Why the ‘5 Second Rule’ Will Destroy Your Procrastination, According to Science
Neuroscience offers a simple trick for stopping procrastination in its tracks.
You’re tied up with deadlines, meetings, commitments, targets, and everything else that makes your life difficult. But here you are, struck with indecision and contemplating how to approach your giant to-do list as if you have the all the time in the world.
Sound familiar? Like everyone else, you are under the familiar spell called ‘procrastination.’
Without noticing it, procrastination makes use accomplish less and less. It also slows down your progress as you gradually spend more time fraught with indecision and experiencing brain fog.
The rule is simple: The moment you have an instinct to act on a goal you must act on in it immediately (or within five seconds) — otherwise your brain will start leaning towards procrastination.
This technique lets your brain eliminate doubts, fears, and emotions that hinder you from performing. Once you start using the rule correctly, those five seconds can become 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days, up until you finish your tasks.
In case you’re rolling your eyes at the simplicity of this rule, there’s some solid scientific reasoning behind it:
No-brainer decisions, like jumping in a pool to rescue a drowning child, are driven by a very fast-thinking part of the brain (known as the prefrontal cortex). When you jump in to save a theoretical child in need, you’re driven by that emotional part of your brain — and you don’t spend time analyzing how deep the water is, how to best approach the rescue, etc.
Most tasks, however, utilize rational parts of our brain. Unfortunately, these are the same parts of our minds that helped us avoid danger in primitive times. As a result, we approach an Excel spreadsheet the same way we foraged for food as cavemen — by looking at all the possible dangers behind it, and constantly analyzing the best approach. It’s a slow and inefficient process that causes procrastination, and stress only makes it worse.
The key here is to end the indecision cycle by to activating the proper parts of your brain.
While you cannot immediately flush out procrastination out of your system, you can start by conditioning your mind into focusing on what is important and knowing that you can do it (or at least take a crack at it) during the 5-second window.
“The path to success is to take massive, determined action.” — Tony Robbins
Here are some tips on using this trick to teach your mind to prioritize tasks that are essential to your long-term goals:
Savor the discomfort
That first action may hurt (emotionally speaking) because let us admit it, it’s something that you don’t want to do or have been avoiding because of stress.
Remind yourself that with every great accomplishment, there should be sacrifice and hard work involved. You will never have a taste of success if you have not experienced leaving your comfort zone. It is like a pattern that you should familiarize yourself with. After overcoming the hard part, the rewards are greater.
“Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you, too, will keep encountering challenges. It is a blessing to be able to survive them, to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other — to be in a position to make the climb up life’s mountain, knowing that the summit still lies ahead.” ― Oprah Winfrey
Take baby steps
Even US Olympians and Navy SEALs rely on baby-steps to achieve their huge goals and step out of their comfort zones. That’s because Harvard research suggests that breaking down your goals into tiny, daily steps is the easiest way to reach those huge successes. And it’s much easier to make that initial leap if you’re not thinking of a daunting goal.
Rather than jumping into the deep end, take a few steps out of the shallow end today. If you’re thinking of opening a business, for instance, Forbes suggests you “interview one business owner.” Before you know it, you’ll have taken huge leaps, and your procrastination will be a faraway distant memory.
Stay away from distractions
Distractions are everywhere, sometimes they are disguised as worthwhile activities, even if they just take up your precious time in exchange of nothing.
Don’t spend much of your time with things that do not take you closer to the next milestones ahead of you. If you can, intentionally put them away or turn them down.
For instance, in the course of achieving your financial goals, take initiative by deliberately avoiding window shopping or logging-in to E-commerce sites/apps to stay away from temptations. In this way, you can allocate your extra energy finishing your to-dos rather than stalling around which could potentially affect your budget and financial security.
Reflect on your goals
In moments when you still can’t make yourself get up to do something, there’s no better solution than to remind yourself of the goals awaiting for you.
Since you have determined the kind of person you want to become and the amount of success that you want to achieve, you have more than enough reasons to get moving. Keep in mind that if you fail to act now, or in that 5-second window, you will remain the same person as you are yesterday, unless you do something about it.
“If you love what you do and are willing to do what it takes, it’s within your reach. And it’ll be worth every minute you spend alone at night, thinking and thinking about what it is you want to design or build.” — Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder of Apple Inc.
“Focus on being productive instead of busy.” — Tim Ferriss
Getting a number of things off your to-do list is good but it does not mean you have to do it all at the same time. Concentrating on one task gives you more time to think (and act) as compared to doing it with several other activities on the side. Multitasking requires you to split your attention complicating your thought process.
If you want to get things done, choose to do it, and do it one thing at a time. Don’t attempt to do many things, because you’ll end up accomplishing nothing. Dale Carnegie said that you should do the hard jobs first, for the easier ones have a way to take care of themselves.
The only way to combat this negative habit is by being willing to suffer within the first five seconds before everything becomes lighter. If you learn how to endure these initial difficulties, you will be in for promising rewards in your personal and professional life.
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