Book Review… The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins

A brief review by Australian Clinical Psychologist, Dr Tess Crawley, of Mel Robbins’ book “The 5 Second Rule”.

Those of you who know my videos and blogs know that there have been a couple of occasions where I’ve talked about feeling fear and acting opposed to how you feel; feeling the fear but doing the thing anyway. I’ve also talked about some of the problem thinking habits that we might engage in that prevent us from overcoming anxiety, depression or enjoying life to the full. In the spirit of those ideas I’d like to share with you a book that I’ve been reading. It is The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins. 

Mel Robbins is an American motivational speaker. What I find amusing is that I am not a motivational-speaker-inclined person. At all. Normally I just wouldn’t be interested in that sort of thing. But there was something about the tone of Mel’s book that really appealed to me. Who is Mel Robbins? She is a lawyer and television presenter who battled anxiety, alcohol addiction, relationship difficulties and a catastrophic change to her business. She worked very hard at changing her own mindset around what was preventing her from overcoming those matters in her life. She was invited to present a TEDx Talk, and her “5 Second Rule” struck such a chord globally that she hasn’t stopped talking about it since. The book is the result of what she has learned from her own journey and her subsequent research into overcoming barriers to self-confidence and clarity.
Some of her ideas are akin to things I’ve talked about before. She talks about how certain habits can be overcome simply (if not easily). Her “5 Second Rule” is a behavioral activation strategy that helps you stop let your little inner monkeys chattering away to stop you from acting on something that you would really like to do.

I mean, me going to the gym is the classic example of that. So, for over 10 years now I’ve had little monkeys in my mind saying “Oh, I don’t have time! The kids are too little! I don’t have childcare! I’m too busy! The business is too busy! I can’t get away from the office!” I could go on for hours with all the excuses that I’ve come up with: why I could not go to the gym and get myself healthy and fit again.
The basic premise of Mel’s philosophy is that you can disengage that mental chatter by interrupting the flow of that inner monologue. Her 5 Second Rule is a simple overriding or interrupting of that mental chatter with a deliberate countdown of five, four, three, two, one – and springboarding yourself into action. So, it is a behavioral activation model that is about acting despite not feeling like it.

We’ve all had moments in our lives where we’ve known what we should do, but we’ve not felt like doing it. So again, me going to the gym is a good example. I have known for over ten years that I should go back to the gym and get myself healthy and fit and strong. Actually, for someone like me who has mild back trouble, I really should stay as strong as I can to keep my back as healthy and as fit as I can. But when I look back at all the excuses I was making over those years it was all about (if I was honest with myself) the fact that I didn’t really want to. I didn’t really like that idea of going to the gym, or I was scared, perhaps, of being judged, or scared of not being as fit as I used to be, etc.
Fear is something that comes in many guises. It can be the fear of being judged, as I’ve said. Or those old “What ifs” sneaking in again.

So, a clear example of how the 5 Second Rule was me attending the gym this morning. I’ve had a cold and it would have been very easy for me to say: “I’m too sick to go to the gym”. I’m not really. I’m just a bit under the weather but I’m not too sick, but I could have easily convinced myself that I was. I could say: “I’ve got so many meetings to attend today. I just don’t have time to go to the gym today.” But I remembered that I made time in my diary at 9:30 on a Friday when I would go to the gym. So this morning I just didn’t overthink it. I put my gym clothes on, took the kids to school, dropped them off, got in the car and drove straight to the gym. I didn’t overthink it, I just did it. I didn’t listen to those little chatterboxes. I jumped on the exercise bike, I jumped on the treadmill, and I did a 45-minute workout on my own and I felt really good.

So, the point that Mel Robbins makes is that you can interrupt that fear-based self-doubt train of thought with an action, and she uses that “five, four, three, two, one”, or the 5 Second Rule, to burst you into action. She uses the visual image of a rocket bursting into action after a five second countdown. You can use it to interrupt that little chatterbox and get yourself to do something that you really need to do but for some reason don’t feel like doing.
Anyway, have a look at the book. It’s a friendly and approachable book. Or if you feel more inclined to listen to it in audiobook format, as I have been, Mel has a fabulous voice, so she’s really easy to listen to. There is also a bonus if you buy the book (audio or hard copy version). You will have access to some very short daily videos from Mel Robbins that you might find useful as well.

So, there you go. There’s my first book review I’ve got some other books that I would like to talk about but I will save those for another day.

Best wishes,

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Dr Tess Crawley


Tess has a passion for mentoring new psychologists. She also has a strong interest in supporting executives as they juggle the balance between leadership and new parenthood. You’ll see Tess regularly speaking on our Facebook pages and our YouTube channel. Her mission is to provide as many free resources to the community as she can, so her videos offer tips and strategies that might be helpful to you. Read Tess’s full Bio here.