a stop watch pointing on 5-second mark held by hand

The 5-second rule: How to beat procrastination

Photo by Veri Ivanova / Unsplash

Every second counts. But sadly, I don't make them count.

I let those precious seconds pass me by as I choose immediate gratification rather than hard work. Iā€™m constantly searching blogs and YouTube videos for inspiration to get things going, but when I finally find one, I bask in the thought of being productive without putting in the actual effort. When the going gets tough, I go to sleep.

Then I discovered the 5-second Rule by Mel Robbins, and the book claims to transform our life and work with confidence and everyday courage. At first, I was skeptical. Is it this easy? Only when I applied it in my life, have I experienced its benefits and full potential, which may be my most effective way to combat procrastination.

How I view procrastination

For me, procrastination is not laziness. Instead, it's a defense mechanism for an insecure perfectionist like me to avoid being yelled at or being told that my work is not of quality after I worked so hard for it.

And so I delay doing anything at all up until the last minute so I have an excuse that when somebody says that my work is rubbish, at least, I didn't put months and months of effort into it and so it's less emotionally damaging.

Many productivity gurus swear by the Parkinson's Law, which, in simple words, states that "work expands to fill the time available to its completion." This means that for example, if I am given 20 days to write a lyrics of a song, it will take me 20 days to complete it. But when I'm given only 20 minutes to write the same lyrics of the same song, it will suddenly just take me 20 minutes to complete it, with almost little to no change in the quality of content.

This is important to understand because when procrastination comes into play, most of the time I only work close to the last hour, which we call a deadline. And I trick my mind thinking, "Oh I need more time to have more quality work" when in fact it's not true.

The quality will be the same whether it's 20 days or 20 minutes, I'm just delaying possible criticisms and rejection that will come from the outcome of my work.

While this is helpful to know, this incurs pressure and unrealistic deadlines. And since I'm battling anxiety already, working with deadlines all the time can be terrifying and stressful.

So instead of focusing on what day or time the activity will end, direct your focus on what day or time the activity will start.

That's where the 5-second rule comes in.

What is the 5-second rule?

Simply put, the 5-second rule states that whenever you need to do something urgent or important and you don't feel like doing it, just take one deep breath and say aloud a countdown of 5-4-3-2-1-Go!

The focus is not on deadlines. The focus is on starting the activity.

The 5-second rule teaches us how to launch ourselves like a rocket out of that place we're stuck in. Life isn't about doing the things that feel easy ā€“ it's about making ourselves do the things that feel hard. Mel Robbins says, "If you wait until you feel like doing something, you'll be waiting a while. Instead, apply the 5-second rule and stop thinking so much about how you feel."

How I apply the 5-second rule

At first, I applied it in waking up in the morning every 6 am to have my morning devotions. As soon as I hear the alarm, I will count 5-4-3-2-1 then launch myself out of bed and make coffee, sweep the floor, grab my Bible and have my quiet time and deep prayer. Even if I feel sleepy and my eyes are still closed, the fact that I launched myself out of bed means I actually started the day on time.

Then I realized it became a habit now after 2 months of doing it, and how my body adapts really well in this schedule, I don't even need an alarm! My body wakes up at the same time daily and just like a reflex with minimal impact on the brain, I was able to start up my day more consistently. This is when I realized the power of launching yourself like a rocket, that it could apply to virtually anything that needs to be done.

I began to apply this in everything like whenever I need to write a song, start a blog, shoot a YouTube video, finish a work-related task, contact a client, read a book, clean my room, or even when I need to take a bath!

But what changed my life more is when I started applying this to cope with anxiety. Whenever worry enters my mind and floods my reason and it tries to bring me down, I just take a deep breath and count 5-4-3-2-1 and dismiss the thought (if I can) or if not, replace the thought of a happy thought or unshakable truth that I can take hold to and battle against the wave of stress.

Also, when I talk to someone and it gets to a point that it's argumentative or I get to be agitated before I say anything in anger, I count first 5-4-3-2-1, and it gives me time to think through my words and transform the encounter back into a meaningful and respectful conversation again. Amazing right?

Some more Imageries

The 5-second rule makes us like the runners lined up before the race. When we don't feel like fighting for what we need to do, the 5-second rule brings out adrenaline pumping in every fiber of our muscle, in anticipation of the starting fire. It sets up our bodies into "seizing" mode. Instead of waiting for inspiration or motivation, it develops our inner courage to begin, ready to sprint to the goal.

Or think about a concert countdown, the excitement and screams are super heightened because of the anticipation of something great that's about to happen. Or how about a New Year Countdown, the unlimited excitement to celebrate a new year, a new hope, a fresh start. As we count down from 5 to 1, it conditions our minds to forget about the past and embrace what lies ahead, knowing that this year, when the count stops to 0, we are now a new creation with a fresh start.

Or think about an employee eagerly waiting to time out and counts down before punching out at exactly 5 pm. It stirs up eagerness and anticipation to go out of a dreaded place and start living life outside work!

If I were to summarize what the 5-second rule does to me, it's about courage and anticipation, traits that at the very core, are the opposite of procrastination and passiveness, and so this rule remains the most simple yet best weapon to combat it.

When you remove courage and anticipation in a person, you see a depressed, cowardly person, not capable of taking risks or overcoming challenges, and everything feels so dull and empty since there is nothing to look forward to.

Sounds like society today, right?

A war on procrastination

Procrastination is a formidable defense; like a fortress that keeps us inside for us to feel safe from attacks coming from the outside a.k.a. criticisms and failures. We can stay all we want here, but we will never conquer anything.

But the 5-second rule teaches courage, to take our rifles and weapons, break out from the fortress and face this life head-on until we take hold and conquer the other side of the battlefield: our goals and dreams.

Now, the next time you're waking up in the morning, launch yourself up to the bed and seize the day, in 5...4...3...2...1... Go!

Jeroel Maranan

Jeroel Maranan

Jeroel Maranan is a musician, singer-songwriter, arranger, and producer. He loves cats. šŸ˜ø Join his newsletter and friendly community of creatives by clicking on the "Subscribe" button below! See you!
Los Banos, Laguna