Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Battle of Opposits


Yes, I admit to using the five second rule—if a pretzel falls on the floor and I pick it up within five seconds, I deem it still edible. As long as the floor isn’t too horrifically dirty.

When I read my friend’s post about the five second rule, I was confused. What did the rule have to do with writing? It just didn’t make sense.

She spoke of the it as a way of being more productive. But I still couldn’t see the connection. Curious, I Googled it.

According to the publisher of Mel Robbins’ book, The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage, “is a self-help book based on a simple psychological tool that the author developed to motivate herself. Using a technique that involves counting down backwards from five to one, she gave herself the extra push she needed to complete dreaded tasks, become more productive, and live a more fulfilling life.”

The idea is that once the thought of taking on an activity (in her case related to writing) occurs to you, you have to begin it within five seconds.

I had to try it out. Working full time as a college professor, I chose a Saturday to test it. I tried to use it to force myself to get up within five seconds of waking up. It didn’t work—I was too comfy in my bed. I luxuriated under the covers for another half an hour before I managed to convince myself to get up.

Just as I was finishing brushing my teeth, I decided to open up my laptop to get ready to write my morning away. Within five seconds, acted on it, then returned to my room to take my meds and finish getting dressed. Within five seconds of completing the tasks, I was at my computer, writing.

An hour later, at a good place to take a break, my inner critic, Shoshana, tried to convince me it was time for a nap. I chided myself, and within five seconds, I was on to the next paragraph. This happened a couple of times, until I finished a first draft.

I was thrilled. What about if I decided to work on a second essay? It worked! From finishing the first draft, I moved on to send query emails about speaking engagements and book events.

The next item on my list gave me pause, to start grading a pile of essays. Though I felt motivated, the five second rule failed—common sense kicked in. I really had to listen to my body—I was exhausted. I absolutely had to lie down, or I’d pay a heavy price.

I’m a brain injury survivor. As a consequence I tire easily, and when I overdo things overwhelming fatigue sets in. And if I don’t take action, I suffer horrific headaches.

I came away from that day feeling good about myself. I’d been more productive than I’d been in a long time.

I was glad I found an effective way to thwart Shoshana’s attempts to sidetrack me—I was going to apply this rule every day.

Since then I found that the five second rule be counterproductive on occasion..

At the end of a productive day, I often find myself beyond exhausted, unable to function properly. I became incapable of performing the simplest of tasks, barely able to get to bed.

In addition, sometimes, as soon as I begin a task, the though of another task pops up, and another, then another. I become overwhelmed, and freeze—another symptom of my brain injury. Whenever too much data floods my inner circuitry, I lose orientation, and freeze—my mind becomes a blank.

I do have a remedy—I take a shower to soothe the beast—my mind clears, allowing me to make order out of the chaos, to set up a list of priorities, and pick out three doable tasks that will satisfy a sensible level productivity, my conditions of enoughness. And again, once I finish dressing, I’m off and running.

I learned about applying conditions of enoughness from my writing coach. The idea is to set a doable number of tasks to increase the chances of completing them. It is another tool to combat Shoshana, by not becoming overwhelmed and freezing.

I have learnt to adjust the five second rule in a way that works best for me. I even learned to work it into my issues with fatigue—every time I feel the early signs of exhaustion, I use the rule to take a nap.

I’ve also found that when the rule fails me, it actually increases my motivation and conviction to start the task, whether withing five seconds, five minutes, five hours, and rarely withing five days. I know I will get to it, and I always do.

The rule isn’t infallible, but it has definitely increased my level of productivity and helped me shut Shoshana up.

The five second rule rules.