How to Use the 5 Second Rule to Manage Yourself

5 Seconds Rule

One of the hardest things to do is to avoid procrastination, especially on those tasks you know you won’t enjoy. Mel Robbins, an American TV Presenter and author, believes that her 5 second rule is the ultimate technique to use to ensure you start those tasks. This is not about how long it takes to complete the task or the relative difficulty of the task, but instead focusses on the idea that to get something done you need to start a task within 5 seconds of feeling that impulse to do it otherwise you just won’t do it at all.


The first element of the 5 second rule is that initial impulse. We’ve all had it, that nagging feeling or internal commentary saying we really should get to that specific thing. It could be a presentation you were supposed to be doing or even that urge to get up and move. This is not a rash decision, it’s that moment where you just feel something in your gut that tells you that you should do this. It’s not rushing into a task with irreversible consequences, it’s those things you know you should be doing but you just don’t feel like doing right at that moment.


That initial impulse will be tied to an objective or goal you have set. Maybe you know there’s a deadline coming up but you’re pushing the work off as it’s not something you enjoy. Perhaps you are trying to get healthier and fitter but you feel unmotivated or are waiting for that perfect moment to begin.

We’ve all had those moments of self-justification, we’ll wait till Monday to start a new thing as it’s the start of a new week. It doesn’t matter that it’s currently Tuesday and really, you’re just looking for an excuse. The five second rule forces you to face the fact that sometimes you really need to motivate yourself and accept that those impulses you’re feeling are attached to those goals you want to achieve.

The Mental Push

The mental push is possibly the most difficult part, the impulse comes naturally, the objective will be something you already know and moving to action once you’ve done that mental push is difficult but much easier than the initial mental gymnastics you will likely end up doing.

It is that moment where you need to force yourself out of the comfortable spot your in and face something that might cause you stress or anxiety. Find the thing that works to push you mentally and use it.

This might be motivational boards, reward charts, to do lists or even just mentally picturing the desired outcome. It is not easy, it is not going to go perfectly every time and you may fail at this hurdle. However, the truly important thing is to keep on trying. Discovering what motivates you is an exercise in self-reflection that can be difficult so make sure you have support as you do this.

Motivation is a hard thing, there’s never going to be that moment where everything just falls into place and suddenly you are ready to go. As such you need to push yourself to follow the impulse and begin the five second countdown in your mind.

Moving to Action

Moving to action is the ‘Go!’ element to the five second rule. Mel Robbins points out that it is important not only to push yourself mentally but to actually physically move to start something. You pushed yourself to do that presentation, resituate yourself at your seat and start working on it now. You pushed yourself to move and exercise, get up and put those trainers on ready to go.

The more you wait the more difficult it is to get moving, the aim of the countdown isn’t to go at exactly the point you’ve finished counting down from five but to make yourself get up before the countdown ends.

The physical reaction can also help you curb an instinct you know is harmful. You want to react to something someone has said to you, that movement helps resituate you and reset your brain enough to stop you making a scene in public.

Not Going Before Go

If you don’t get up and move to action it is sadly likely that you’ll find opportunity has passed or that you just don’t do the thing you wanted to do. Your brain wants you to stay away from things that cause you anxiety and stress, it wants to protect you from danger.

There’s no shame in failing at the final hurdle or even the mental push a few times as you try and learn the technique. We’re human, we make mistakes and learn from them. But, you need to try and actively work on the skill to see its effects. If you ignore that impulse it will fade and nothing will change.


There are some criticisms to be had for this rule. Firstly, that impulse you have to complete an objective that you know you’re putting off might be all well and good but the timing is completely inappropriate. You can’t just get up and work when you’re in a meeting. You may have tasks that have been given a higher priority by your supervisor that need to be completed first. In those situations, it’s important to make a note of the impulse discreetly and come back to it at the first opportunity.

Secondly, physical health, mental health and general wellbeing play a large part in your ability to actually move to action. Not everyone is wired the same, some of us have experiences that have shaped our behaviour and reactions to certain situations. For those with a mental health issue you will find that the urges to protect yourself that your brain sends out will be possibly too loud to deal with. It is important to work with your therapist, doctor or simply within the bounds of your own abilities if you plan to pick up this technique. Get the support you need to help you achieve your goals while also making sure you are not rushing into something that might cause further issues for you down the line.

Thirdly, we’re all built different. What works for one person may not necessarily work for you and you shouldn’t be disheartened or feel like a failure if this technique just isn’t for you. It may be that you need to look for other ways to give yourself that push or need some extra support.

Finally, while there is some scientific basis to this rule it is important to do your own research and see if there’s any actual documentation to prove its effectiveness. Keep an open and critical mind, feel free to try the rule out but don’t expect a magic cure for your procrastination.

Wrapping Up

The five second rule is a great little technique to try if you are a chronic procrastinator, especially one who constantly gets those nagging feelings to do something. Follow the impulse, push yourself mentally, start the countdown and move to action before you reach one. While it may not work for you or may require a few attempts there is no denying that it’s at least worth giving a go.