of your 5–4–3–2–1. If you say to yourself you will do it, when the countdown ends, you will feel the push to get started. This push is just enough to overcome that activation energyto get things moving for you.
Sometimes, the activation energy for a task can be just being financially committed to something, like if you bought a subscription to a weight loss coaching service. Maybe the advice you receive isn’t anything you don’t already know, but because you have committed with your wallet to receiving coaching, you are many times more likely to be successful because you want to be true to your original intentions.
How else do you use it?
I use it constantly. I was annoyed at myself for getting mad and yelling at my kids, so when I feel the urge to yell, I count backwards 5–4–3–2–1 and then I react peacefully.
I didn’t want to get started writing an article I knew I wanted to write, so 5–4–3–2–1 and I opened the document.
I didn’t want to make a tough phone call to someone I knew was not going to be easy to speak with — 5–4–3–2–1 and I’m dialing.
I also make it a point to avoid eating out at work most days, so when the urge rolls around, 5–4–3–2–1 and I’ve decided I’m sticking with my original intention of eating what I brought today instead of any of the dozens of options nearby.
It doesn’t have to be something tough, make your goal a baby step. Hate flossing? Just 5–4–3–2–1 and floss one tooth. Just one. And stop. It sounds weird, but the hardest part of any task is the beginning. What you are doing is building the routine of doing the task and building the identity of the kind person who does that task.
If you do check out Mel’s book, let me know what you think down below, or if you have other book recommendations, I want to hear them!
David Wentworth is a writer Interested in self-improvement, productivity and human potential. You can read more of his work at www.davidwentworth.net. This article was first posted on medium.com.
Mel Robbins started as a criminal defence attorney. She is now one of the most sought after motivational speakers trusted to design and deliver business expanding, life-changing, interactive keynotes that inspire change, challenge thinking and accelerate personal and professional growth. Her TEDx Talk on “How To Stop Screwing Yourself Over” has over 10 million views across 37 countries, and her book on the brain and productivity, “Stop Saying You’re Fine”, is a business bestseller that has been translated into four languages. You can learn more about Mel at melrobbins.com