If you’ve already learned what The 5 Second Rule is and all of the science behind it, you may want to go even deeper. In this blog, I’m giving you answers to all of the most frequently asked questions about The 5 Second Rule.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE #5SecondRule?
The Rule is a simple, research-backed metacognition tool that creates immediate and lasting behavior change. Metacognition, by the way, is just a fancy word for any technique that allows you to beat your brain in order to accomplish your greater goals.
HOW DO I USE THE RULE?
Using the Rule is simple. Whenever you feel the instinct fire up to act on a goal or a commitment—or the moment you feel yourself hesitate on doing something and you know you should do—use the Rule.
Start by counting backwards to yourself: 5- 4- 3- 2- 1. The counting will help you focus on the goal or commitment and distract you from the worries, thoughts, and fears in your mind. As soon as you reach “1,” move. That’s it. It’s so simple but let me hammer this home one more time. Anytime there’s something you know you should do, but you feel uncertain, afraid, or overwhelmed … just take control by counting backwards 5- 4- 3- 2- 1. That’ll quiet your mind and focus your attention on what you should do, and then move when you get to “1.”
Counting is an action. By teaching yourself to take action (counting backwards), when normally you’d stop yourself (by thinking), is remarkable. That one small five second change, changes everything. Counting backwards does a few important things simultaneously: it distracts you from your worries, it focuses your attention on what you need to do, it prompts you to act, and it interrupts the habits of hesitating, over thinking, and holding back.
WHY IS IT CALLED THE #5SecondRule?
I get this question a lot. And I wish I had a better answer. I called it “The #5SecondRule” because that’s the first thing that popped into my mind the morning I first used it and it stuck. Remember, I had seen a rocket launch the night before and thought to myself, “I’ll just launch myself out of bed—like a rocket!” The next morning, I counted backwards 5- 4- 3- 2- 1—because that’s what NASA does when it launches a spaceship. I started with 5 for no particular reason other than it felt like the right amount of time to give myself.
I’ve come to learn that there are a lot of other “5 Second Rules” in the world, like the one about eating food off the floor, the five-second shot clock in basketball, the game Ellen DeGeneres plays on her talk show, and the five-second test you can do to see if the sidewalk surface is too hot for your dog to walk on.
Had I known my Rule would spread around the world, I might have come up with a more original name. But in hindsight, all these #5SecondRules have something in common. They require you to physically move within a five-second window.
Physical movement is the most important part of my Rule too; because when you move your physiology changes and your mind follows. So perhaps the name is not only apropos, it’s actually perfect because it references other five-second windows in life, and that makes the Rule feel that much more familiar, universal and true.
IS THERE A 5 SECOND WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR EVERYONE?
Yes. There is a window for everyone between the moment you have an instinct to change and your mind killing that instinct. While your mind starts working against you in nanoseconds, the barrage of thoughts and excuses don’t seem to kick into full force and stop you for a few seconds. The five-second window seems to work for everyone.
That said, by all means play around with it to make it work for you. Personally, I notice the longer I wait between my initial impulse to act and physically moving, the louder the excuses get and the harder it becomes to force myself to move.
If it works for you to shorten or lengthen the window, personalize the Rule to make it work for you.
That is how the system in your brain works—the longer that you think about something, the lower your urge to act becomes. We are amazing at fooling ourselves into staying exactly where we are. As soon as that impulse to act kicks in, you start rationalizing it away. That’s why you’ve got to move faster – so you can break free before your mind traps you.
WHAT CAN I USE IT FOR?
Over the years, we’ve heard thousands of examples of how people are using the Rule to improve their life, relationships, happiness, and work. But every example falls into one of three distinct categories for how you can use it.
1. CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR.
You can use the Rule to push yourself to create new habits, pull yourself away from destructive habits, and master the skills of self-monitoring and self-control so you can be more intentional and effective in your relationships.
2. ACT WITH EVERYDAY COURAGE
You can use the Rule to discover the courage you need to do things that are new, scary or uncertain. The Rule will quiet your self-doubt and build confidence as you push yourself to pursue your passions, share your ideas at work, volunteer for projects that stretch you, become a better leader, create your art, and deepen your relationships.
