Everyday Courage: Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule, by Victoria Moran

If I had known the 5-second rule when I was seventeen instead of seventy (okay, seventy-three, but barely), I would have set the world on fire numerous times. In a good way. So okay, I can start now. In fact, I already have, for the past five weeks, ever since the an ad for The 5-Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work and Confidence With Everyday Courage, popped up for me on Audible. I’m a little surprised that I even listened to the teaser since I’m not usually a rah-rah motivation kind of person. Okay, so I once went to a Tony Robbins seminar and broke a wooden block, but it didn’t change my life. However, listening to another motivator, Mel Robbins (no relation to Tony), read her audiobook has changed my life, and if you don’t know about this yet — the book came out in 2017 — there’s no time like the present.

The 5 second rule is this: When you want to do something good for yourself or someone else, and you start to sabotage this glittering intention, count backward from 5 and get up and do it. This is the everyday courage that makes life work.

It sounds stupid, right? — like I ought to add on, “And you get extra credit if you stand on one foot in a dark room while visualizing a unicorn.” But there is science behind this. “When you start counting five, four, three, two, one—you awaken your prefrontal cortex,” says the author. “You begin the process of changing. You push yourself in a new direction.”

My understanding is that there is five-second window in which old brain patterns can step in and erect a roadblock to prevent your doing what they call in the Twelve Step programs “the next indicated thing.” If you can get in there and intercept within that five-second period, you will not push the snooze button, eat another cookie, watch another episode, or press “send” on an angry email, no matter how much you want to. You’ll put an end to the defeating behavior before it happens, like having the cops show up before the robbery.

But does something this simple, childish even, actually work? In my admittedly brief experience using it, I can answer: Yes! Brilliantly. Dependably. Almost magically.

‘Superwomen’: Donna NcNamee, left, and Abigail Sicolo managed to lift a 1,400kg Renault Clio which had a young boy pinned underneath it

Some people that I’ve told about this have said, “You don’t need this. You’ve written thirteen books.You raised a  daughter by yourself for ten years. You went on the Oprah show live in front of 35 million people. You walked up to the muzzle of a double-barrel shotgun to keep a drunk guy from shooting a puppy. You have all kinds of courage.” But I never had all kinds. I had extraordinary-circumstances courage. It’s like those stories — one from 2009 shown left — of a woman who lifts a car off a child trapped beneath. She was able to muster inexplicable strength when she had to, but in her quotidien life, she may not have been able to do biceps curls with twelve-pound dumbbells.

So, yes, when life presented me with a substantial task or a tantalizing challenge, sufficient will, adrenaline, and soul-power would converge to meet it. But with the daily stuff, the stitches that hold the fabric of life together, there wasn’t much will and soul-force at hand. I’d come home from a trip and take a week to unpack. I’d do laundry and leave it in the basket, expecting some magical fairy from Laundryland to do the folding and putting away. I’d go to bed at night with the dishes unwashed and be shocked in the morning to find a mess in kitchen. “What happened? Is Mrs. Patmore visiting relatives in Nottinghamshire?”

Forbes, 2010-2022

I discovered The 5 Second Rule and its message at a point in my life at something of a low point. I was coming off those tough pandemic years, as we all were, and I lost a dear friend and writing mentor to Covid. In addition, my husband had had a serious accident and then a serious illness. I had a vaccine reaction that took three months and $6000 in non-reimbursed treatment charges to turn around. Then I developed tinnitus so severely I thought I’d lose my mind. And our beloved dog, Forbes, was diagnosed with an agressive cancer that took his life within twelve days.

I persevered, as we do, but it got to the point at which the alarm would go off in the morning, and I’d think “Yeah, right,” and pull up the covers. I still wanted to eat healthy, but I had no desire to prepare the food. I felt like a chessplayer whose opponent had just called “Check.” There was theoretically a way out, but I couldn’t see it. Checkmate seemed ineviable.

And then up popped that promo for The 5 Second Rule. It appealed to me because of the short time frame suggested. I had five seconds of energy, hope, and promise left, maybe no more than that, but that much. Besides, what did I have to lose? How hard could it be to count backwards from 5? They do it at NASA all the time.

Not hard, but astonishing. I used it first, as Mel Robbins herself had, for getting up when the alarm rang. I put the phone on the other side of the room, and when I heard the buzzer, I counted “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, you’re up.” I’d turn on a light, get out of bed, open the shades, turn off the alarm, and get to the bathroom and splash my face with water before it even occurred to me that going back to bed was an option. Because it no longer was. For that moment anyway, I had changed my brain.

Then I started using the counting-backwards technique for other things: tackling the to-do list items that weren’t my favorites, turning off the TV (even Netflix), and taking care of business in all sorts of ways. The amount of time it took for this absurdly simply practice to change my life was days, hours even. It started affecting how I approached everything. I wasn’t counting “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” all the time because so much was falling into place, I didn’t need to.

About four days after I started to practice the 5 Second Rule, another major life upset hit: my husband had a stroke. He was in the hospital for a week and has been home now for three. He is recovering and putting in a lot of everyday courage himself. Still, it’s a long road. My priorities had to shift. My efficiency had to double. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . I’d have been there for William, 5 Second Rule or not, but with it I was able to be there for him, and the companion animals, keep up with work commitments, and take care of myself, too. Some people could do this without any tips, tricks, or techniques. They were raised to develop everyday courage. It’s in their bones. The rest of us — and I can certainly speak for myself on this — can benefit greatly from counting backwards: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, onward and upward.

Victoria Moran, www.victoriamoran.com, is the author of Shelter for the Spirit, Creating a Charmed Life, The Love-Powered Diet and Main Street Vegan. She is the founder and director of Main Street Vegan Academy (www.mainstreetvegan.com) and is a certified holistic health coach (CHHC, AADP) and a registered yoga teacher (RYT-200). Hang out with her in person at the Soul of Ahimsa retreatJune 2, 3, and 4 in Elmira, New York (also featured: Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Swami Chidananda, and a field trip to Farm Sanctuary!); and check out this Zoom retreat with Victoria, Acing Age With Ayurveda, June 17 and 18.












Subscribe and get the latest news

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

Subscribe and get the latest news

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
Scroll to Top