The 5 Second Rule: How to Gain Courage & Confidence

I think the first time it really sank in was when the facilitator of our iDEFEND General Assembly approached me to ask if I would talk instead to the speaker later who at that point was answering her last set of questions, and I said, without hesitation, “No, I want everyone to hear this.” Three months ago, I most probably wouldn’t have done that. But that was before I came across Mel Robbins‘ book The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage (5SR).

How Does the 5 Second Rule Work?

So what is the 5SR? It is a personal growth tool to force yourself to stop worrying or being indecisive and to take action instead. How exactly does it work? All you have to do is say 5-4-3-2-1, and Go! Take action! 

In the first part of book, Mel Robbins tells us how she came upon the idea of the 5SR. It was a very difficult part of her life. She was drinking too much, had trouble at work, and was having problems with her marriage. In the mornings, when the alarm would ring — so she can begin her day, take care of breakfast, and the kids — she would repeatedly press the snooze button. She was caught in a vicious cycle of worrying and dread.

One night, in bed while watching TV, she saw a NASA rocket blast off after the usual countdown, and that’s when the idea struck her. She would countdown herself to take action. The following morning, when the alarm rang, she 5-4-3-2-1 herself to get up without pressing the snooze button. And the rest was history. It completely changed her life. In all aspects of her life, she chose to use the 5SR to stop drinking, fix her relationship with her husband, help her husband get out of his business debt, find her passion as a life coach and speaker, and help hundreds of thousands of people with their lives. And, recently, it helped mine.

It was as if there was a personality change. Now, not to toot my own horn (magbuhat ng sariling bangko), I already was comfortable talking to people, and found my role as a connector among individuals and organizations in my advocacies. I was already comfortable as well in my own skin. During meetings and forums, I would share my thoughts at opportune moments. However, during this particular general assembly, it was different. It was as if, I added another level to my powers — “lumevel-up,” in Filipino slang. I did not hesitate to share my thoughts, question assumptions, etc. Kung walanghiya ako noon, mas naging walanghiya pa ako ngayon. (If I was shameless then, I was even “more shameless” now).

So why does the 5SR work? According to Robbins, the 5SR is a metacognition tool — metacognition refers to the state of being aware of what’s happening to your mind or thought processes — to force yourself to access your prefrontal cortex where rational processes/thoughts and conscious decisions occur. Instead of thinking of excuses or being caught in a loop of worry, you are forced — by counting 5-4-3-2-1 to take action, GO! Our brain doesn’t want the unfamiliar — its primitive way of keeping us safe. However, our brain doesn’t know that we already live in a different context. The 5SR is our way of short-circuiting, as it were, that evolutionary impulse to survive.

Activation Energy

In the book, Robbins explains that activation energy — coined by the legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience — is the reason why making change is so hard, and that the 5SR starts the process of breaking down this obstacle. She says:

Activation Energy is 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.

When you start to count 5 4 3 2 1, it is the beginning of a chain of reaction that not only awakens the prefrontal cortex, but also gets you ready to make that physical “initial huge push” that’s required to change.

Locus of control 

Robbins also alludes to the concept called Locus of Control in psychology put forth by Julian Rotter in 1954:

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. A bias towards action which the 5SR develops is guaranteed to increase your feelings of control over your life.


The 5SR can help you improve and achieve your goals in all aspects of your life. Mel Robbins happened to mention the 5SR in passing — not even the subject of her talk — in her TED talk about careers, and suddenly, people were writing and messaging her, telling her how the 5SR changed their lives:

At 18:57, Mel Robbins mentions the 5 Second Rule in her TEDx Talk

Health

Physical Health

If you have been putting off exercising for some time now, just 5-4-3-2-1, put on your shoes, go to the gym or take that first step, and start brisk walking or start jogging. Just 5SR, and put one foot forward in front of the other!

Or if you are tempted to eat that large slice of cake, just 5-4-3-2-1, and grab that banana or apple instead.

Mental Health

You can use 5SR as well to stop worrying. And if you have anxiety attacks you can try 5SR to conquer it. All you have to do is reframe it. According to Robbins who suffer from the condition, when you have panic attacks, you experience the same physical or biological reactions — you heart beats faster, your palms and armpits get sweaty, etc. It’s the same feeling you get when you just had a near-accident, except that you didn’t have one. Robbins says that when she experiences this, she tells herself that she’s just getting excited. By doing so, her brain now has an explanation of what’s happening to the body, and the mind will begin to calm down.