3. MIND CONTROL
You can use the Rule to stop the barrage of negative thoughts and endless worries that weigh you down. You can also break the habit of anxiety and beat any fear. When you take control of your mind, you’ll be able to think about things that bring you joy and power. And that, in my opinion, is the most powerful way to use the Rule.
WHY DOES SOMETHING SO SIMPLE WORK?
The Rule works because it is so simple. There are all kinds of tricky ways your brain kills your urge to act. Basically, your mind tricks you into thinking things through. And the moment you get tricked into thinking things through you’ll get trapped by your thoughts. Your mind has a million ways to talk you out of acting.
That’s the neurological reason why it’s so hard to change. Change requires you to do things that are uncertain, scary, or new. Your brain, by design, will not let you do such things. Your brain is afraid of things that feel uncertain, scary, or new, so it will do whatever it can to talk you out of doing those things. It is part of your hard-wiring, and it happens really fast. And that is why you have to act even faster to beat it.
The Rule leverages and is an example of some powerful and proven principles in modern psychology: a bias toward action, internal locus of control, behavioral flexibility, the progress principle, starting rituals, the Golden Rule of Habits, authentic pride, deliberate action, “If/Then planning,” and activation energy.
HOW CAN ONE RULE WORK ON SO MANY AREAS OF YOUR LIFE?
The #5SecondRule actually only works on one thing—you. You stop yourself from changing the exact same way every single time—you hesitate, then you overthink and you lock yourself in mental jail.
That moment of hesitation is a killer. Hesitation sends a stress signal to your brain. Hesitation is like a red flag, signally that “something’s up” and your brain is goes into protection mode. This is how we are wired to fail. Think about this for a minute.
You don’t hesitate all time. For example, you don’t hesitate when you pour a cup of coffee in the morning. You don’t hesitate when you put on your jeans. You don’t hesitate when you turn on the television. You don’t hesitate to call your best friend. You don’t think at all. You just have the instinct to call your friend and you pick up the phone and call them. But when you hesitate just before making a sales call or texting someone back, it makes your brain think that something must be wrong. The longer you think about that sales call, the less likely you’ll make it.
But what you will soon learn is that moment of hesitation can also be used to your advantage. Every time you catch yourself hesitating, it is a push moment! The five second window is opened, it is time to 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 and push yourself forward and be bigger than your excuses.
Seeing the 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 countdown can serve as a vivid reminder of the Rule and its importance. Art hung the numbers on his office wall to keep him motivated and moving forward all day at work:
CAN THE RULE CREATE LASTING BEHAVIOR CHANGE TOO?
Yes, the Rule will not only beat the brain’s operating system to help you win the battle with resistance in the moment, but over time as you repeat the Rule you destroy the system all together.
One thing most of us don’t realize is that patterns of thinking like worrying, self-doubt, and fear are all just habits–you repeat these thought patterns without even realizing it. If everything you do to sabotage your happiness is a habit, that means you can follow the latest research to break the habits of:
There is a “Golden Rule of Habits” and it is very simple: in order to change any bad habit, you must replace the behavior pattern you repeat.
For now, what you need to know is this – the #5SecondRule and it’s countdown trick, 5- 4- 3- 2- 1- GO! will become your new behavior pattern. Instead of holding back, you’ll 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 and push forward. The countdown is also what researchers call a “starting ritual.” Starting rituals interrupt your bad default patterns and triggers new positive patterns.
If you master the Rule you will reprogram your mind. You will teach yourself new behavior patterns. Instead of defaulting to worry, hesitation, and fear, you will find yourself automatically acting with courage. Over time, as you take more and more steps forward, you’ll discover something else—real confidence and pride in yourself. The authentic kind that comes when you honor your goals and accomplish small wins that are important to you.
Everything that you think might be set in stone, including your habits, mindset, personality, and profession, are flexible. The implications of this for your life are absolutely thrilling. You can change your “default” mental settings and your habits one five second decision at a time. Those small decisions add up to major changes in who you are, what you feel, and how you live.
Change your decisions and you’ll change your life. And what will change your decisions more than anything? Courage.