The 5 Second Rule: Procrastination’s Worst Enemy

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The 5 Second Rule" by Mel Robbins. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you procrastinate often? How can the 5 Second Rule help you overcome procrastination?

Procrastination is a terrible habit that’s hard to get rid of. Luckily, Mel Robbins’s book The 5 Second Rule teaches you how to overcome two types of procrastination: procrastinating on daily tasks and procrastinating on life changes.

Keep reading to learn the 5 Second Rule’s procrastination techniques.

Procrastinating on Daily Tasks

To understand how the Rule will help you stop procrastinating on daily tasks, it’s useful to first explain why we procrastinate. Robbins argues that we procrastinate to temporarily relieve stress as we avoid a difficult or daunting task and replace it with things that boost our mood for the moment (like scrolling on Buzzfeed instead of washing your car).

Knowing that procrastination is a response to stress, you can stop procrastinating on daily tasks using these 5 Second Rule procrastination strategies:

1) Stop beating yourself up. Robbins points out that feeling shameful over your procrastination only leads to more stress, which will continue the cycle of procrastination because you’ll want to avoid that stress. Forgiving yourself breaks the cycle so that your tasks feel less stressful and you’re less likely to avoid them.

2) Ask what the ideal future version of yourself would do. Robbins cites research showing that you’re more likely to do something that will benefit you in the long run if you visualize yourself in your ideal future, living as the person you want to grow into.

3) Use the Rule. Robbins advises counting down from five and beginning the task you’re procrastinating on when you reach one.

Overcome Stress by Focusing on Growth

The authors of Procrastination confirm that procrastination is the impulse to seek quick relief from stress. Additionally, they dig more deeply into the source of that stress—many people procrastinate because they fear confronting the fact that they’re not as “perfect” as they want to believe. If they try to complete a task and fail, they must face the painful reality that their skills have severe limits, but if they continuously procrastinate on those tasks, they can go on believing that they’re exceptional. Additionally, people fear that failing will cause them to lose the love of those around them.

To overcome these sources of stress, the authors of Procrastination recommend that you accept the fact that you’re imperfect and focus on your potential for growth. Intentionally doing so will likely make it easier for you to implement Robbins’s three strategies to curb procrastination:

  • Stop beating yourself up: You may find it easier to forgive yourself for your shortcomings by reminding yourself that they’re temporary and changeable, and that you can grow to overcome them.
  • Ask what the ideal version of yourself would do: Believing that you’re capable of growth will help you create a more ambitious, motivating image of your future self.
  • Use the Rule: Embracing that failure is a necessary step for growth will hopefully reduce your stress surrounding taking action, making it easier to use the Rule.

Procrastinating on Life Changes 

Now that we’ve discussed how to use the Rule to stop procrastinating on daily tasks, let’s apply this approach to procrastination on major life changes: for instance, leaving a stressful housing situation, starting therapy, or switching jobs. 

Robbins advises you to make big life changes before you feel prepared. Instead of waiting until you feel totally calm and in control of the outcome, it’s better to just start the process of change. However, many of us procrastinate on these changes because we worry that we’ll fail or that others will judge us for our big change.

According to Robbins, to overcome this fear-driven procrastination, you only need courage and discipline. You can build these traits by challenging the worries that are causing you to procrastinate. You must:

  • Ask yourself, “What if my worries aren’t true?” What good things may happen instead?
  • Consider, “Will it really matter if my worries are true?” If the worst-case scenario happens, will it really be the end of the world?
  • Use the Rule to get yourself moving toward your goals.

The Other Reason Why We Procrastinate, and What to Do About It

According to Tim Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek, fears of failure and social rejection are only half the reason we procrastinate major life changes: We also procrastinate because we harbor the unrealistically optimistic belief that if we’re patient enough, our lives will get better without the need for us to take risky action. To motivate ourselves to change our lives, we therefore need to confront the truth that our lives are unlikely to get better unless we do something about it. To do this, think back a month or a year and consider whether your life is better than it was then. If not, that’s unlikely to change in the next month or year unless you actively change something.

Like Robbins, Ferriss argues that to make major life changes, we need to embrace our fears instead of waiting until our fears go away and we feel totally prepared. To do this, he recommends an activity called “fear-setting,” a more in-depth self-examination process than the introspection Robbins suggests. 

Ferriss suggests questioning the likelihood that your worries will come to pass as well as the specific consequences of your worst-case scenario, just as Robbins does. However, he also recommends making a specific plan for recovery in case your worst-case scenario does come to pass. He argues that by clarifying the details, you’ll see that you’ll be able to bounce back from tragedy much more easily than you assumed when you were imagining the situation more vaguely. 

Then, Ferriss recommends examining the best-case scenario and the relative likelihood of positive outcomes. Comparing these situations to your fears directly will hopefully show you that you stand to gain much more than you stand to lose by making a risky life change.

The 5 Second Rule: Procrastination’s Worst Enemy

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Here's what you'll find in our full The 5 Second Rule summary:

  • Why counting down from five to one will help you assert agency over your life
  • The different ways you can use the 5-Second Rule
  • How to figure out what your passions are and work toward them

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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