Robbins says you can also use anchor thoughts to fight off worrying and anxiety. If you’re worrying about giving a speech, for example, just tell yourself the satisfaction the audience members will feel when you’ve shared your knowledge. Or when travelling, and you are worrying about getting into an accident, just start thinking of something positive that you will do once you reach your destination, such as enjoying your time with family or experiencing a new adventure.

Relationships

In relationships, say what you have to say to your family or your relatives. Tell them how much they mean to you. Or just be present when they need you. You may not be given the opportunity to do so again. Just 5SR, and say it or do it!

Career

You can use the 5SR to explore what you want to do with your life. Use your curiosity to start researching or Googling that hobby or skill you have wanted to try for a long time. Then 5-4-3-2-1 yourself to attend that seminar or workshop to explore that hobby.

This is what Ryder Carroll in his book The Bullet Journal Method means to honor your curiosity. You don’t have to go all out, leave your job, etc. You just have to make one small step at a time, dip your foot in the water, so to speak, and find out if something is meant for you.

Going back to my iDEFEND GA, it was not only me who noticed my more confident self. There was a female advocate (from the parish community who helps relatives of drug war/extrajudicial killings) who told me “Natutuwa ako sa iyo.” (“You amuse me.”) I asked why. She told me I was so hyper. I told her it must be the Zykast I was taking for my coughing (hyperactive airways condition). Her male companion joked that whatever it was, that I should continue taking it. I told them briefly about the 5 Second Rule. (Just to make sure, that it was indeed the 5SR, I Googled and it was not the Zykast. 🙂 )

Reporting at the iDEFEND GA. (Photo by Jenny Linares)

My iDEFEND colleagues also noticed my active participation during the discussion. I told them about the Bullet Journaling I was doing — which I shared in my first post — but not about the 5 Second Rule.  So I’m telling everybody now. (Speaking of journaling, just learned that Mel Robbins also designed a 5 Second Journal to help you become “the most productive, confident, and happiest you.”)

If you want a massive shift or change in your life, and if there’s only one book you would read this year (but better to read more!), you should buy the 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins. You won’t regret it. You will be inspired by: how an employee mustered the courage to talk to their CEO after being given another chance, and consequently the chance to move up the corporate ladder; how a teenager who unexpectedly passed away inspired others to seize the day and celebrate relationships; how a college student up and walked out of his law class, and enrolled as a Physical Education student in another university; and more stories of taking risks and overcoming self-doubt: people from all walks of life finally taking steps to achieve their dreams.

The 5SR is all about gaining, as Robbins says time and again, a bias towards action, it is about taking small steps — what Anne Lamott calls taking it Bird by Bird, in her eponymous book — to gain courage. Over time, these small moments will make you gain confidence, empower you, and will embolden you in other aspects of your life. So try the 5 Second Rule, if there’s something that you’ve been putting off for some time now that has the potential to change or improve your life, just 5-4-3-2-1 and Act! Would love to know how it goes.

If you have enjoyed, learned something from, or were insipired by this article, kindly consider donating or please contact me at filipinocreative@gmail.com — your way of providing me a basic income 🙂 — so that I may continue to research and write more such articles.

The Magic of Bullet Journaling

How I Came Upon Bullet Journaling

I came across bullet journaling when I had just decided to focus again on writing. I have heard about it before (I think from author and entrepreneur Joanna Pen), and decided to to check out a couple of videos after YouTube recommended — around the first week of January — a video about it. The impression I got was that bullet journaling was a bit elaborate, and you needed artistic skills to do it. But when the second video mentioned the inventor of bullet journaling, Ryder Carroll, and I checked out his introduction to bullet journaling, that’s when I finally got it. Bullet journaling is actually minimalist, and is not really about the stickers or the washi tapes or the calligraphy, and the rest of the frills (it’s okay though if these things motivate you to bullet journal), but it is about organizing your thoughts in a mindful manner.

The more I watched Ryder’s videos including his TedX talk, the more I understood the system. I also bought the e-book version of his book The Bullet Journal Method (TBJM), and I swiftly read through the first chapters, and felt a surge of excitement, especially when he said that as you got deeper into the practice, you would see the interconnectedness of things. I have since finished reading the book, and learned a lot from the practice of bullet journaling, and its accompanying philosophy as laid out by Ryder.

So What is a Bullet Journal?

Ryder Carroll says, in his book, that bullet journaling is an analog way of organizing to “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.”

It is many things, including: decluttering the mind, cultivating your curiosity, and keeping you focused.

