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Summary of The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins

“You are one decision away from a completely different life”

– Mel Robbins

“I was the problem and in five seconds, I could push myself and become the solution.”

– Mel Robbins

The moment you have an instinct to act on a goal you must count down 5-4-3-2-1 and physically move or your brain will stop you.

  • Using the Rule is simple. Whenever you feel an instinct fire up to act on a goal or a commitment, or the moment you feel that yourself hesitate on doing something and you know you should do, use the Rule.
  • Start by counting backward 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.
  • The Rule will work every time you use it. But you have to use it. It is a tool. If you stop using it, fear and uncertainty will creep back in and take control of your decisions. If that happens, just start using the Rule again.
  • Physical movement is the most important part of my Rule, too, because when you move your physiology changes and your mind follows.

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.

As you use the Rule over time, you’ll experience a shift inside yourself that is much deeper, a transformation that impacts confidence and inner strength.

You will come face to face with the excuses, habits, feelings, insecurities, and fears that have haunted you for years.

Application Ideas

  • Speaking in a meeting
  • Staying positive
  • Making a decision
  • Finding time for yourself
  • Asking for feedback
  • Raising your hand
  • Asking for a raise
  • Ending self-doubt
  • Working on your résumé
  • Sticking to your plan
  • Leaving the house
  • Volunteering to go first
  • Talking to someone you find attractive
  • Stepping on a dance floor
  • Publishing your work
  • Getting to the gym
  • Eating in moderation
  • Saying “no”
  • Asking for help
  • Letting your guard down
  • Admitting you are wrong
  • Listening

Over time, as you repeat the Rule, you destroy that system altogether.

One thing most of us don’t realize is that patterns of thinking like worrying, self-doubt, and fear are all just habits—and you repeat these thought patterns without even realizing it.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Break a Bad Habit

When you silently count down from five, your brain knows something needs to happen after one; it’s the universal cue to act.

And when you take a deliberate action immediately after counting down you generate the joy of feeling in control.

“There’s an important concept in psychology put forth by Julian Rotter in 1954. It’s called ‘locus of control.’ The more that you believe
that you are in control of your life, your actions and your future, the happier and more successful you’ll be. There’s one thing that is
guaranteed to increase your feelings of control over your life: a bias toward action.”

– Mel Robbins

According to psychologists, the ‘Golden Rule of Habits’ says to change a bad habit you must replace it with a different habit. Every habit has three parts: cue, routine, and reward. When you silently countdown from five (cue), take a small positive action (routine), and get a pleasurable feeling of control (reward), you’ve created a new habit loop.

Here are a few ways you can use a five‐second action habit to overwrite a bad habit:

  • If you want to break a bad habit of drinking wine before bed, notice yourself reaching for the bottle of wine at night and then
    silently say to yourself “five, four, three, two, one,” and put the bottle back of the cupboard.
  • If you have a habit of getting angry at people, notice the anger and then silently say “five, four, three, two, one,” and think of
    three people you’re grateful for.
  • If you have a habit of getting nervous before a performance, notice your anxiety and silently say to yourself “five, four, three,
    two, one…I’m excited!”

“I speak for a living. A lot. In 2016, I was named the most‐booked female speaker in America— 98 keynotes in one year. Amazing. Do I get
nervous? Absolutely. Every single time. But here’s the trick: I don’t call it ‘nerves.’ I call it ‘excitement’ because physiologically anxiety
and excitement are the exact same thing…When using this technique in experiments ranging from singing karaoke to giving a speech
on camera to taking a math test, participants who said ‘I’m excited’ did better in every single challenge than those participants who said
‘I’m anxious.’”

– Mel Robbins


It’s okay to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really, really brave.

Everyday life is full of moments that are scary, uncertain, and difficult.

Facing these moments and unlocking the opportunity, magic, and joy in your life requires tremendous courage.

Courage teaches us all that it’s not the big moves that change everything—it’s the smallest ones in your everyday life that do

We waste so much of our lives waiting for the right time to have the conversation, ask for the raise, bring it up, or start things.

It reminds me of that famous Wayne Gretzky quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Here’s the thing—you never regret the shots you do take but you always regret holding back.

Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi applied this concept to human behavior, blaming activation energy as one of the reasons why making a change is so hard.

He defines activation energy as that “initial huge push of energy that’s required to change”—whether it’s to get a stalled car to move forward or yourself out of a warm bed in the morning.


  • A big mistake people make is thinking that confidence is a matter of personality. Confidence just means that you believe in yourself, your ideas, and your capabilities. Anyone can learn how to become more confident. It’s not a personality trait. It’s a skill.
  • Confidence in yourself is built through acts of everyday courage.

A good life is made up of small steps—“making tough decisions,” “being able to say no,” even “getting out of bed and taking the dogs out” just because you said you would—they may be little steps in “learning to trust” yourself, but they are the most “exhilarating” moves that you can make for your confidence.

Sometimes there is no next time, no second chance, or no time out. Stop waiting. It’s now or never. When you wait, you aren’t procrastinating.

You are doing something more dangerous. You are deliberately convincing yourself “now is not the time.” You are actively working against your dreams.

Two kinds of procrastination

Productive Procrastination

If you are working on a creative project or an innovative idea, research shows that procrastination is not only good, but it is also important. The creative process takes time, so when you set a project aside for a few days or weeks, your mind can wander.

That extra time spent on mental wandering gives you the ability to come up with more creative, “divergent” ideas that enhance your project.

Destructive Procrastination

Destructive procrastination is an entirely different animal. It’s when we avoid the work we need to get done and know there will be negative consequences. This habit really comes back to bite you in the end.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Make Progress

“When you set a goal, your brain opens up a task list. Whenever you are near things that can help you achieve those goals, your brain
fires up your instincts to signal to get that goal completed. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you have a goal to get healthier. If you
walk into a living room, nothing happens. If you walk past a gym, however, your prefrontal cortex (front part of your brain) lights up
because you are near something related to getting healthier. As you pass the gym, you’ll feel like you should exercise. That’s an instinct
reminding you of the goal. That’s your inner wisdom, and it’s important to pay attention to it, no matter how small or silly that instinct
may seem.”

– Mel Robbins

Here are a few ways you can immediately start acting on your inner wisdom:

  • When you’re lying in bed in the morning and you know you should get up and work on your business idea, act on your inner wisdom and start counting down, “five, four, three, two, one,” and then get out of bed and walk to your desk.
  • When you’re in the office and have the feeling that you should stop checking email and start writing that proposal or presentation, act on your inner wisdom and start the countdown, “five, four, three, two, one.” Then close the email application and start writing.
  • At night when you’re about to watch new episodes on Netflix and get the feeling that you should turn off the TV so that you can get a good night’s sleep and be more productive tomorrow, listen to that inner wisdom. “Five, four, three, two, one,” and then get your butt in bed.

“You can’t control how you feel. But you can always choose how you act.”

– Mel Robbins

Related Books:

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

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