We sit down with the author of The International Best-Seller, The 5 Second Rule, to get an instant shot of motivation.
BY SARA JANE McSHANE
ROBERT IRVINE MAGAZINE: Your book, The 5 Second Rule, has helped a lot of people achieve their goals and change their lives. Where did the idea come from?
MEL ROBBINS: The 5 Second Rule was borne out of misery. I started using it at a time in my life when I didn’t want to get out of bed, my marriage was in a shithole, we were ready to file for bankruptcy after my husband’s business failed, and my drinking was out of control. Watching television one night after a few too many Manhattans, I saw a rocket ship launch and said to myself, “That’s what I’m going to do tomorrow when my alarm goes off. I’m going to count back and launch myself out of bed!”
Of course when my alarm went off, I turned over and was about to doze off when I remembered what I said I’d do. I counted back and damn, I got my ass out of bed. It worked!
Since then, my life has never been the same. One five-second decision at a time, my husband and I have pulled ourselves up and gone on to build the successful media company we have today.
Why? Years of research later, I’ve learned the neuroscience behind why this works. Turns out that counting backwards interrupts your habit loop and awakens the prefrontal cortex, where rational thinking and learning happens. This triggers your brain to shift gears. It’s a starting ritual, and these kind of rituals have been proven to help change habits. It’s a very short window, however, just five seconds before we revert back to old habits, so you have to act quickly. The rule can help you move from your habit of thinking about doing to actually doing.
One of your motivational videos recently brought up a question: “Why is it so hard to do the little things in life?” People who struggle with diet and exercise programs think this question all the time. What advice can you give to those people?
I think the best piece of advice is to quit waiting to feel like doing what you have to do. We’ve all bought into this myth that we have to feel motivated to exercise, or motivated to make healthy choices. That’s bullshit.
Our brains are designed to stop us from doing anything dangerous, and to our dinosaur brains, any kind of change is dangerous. So you’re never going to feel like creating new habits.
Another reason we don’t get moving or we don’t stick to healthy habits is self-doubt, and a habit of self-doubt causes us to hesitate. As soon as we hesitate, that’s it. The brain gets triggered and sends out warning signals. Which creates more hesitation and can eventually lead to anxiety. It’s important that we tell ourselves that we don’t hesitate because we have anxiety; we hesitate because we have a habit of hesitating. The only way you break that habit is to start taking action, and that’s where the five-second rule comes in. The moment you feel that hesitation, you count back, 5-4-3-2-1, and move. Action is the antidote to fear and hesitation.
Your “If-Then Planning” method is an amazing tool when it comes to health-related goals. Can you explain how this works as the ultimate “back-up” for tempting situations?
I’ve been using this tool almost as long as the five-second rule. It’s a strategy developed and studied by an NYU psychology professor who found that using this method doubled and even tripled the odds of being successful in pursuing a goal. It’s super important that we tune into our triggers and how we react to them. As soon as we bring that kind of awareness to our behavior, we’re already ahead of the game. The If-Then Planning tool creates that awareness and helps to prevent negative habits.
For example, IF I start to resist going to the gym, THEN I will 5-4-3-2-1 put my sneakers on and tell myself that I am choosing to go for just 15 minutes.
You’ve explained that the “habit of hesitating”, is at the core of why we get stuck and can’t reach our goals. Why do we tend to hesitate so much when it comes to eating better and how can we go from a goal/thought into action?
Because our brains are designed to 1) stop us from trying new things and 2) keep us comfortable.
Exercise is generally not fun, nor comfortable. Sitting in front of the TV with our favorite shows is. Eating a pint of our favorite ice cream is. Unfortunately, that part of our wiring doesn’t work in today’s culture. It made sense at the time our brains evolved, when we were hunter-gatherers and needed to always be aware of potential dangers in the wild. It made sense when we walked for miles every day and worked for anything we ate. Today we have to use strategy to bypass those faulty systems and get our asses off the couch. The five-second rule is one of those strategies.
Sometimes stress can arise when we focus on the gap between where we are and our future selves. Can you shed some light on how to keep the mind at ease while focusing on desired goals?
Stress of this nature is simply another type of habit loop. When we are disappointed with where we are in life versus where we want to be, it’s because we have a habit of comparing ourselves to others around us. Often to others who’ve been in the profession for years and who’ve worked their asses off to get to where they are. Rather than complain because you don’t have the following that Oprah does, look to others who are the next step above you. What are they doing that you can emulate? Also, remember that you want to strive for progress, not perfection. If you look for perfection before you start, you’ll never start. Be okay with a little sloppy and trust that part of growing means making mistakes along the way. Do one thing every single day that moves you forward. Bonus points if that one thing is outside of your comfort zone.
What is your best advice for blocking out distraction? For so many people—especially those who work at computers—social media and the news can become massive time sucks. Did you ever have trouble blocking this out yourself?
Holy shitballs have I struggled with distraction! For years I lived with AD/HD and didn’t even know it until a recent diagnosis. It’s taken me awhile to figure out what works best for me.
Top on the list is stress. When we’re stressed, we procrastinate. That’s when we’re most susceptible to distraction. I build in strategies to keep stress in check. My schedule can be insane some days, but I make sure to start every day the same way. I don’t check my phone or emails until I’ve planned my day, I talk with family, and I get in some type of exercise.
I’ve also found that it’s super-important to be educated about the brain. Driven to Distraction, by Edward Hallowell, was a great read for me. So was John Ratey’s Spark. Exercise gives me a good 2-3 hours of focus, and eating a super clean diet makes the AD/HD more manageable as well. When I’m eating a ton of sugar, my focus is the pits.
Today we have so many distractions around us that I can’t stress enough how important it is to unplug every day. Keep your phone out of the bedroom and get outside in nature as often as you can. By giving our thinking brains a break, we come back refreshed and the creative parts of our brains are stimulated. That’s why we often come up with answers to questions we’ve been mulling over when we just let them go and step away.
Kickass With Mel Robbins is a project you came out with last year and it’s exclusive to Audible. What’s it all about?
It’s an audio experience like no other and we worked hard on this project with Audible for nearly a year. We flew in eight people from around the country who were struggling with real problems and were desperate for real change and sat them down for coaching sessions. What happens after is incredible. These are some of the most profound, life-changing and hard-hitting conversations you’ll ever hear.
Important to note that they are for adults only–with adult themes, language, and advice. I have no doubt that you will laugh, cry, and cheer as these brave—and hilarious—souls do the work to learn what’s been holding them back and learn how to start moving forward in their lives.