In my previous article, ‘Stop Procrastinating’, I discussed the science behind procrastination.  If you haven’t seen it, you can read it here

To summarise, we procrastinate because our autonomic nervous system (ANS) has perceived a threat.  When that happens, our thinking brain (pre-frontal cortex) closes down, and our active brain (Amygdala) takes over, trigging the fight, flight, freeze response.  

Procrastination is a form of FREEZING.

As I’ve said in other articles, our brain’s primary aim is designed to keep us alive long enough to procreate.  To that end, it continually scans our environment searching for anything it perceives to be painful; it will always attempt to lead us away from pain and towards pleasure.

In ‘Stop Procrastinating’, I outlined a basic three-step process to help you override this unconscious protection response by getting into action:

  1. Understand why you’re procrastinating (what underlying stress may be stopping you); when we shine a light on what’s bothering us, it often helps it to dissipate.
  2. Work on the ‘thing’ you’re procrastinating over for just one minute (motion creates more motion).  
  3. Keep going!

However, getting into action for just one minute can be a struggle for many of us.  If you identify with this, ‘The Five-Second Rule’ is perfect for you.  Mel Robbins (International Success Coach) explains a simple science-based technique to overcome procrastination in her excellent book of the same title.

The Five-Second Rule

The Five-Second Rule is a simple process of counting backwards out loud from five to one as soon as you recognise you’re procrastinating.  When you change your focus through counting, the part of the brain responsible for finding excuses gets occupied and, therefore, is less able to come up with reasons why it’s not safe to do the ‘thing’.  

How to Use the Five-Second Rule

As soon as you have the idea to do something or you recognise that you’re procrastinating, count backwards, out loud:

5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1

Immediately launch yourself into action without thinking.  

The key is to ACT, not think; when you think, your brain WILL come up with excuses, typically identifying something less ‘painful’ that you can do instead.


Motivation is Overrated  

If your default is to wait to feel motivated before taking action on something you need to do, it’s unlikely you’ll reach your goals.  Successful people know this.  They don’t wait to feel motivated.  Instead, they take ACTION!

This is where The Five-Second Rule comes into its own: it’s a deceptively simple but effective tool.  Throughout the day, you can use it to push yourself out of your thinking brain and into action.  For example:

  • I really should get out of bed – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – ACTION!
  • should go for my 15-minute walk – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – ACTION!
  • I really should ring that client – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – ACTION!
  • should send that email – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – ACTION!
  • I really should stop procrastinating – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – ACTION!

Stop ‘shoulding’ all over yourself!

There are so many times that we will not feel motivated, but we still have to get things done.  So, use The Five Second Rule to push yourself out of avoidance into action.  After all, most tasks are never as bad as we thought once we start and often, we spend more time worrying about doing something than the time it would take to do it!

Avoid Labelling

Finally, avoid labelling yourself ‘a procrastinator’.  I hear so many people say, ‘Oh, I’m just a procrastinator’ as if there’s nothing they can do about it!

We have to remain consistent with our view of ourselves.  So, whenever we assign ourselves a label, our brain sets about proving it.    You’re not a procrastinator; you just have a habit of procrastinating.  There’s a big difference between the two.  


Now that you know the science behind procrastination and how to combat it, it’s a choice whether you remain in your lethargy or work towards breaking the habit.  FYI, we establish new habits through repetition, which I’ll discuss in a future article. 

Finally, when would NOW be a good time to take action on the thing you’ve been avoiding?


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