The 5 Second Rule & How It Can Work For You and Your Organization


How long does it take you to make a meaningful decision?

The answer. About as long as it took for you to read the previous sentence – or at least that’s the principle idea behind best selling author, Mel Robbins’ book, The 5 Second Rule.

Robbins, who will be a keynote speaker at the 2019 HR Conference and Tradeshow in Vancouver, was kind enough to answer a few questions we had about the 5 second rule and address how it can work to change your life and improve how efficiently employees work at your organization.

Can you give a short description of the 5 second rule? 

Science-backed research from recent years has found that our brains continue growing even into old age. That’s incredible, because we once believed growth stopped in our 20’s and it was all downhill from there. What this means is we have a chance to break old patterns and learn new habits every day. When it’s time to take action, count back 5-4-3-2-1 and move. Don’t give your brain any longer to resist because it will.

Why is The 5 Second Rule a very simple tool and potentially life-changing?

Because every day we miss opportunities when we allow ourselves to hesitate. The second you allow yourself to hesitate, your brain starts creating stories about why you are hesitating. You don’t feel like it; you’re not smart or talented enough; it won’t matter what you do so don’t do anything. Then those voices start repeating over and over and there goes the opportunity to act.

The 5 second rule is a form of metacognition that teaches people to take charge. When that alarm goes off in the morning, 5-4-3-2-1 swing those legs out of bed and get up before your brain has a chance to hit the snooze. 5-4-3-2-1 put on your sneakers and hit the gym. 5-4-3-2-1 speak up in a meeting.

Just the other day we heard from a woman who used the rule to calm her nerves before a presentation. She usually took anxiety meds when she felt nervous but this time she counted back from five and repeated an anchor thought- telling herself that what she was feeling was excitement. She ended up nailing the presentation and making the sale.

People tell us every day to say how the rule has helped them lose weight, have better relationships, start a business, finish a novel, organize their homes. The rule has so many applications, but it all starts with one five second decision at a time.

How will the 5 second rule transform your workplace?

People can use the 5 second rule to shake up their health, happiness, and relationships, but one of the most powerful ways to use it is in the workplace. I’ve heard from managers who trained their sales teams to use it when making calls. Executives have shared with me how the rule is helping them catapult their business to new heights because they’re taking steps they’d been putting off for years. People are using it to help them make important presentations, reach out to potential new clients, act on new ideas, stop procrastinating, speak up, and increase productivity.

As people learn The 5 Second Rule, they gain the ability to move from thought to action. By becoming more confident and courageous, people who use the rule get more done at work, act without hesitation, become more productive, have better control over their thoughts, and are nicer to each other.

An incredible researcher at Harvard Business School named Teresa Amabile, studied over 12,000 workday accounts to determine the single most important factor in employee productivity, happiness, and engagement.  The top factor that leads to a positive work life is celebrating the “little wins.” It all comes down to progress–in particular, making meaningful daily progress and being celebrated for it. We tend to think of “making progress” as accomplishing the big stuff: landing a new account, giving a huge presentation, raising the money, releasing a new product, and so on. However, to get to those big moments, there are hundreds (and usually thousands) of hours of smaller tasks that lead up to the launch.

And there are a number of ways that you can start celebrating little wins and motivate employees and increase productivity and morale using the 5 second rule. First, train your managers to be generous with their praises when a task–no matter how small–is accomplished. When you have an instinct to applaud the progress of someone else, without hesitating, count 5-4-3-2-1 and go do it. Another thing you can do is encourage all employees to keep track of their daily wins with a “did-it list,” which is the opposite of a to-do list. If people share their daily wins publicly, it also encourages celebration of progress.

How do you get people to open up to a new way of doing things? 

Open and transparent communication encourages a culture of innovation, collaboration, and authentic engagement.

A few years ago, Google embarked on an initiative – code-named, Project Aristotle – to study hundreds of internal teams and figure out why some teams rock and others fail. As Google crunched the data, a concept called “psychological safety” emerged and it is one of the most important concepts Google focuses on creating. Organizations, CEOs, directors and managers need to steal this idea. It means you operate in a way that people “feel” safe coming to you with problems, challenges, and improvements.

Organizations also need to encourage a culture where failure is just as much a part of the process as success is because you understand the learning opportunities are present in making mistakes.

There are two simple things you can do that create psychological safety for employees:

  1. Encourage and welcome expression of concerns by showing appreciation when it happens
  2. Ensure everyone gets a voice in meetings. When people feel appreciated and heard and when they are not so afraid to fail that they become paralyzed or stifled, they will be more open to changing their behaviors and trying new strategies.

What makes you excited about sharing The 5 Second Rule with HR professionals and business leaders? What is the key takeaway from your talk?

I’ve spoken about The 5 Second Rule to people in every single industry you can imagine. My favorite thing about this Rule is how universal–and effective–it is.

I’m so excited to teach HR Conference + Tradeshow attendees about how they can use the rule to stop thinking and start doing.

For years, I lived my life in my head. I’d think about the things that could improve my life or get me closer to my dreams–like exercising, looking for a job, sharing my ideas, starting to work on something important, sending an email – but moving from thought to action seemed impossible because thinking doesn’t equal change.

To improve anything, you have to find your courage to try and that’s where the 5 second rule comes in. It will teach you to move from thinking about the fears that hold you back to taking the actions that will improve your life. You can change your life, one five second decision at a time.

By the end of my presentation, you will know exactly how (and when) to apply the rule in order to take your life to the next level.

*Note, answers edited for length 



Mel Robbins is an expert on defeating doubt, an award-winning CNN commentator and a bestselling author. In her globally acclaimed TEDx talk, Mel Robbins wowed the world with the science-backed secret to change: “The 5 Second Rule”. Over 12 million views later, The 5 Second Rule has become a bestselling book and a life-changing movement that challenges thinking and accelerates personal and professional growth. A riveting, fun, and unforgettable speaker, Robbins has spoken to executives with many of the top leading brands, including Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, Optum, Cisco, and AT&T.

Robbins’ bestselling book, Stop Saying You’re Fine, has been translated into four languages and is listed as one of the “Top Five Most Read” and “Most-Sold” books on Amazon. Her digital platform inspires more than 20 million people a month with transformative videos, articles, positive psychology research, and inspiring content.
In the media, Robbins is one of CNN’s most popular on-air commentators and opinion writers, where her articles drive tens of millions of page views for She has also appeared on Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Oprah, The Today Show and Fox News, and was named America’s Outstanding News Talk Show Host at the 2014 Gracie Awards.

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