Why is it so hard to discard “bad” habits and instill sustainable “healthy” ones? One reason is that most of us thrive on routine and consistency and shy away from change. The human brain actually uses various methods to stop a person from making a change. This is because change involves emotions and doing things that are different or unpredictable can be scary.
Making changes becomes even harder during times of stress, fatigue, or overwhelm. Think about all the times you’ve made New Year’s resolutions, or were excited about a new diet or exercise program, or promised yourself that you would start meditating. Then “life” got in the way and all your good intentions went out the window. This is when having a tool that allows you to take action, stick to your plan, and follow through is invaluable. One of the tools I use to stay on track is called the 5-second rule.
The 5-second rule, created by Mel Robbins, author, speaker, and life coach, is often described as the ultimate brain hack for keeping you focused and moving towards your goals. It is a tool that can help you take action in any situation.
This is the way it works:
According to Mel Robbins, when you are faced with a challenge or a decision, you only have 5 seconds to take action and make the right choice.
The tool is simple and straightforward. When making a decision or leaning towards that unhealthy food choice, procrastinating with exercise, or talking yourself out of doing something you know you really should do, you simply start to count backward 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – GO. At GO, you take action!
The count down forces your brain to act and helps to push you toward what you know is doing the right thing, the healthy habit, the healthy choice.
This is why it works:
Although there is a lot of neuroscience behind why this works, the most simplistic explanation is that the count down takes you out of your emotional brain and engages the part of your brain that makes decisive decisions.
The fact is that we are emotional beings and most of the time we act impulsively on emotion rather than making purposeful choices.
When you count backward it shifts your thoughts away from the emotional center of your brain to the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that is responsible for concentration, planning, and problem-solving.
It also contributes to a variety of executive functions like:
Predicting consequences of one’s actions
Managing emotional reactions and impulses
Processing the information around you and adapting your behavior accordingly
Helping you set and achieve goals
Counting backward interrupts that conversation going on in your brain about all the reasons why you don’t want to do something.
For example, your alarm goes off in the morning so you can up and exercise. But instead of getting up, you lie in bed, and swirling around in your brain are all the reasons why you don’t want to get up. Maybe your emotions are telling you that it is too cold, or you are too tired, or you just need a little more sleep. When you start to count backward, all those excuses are shut down and you are up and on the way to the gym!
“The moment you have an instinct to act on a goal you must count 5-4-3-2-1 and physically move or your brain will stop you.” ~ Mel Robbins
I like to think about the 5-second countdown as a rocket blasting off the launch pad. We are all familiar with the 5-4-3-2-1 BLAST OFF and the excitement and action that it brings. At ZERO that rocket goes off, with great force and energy. What is interesting is that counting up from 0-5 doesn’t have the same effect, perhaps because it doesn’t relay the same excitement or urgency.
I have found the 5-second rule to be pretty effective for me. I use it frequently to get out of bed in the morning when my alarm goes off. If I am being drawn in by the smell of the bakery at the food store, I start the countdown and walk right on by. Sometimes I use it at a restaurant when I am hungry and drooling over the comfort foods on the menu. Upon ordering, I count backward… 5-4-3-2-1….and making the healthier choice is easy.
Thinking about making good health decisions is not enough, you have to take action. Most of us know what we need to do to be healthier, but all too often our brain sabotages us, and this is where I have found the 5-second rule to be very helpful.
It’s a simple, quick, and effective tool for overcoming obstacles that might be holding you back and preventing you from reaching your goals.
Try it! Let me know how it works for you!
Need some guidance on making your health habits sustainable? Reach out! I am always happy to help.
Check out all of Mel Robbin’s work at melrobbins.com