The 5 Second Rule – Overcoming the Habit of Procrastination

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Have you ever asked yourself why you don’t do the things you know you should?  Why you procrastinate starting your most important tasks. Why you put off the things you know in your gut will make a real difference in your life?  Mel Robbins, Author of The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage has an explanation for this behavior and provides a simple trick for overcoming it.

She says when you hesitate to act, a red flag goes up in your mind. Your mind interprets your hesitation to act as a warning. Your mind is hardwired to keep you safe by avoiding threats. The moment you pull back, your mind will immediately begin to magnify the danger to prevent you from placing yourself at risk. This cognitive bias, which magnifies our fears and discomfort, is called the spotlight effect. She says you can overcome this mechanism that holds you back by preventing you from taking the difficult actions that will move you forward with a simple trick. To interrupt this habit of procrastination, she recommends you count backward from five. The act of counting backward, 5-4-3-2-1, is a deliberate action that requires focus. It interrupts the habit of procrastination. Use it as a countdown to action. Say to yourself, 5-4-3-2-1 move.

She describes these moments of hesitation as moments of huge power. Moments when leaning into action instead of backing away from it will change your life. Moments when your inner voice and instincts are telling you what you should do, but your fears are working to hold you back. She says if you let your feelings dictate your actions you’ll rob yourself of joy and opportunity. Many of the actions we need to take are difficult and uncomfortable. Will you ever feel like having the difficult conversation to end a dysfunctional personal or professional relationship? No, you won’t. Will you ever feel like making a cold call or speaking up in a meeting with senior managers? No, you won’t. Will you ever feel like volunteering to lead a challenging project, tackle a difficult problem, or give a presentation to a large group of strangers? No, you won’t, but these are the actions that can propel your life and career forward. If we let our fear and self-doubt rule our choices, we will rob ourselves of the achievements we are capable of.  If you let feelings decide your actions, you will deprive yourself of growth, opportunity, and happiness. Growth and advancement are almost always the results of taking on new challenges, overcoming fear, and risking failure. If you let your fears and feelings determine your actions, you’ll be safe and comfortable, but you’ll never feel joy or experience growth. Conquering fears and overcoming challenges can be scary and daunting, but they also make us feel great about ourselves when we overcome them by taking action. We feel like winners. Will you experience failures and setbacks, sure, everyone does, but failures teach us lessons and make us better.

mel robbins

Author Mel Robbins

She says it’s ok to feel fear; it’s ok to lack confidence, as long as you don’t let it hold you back. She says, “You can’t control how you feel. But you can always choose how you act.” Feel the fear, and act anyway. In that moment of hesitation, say to yourself; 5-4-3-2-1 move. Discipline yourself to break the habit of procrastination. Overcome your fear and self-doubt. Lean into the things you know you should do. Lean into the things your inner voice says you should do. An amazing thing happens when you repeatedly act in the face of fear. You become fearless. An amazing thing happens when you take action in the face of self-doubt, you become confident.

Studies have shown that people that have a bias toward action achieve more than the geniuses that brainstorm ideas endlessly but don’t achieve results. The best way to overcome procrastination and being paralyzed by indecision is to take action. Adopt a bias toward action. Just get started. Usually, the toughest part of any task is beginning. How many times have you procrastinated beginning a task because it seemed overwhelming, only to discover it wasn’t that difficult, once you began?

The habit of routinely beginning each day, completing your most impactful task, provides immediate and long-term benefits. Task completion gives us a sense of accomplishment. This makes us feel great about ourselves. It triggers the release of endorphins. When you feel yourself starting to hesitate, apply the 5-Second Rule. Initiate physical movement at the end of the countdown; even if it is just grabbing material, or moving your mouse to open a file. Our physiology and psychology are linked. Generating physical movement will help you avoid the malaise of procrastination.

The more impactful and challenging the task completed, the better we feel about ourselves. You will begin to crave these endorphins.  This positive addiction will grow stronger over time. Like a muscle, it will grow stronger through repetition and effort. Eventually, it will become a part of who you are. It will be ingrained in your psyche.

Routinely doing what is most difficult early in the day, when your energy and willpower are at their highest, will give you a better chance of success. Habits become easier over time. The habit of doing what needs to be done, instead of what is easy, will grow stronger through repetition, like a muscle. For those that routinely do what others find too difficult to do, life becomes easy. Push forward. Do what needs to be done. Take Bruce Lee’s advice, “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” Download a few of your favorite motivational videos on your smartphone for those times when your motivation is dwindling. You just need to stay motivated and disciplined long enough to make this behavior a habit. Build your discipline muscle, and life’s burdens become lighter.

If you want to learn more about The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage;  I encourage you to purchase her book, visit her website , or watch her interview on Lewis HowesLink to a short 5-minute video on the topic.


I hope you have found these suggestions helpful. Could you please Like and Share if you enjoyed this post. Best wishes and best health!

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The book contains:

  • 7 Change Strategies for Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle
  • A Flexible Diet Program that Doesn’t Put Any Foods Off-limit,  including Alcohol
  • 20-Week Workout Log with Progress Assessments (Downloadable PDF)
  • 3 Strategies for Resetting your Body Weight Set point to Keep the Weight Off
  • A Nutrition and Training Program Based on Science, not Bro Science.

The Fat Loss Habit: Creating Routines that Make Willpower and Fat Loss Automatic takes a new approach to getting leaner, fitter, and stronger. The program uses high-impact change strategies that make the process of adopting a healthy lifestyle easier. The nutrition and workout program, like the change techniques have all been proven effective, and are all backed by research and scientific studies.

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