Use the 5-Second Rule to Make Your Biggest Decisions

UPDATED: February 1, 2024
PUBLISHED: April 20, 2017
woman using the 5 second rule to make a decision

There’s a favorite quote of mine that I’ve been thinking about lately. It is so simple, so true and so brutally honest: “If more info were the answer, we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”

Search your feelings, my friend, and you know this to be true. The internet gives us access to almost any information we could possibly need to achieve our goals, but my guess is you’re probably not a billionaire or a model. So how can we have all the information we need but still struggle to reach our goals?

I had a guest on The School of Greatness who gave me a pretty incredible answer: “You don’t make decisions with your goals. You don’t make decisions with your prefrontal cortex. You don’t make decisions with logic…. We make decisions with feelings. Ninety-five percent of our decisions are made by how you feel in the moment.”

That eureka moment is brought to you by Mel Robbins. She is one of the most booked female speakers on the planet, host of The Mel Robbins Podcast and bestselling author of books including The High 5 Habit. And on my podcast, she shared a simple neurobiological hack that we can all use to make the decisions we know we should. She calls it “The 5 Second Rule.”

The 5 Second Rule

Here’s how it works: Let’s say we’re faced with a decision that we know will move us in the direction of our goals. That decision presents us with a five-second window. It starts from the moment we know we should act to the moment we lose the will to do so. If we can avoid stopping ourselves in those five seconds, then we can act based on logic rather than feelings. We can make the decision we know we should, rather than the one that’s convenient.

So how do we take advantage of that five-second window? We count down from five… four… three… two… one…

That’s it. That’s the hack.

I had the same reaction you did when Robbins told me this. No way, I thought. That’s too simple, there’s no way that works. Then she explained the neuroscience to me, and it clicked. “Counting is an action,” she said. “Counting backwards requires focus…. So it’s actually this habit of hesitating, you start catching yourself, it’s a huge moment of power because you have a decision to make and you’ve got to make it in the next five seconds. Are you going to go on autopilot and get trapped in your mind, or are you going to five, four, three, two, one and awaken your prefrontal cortex and drive forward?”

Powerful stuff, right? This simple neurobiological hack gives us control over our minds, over our decisions and therefore, over our lives.

If you want to hear more from Robbins, then get ready to laugh, cry and learn in Episode 452 of The School of Greatness. But before you do, commit to using the 5 Second Rule for the next couple of days. You’ll be amazed at the results.

This article was updated June 2023. Photo by stockfour/Shutterstock

Lewis Howes, author of the New York Times best-seller The School of Greatness, believes that how you feel every moment is more important than what you do or what you have. As a lifestyle entrepreneur, high-performance business coach and keynote speaker, he was recognized by President Barack Obama as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs in the country under 30.