Ever wondered why you found it so damn hard to focus?

At the point where you most need to get down to it, your brain finds every excuse not to:

“Maybe I’ll paint the bathroom…”

“Hmm, those plants are looking a little dry”

“I wonder what that person I met 15 years ago at drama college is doing now?”

And before you know it, your concentration is gone: lost to a vortex of (entirely non-urgent) interior design/gardening/ Facebook stalking needs.

You know that you have to get stuff done. But that knowledge alone is simply not enough to resist a never-ending tide of distraction.

A universal impulse

The first thing you should know is that you’re not alone in procrastinating.

Like shoppers in a busy market, our minds love to wander. It’s just the way that we’re wired.

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Mel Robbins – lawyer, life coach and author – has done a lot of research into our tendency to put things off.

According to Mel, there are two types of procrastination.

The good kind helps your mind to wander and percolate, as part of a creative process.

The bad kind is when you avoid stuff while actively aware that doing so will have a negative effect.

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This bad procrastination is prompted by stress and is like “emotional eating for the mind”, Mel writes, in her best-selling book, The 5 Second Rule.

“When you avoid something that feels hard you get a sense of relief … [but] over time the work you are avoiding builds and that creates more stress.”

The 5 Second Rule

Mel’s research into why we procrastinate came from her viral TED talk (above) and critically acclaimed self-help book; both of which detail her “5 Second Rule”.

This rule works around the assumption that it takes less than five seconds between you having a thought about something, and your brain convincing you not to do it.

It’s a mantra for action which says: the moment you have an instinct to act on a goal, you count “5-4-3-2-1” and physically move to achieve it, before your brain stops you.

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Your action might be absolutely anything from getting out of bed to speaking up in a meeting, or approaching someone in a bar.

However you use it, it’s a simple starting ritual that hands you control over your mind’s default towards hesitation, overthinking and distraction.

Why it works

It sounds almost too basic to be true, but the 5 Second Rule is remarkably effective.

“Counting backwards does a few important things simultaneously,” writes Mel. “It distracts you from your worries, it focuses your attention on what you need to do, it prompts you to act and it interrupts the habit of holding yourself back.”

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Mel came up with the rule when she hit a low point in her own life.

Surrounded by mounting financial, relationship and health worries, she found it difficult to even get out of bed in the morning when her alarm clock went off.

This countdown rule was the solution Mel came up with one night. To her surprise, it quickly gained momentum, sparking positive changes in all areas of her life.

“I started to see five second moments all day long,” she writes. “If I stopped to think about what I knew I needed to do, I was toast. It took less than five seconds for excuses to flood my mind and for my own brain to stop me.”

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Although the rule was simple, it was far from easy.

But Mel discovered that – one small step at a time – it changed her habit loop towards action, creating a chain reaction in productivity. With each new action she took, she gained courage for further action.

Putting it into practice 

History is filled with pioneers who kept failing but kept trying. Thomas Edison came up with the light bulb on his 1,001th attempt. It took James Dyson over 5,000 tries to get his famous vacuum right.

As Mel notes, “Success is a numbers game and you’re gonna lose if you keep telling yourself to wait.”

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The beauty of the 5 Second Rule is it overrules your inner doubter and propels you straight into action.

It doesn’t matter what the outcome of that action is.

What matters is that you are changing yourself from procrastinator to doer; and if you don’t do, you have zero chance of succeeding.

No-one ever got anywhere simply by thinking about doing something, or almost doing it.

By using the 5-Second Rule, you seamlessly transform the “If only I could… ” into “I can” and “I am”.

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You can apply it anywhere, from starting running to asking for a raise, being a kinder person, or quitting a destructive habit.

Whatever you do, just count “5-4-3-2-1”, then do it.

The life-changing results

Mel is evangelical about the results of her rule, but so too are the thousands of people from all walks of life who adopt it every day.

Here are a few fans from the past few days alone:

So the next time you find yourself avoiding something, try the 5 Second Rule and see how it works.

Even if you’re working on a tropical beach (like the chap at the top of this piece), we bet you’ll get right down to action.

The new you starts today… !

Read more about Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule in her best-selling book

Images: Flash Pack, Shutterstock