It declutters the mind by putting down your thoughts — we have as much as 500 thousand thoughts a day — on paper. As one thought crosses your mind like a task, or an event, or a note, you write it on your Daily Log putting a symbol or bullet before each entry — thus the term “bullet journal” — to indicate what kind of thought or note it is.

You can also add other symbols called signifiers to further describe what kind of a thought it is, You aim to be as concise as possible. Hopefully, the act of writing down improves your memory and forces you to prioritize and ask why you want to do something, and then decide whether it is something worth doing or just distracts you from your priority goals.

How Do You Bullet Journal?

Ryder Carroll’s book The Bullet Journal Method is an excellent guide on how to bullet journal since it is written from the man who invented bullet journaling himself. Carroll, who has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), developed his system of organizing over time to address his disability. In his TedX Talk, he explained that ADD is not about not being able to focus, but about focusing on too many things. Bullet Journaling is a way of prioritizing your goals, and focusing on things that matter to you the most.

It is a process of unloading your mind of your thoughts, decluttering it so you may have more space and energy to devote your brain to other tasks.

You put whatever important thought or note in a Daily Log in a process called Rapid Logging. You use bullets to indicate whether these thoughts/ are tasks, events, or notes, whether they have been completed, scheduled on your calendar or migrated to another collecton (more on collections and migration later) or whether you have decided to cancel a task or an event because you decided that that particular item is a distraction.

You can also use signifiers to further describe or categorize these Daily Log items. There are signifiers to indicate if these items are important, has a fast-approaching deadline, are ideas, something to explore, or whether you love an item or are inspired by it.

You can see the bullets and signifiers — collectively called as Key — in Matthew Kent’s video (3:06) of his Bullet Journal Walkthrough:

Aside from a daily log, your Bullet Journal (BuJo for short) contains Collections. A Monthly Log (or Monthly Calendar) and A Future Log are examples of collections. A task or a goal which is composed of many tasks can be gathered in a single project. One project is an example of a collection. Other forms of collections could be Habit Trackers, Lists (e.g. reading list, movie list, etc), Progress Trackers, etc. Only your imagination or your objectives/goals limit the kind of collections you may include in your bullet journal pages. Some of your entries can be transferred to these collections in a process called migration, which you can do daily, weekly, or monthly.

Indexing

Speaking of pages, one of the brilliant ideas of bullet journaling, and a key feature, is the way you keep track of your collections. For easy access, you put page numbers in your BuJo pages, and then indicate the location of your Topics — that is, the titles of your collections — in your Index, which is actually your Table of Contents.

Flexibility

As you may have inferred by now, one strength of bullet journaling is it’s flexibility. The form and nature of your bullet journaling will depend on your needs and what works for you.

My Bullet Journaling So Far

I have been bullet journaling for more than a month now (I started January 9), and I can attest that it has made a huge impact in my life. Even after just a couple of days of bullet journaling, I already felt the difference. I was more calm, more focused (my BuJo’s word for the year is FOCUS), and more organized. Now, I rarely watch the news, limited my time on social media, especially Facebook, regularly meditate 10-minutes daily, and brisk walk daily. I have also clarified my goals and have read at least a book a week on writing and self-growth. I now watch more personal development and writing videos than sports videos on youtube, eat healthier, have started this blog, and have started outlining a novel. I have also started taking care of the plants, watering them daily, and the wilted ones have started to thrive again.

If you are experiencing some sort of life challenge, embarking on a new project, or want to reinvent yourself, I highly suggest you start bullet journaling, and/or buy Ryder Carroll’s book. Dotted notebooks are preferred, but any old-fashioned ruled notebook will do. You will discover that bullet journaling is not just about organizing, but is about a philosophy of life: it is about intentionality and mindfulness, it is also about minimalism (for me, at least), and about gratitude, and how to achieve happiness and fulfillment. It is about being able to review your life regularly, reminding you of the lessons, and what is important, and thus how to move forward. It is also about going offline and analog, to discover the power and magic of your handwriting and/or writing in cursive. It is about seeing the connections in your daily actions and interactions, thus enhancing your creativity. It’s like watering the plants in front of my house — concrete, specific, and the nurturing of a habit — so that the plant’s stem may rise up once more, straightening towards the sun, the leaves opening up again.

If you have enjoyed, learned something from, or were insipired by this article, kindly consider donating or please contact me at filipinocreative@gmail.com — your way of providing me a basic income 🙂 — so that I may continue to research and write more such articles.