achieving goals

A man in a red shirt has an epiphany and Mel Robbins delivers a TED Talk.

It’s a wonder that humans can get anything done because we are hard-wired to procrastinate. Whenever we consider performing a task that may be boring, unpleasant, or stressful, the brain automatically sends a signal that says why not do it “later” or “tomorrow”?

Humans are natural-born procrastinators because our old brain wants to protect us from potential danger or discomfort. So, when faced with an uncomfortable situation, our brain springs into action and suggests we do it later.

While some people are able to override this reaction, many cannot and researchers believe that around 20% are chronic procrastinators.

As we all know, this knee-jerk reaction can cause all sorts of troubles. It can make it a lot harder to be a good employee, take care of domestic responsibilities, or ensure our school work is done on time. According to Psychological Science, chronic procrastinators have higher levels of anxiety and often have inadequate retirement savings.

It makes sense. When we put off taking care of the things we need to handle, they have a way of creeping up on us and creating a lot of anxiety.

The good news is that podcast host, author, motivational speaker and former lawyer Mel Robbins has a solution that can help many people bypass the procrastination impulse and get things done. She calls it the 5-Second Rule.

The technique just takes 3 easy steps:

  1. Recognize the moment that your mind begins to make excuses and tell you that whatever you need to do—whether it’s the dishes, your homework, or having a meaningful conversation—can be put off ‘til later.
  2. Start counting down in your head or out loud, “5-4-3-2-1.”
  3. Begin the task once you hit the number 1.

Why does it work? Counting down transitions your brain's function from the primitive, procrastinating midbrain to the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with decision-making. Also, by counting, your brain focuses on the numbers instead of making excuses, so nothing prevents you from starting the task.

According to Robbins, overcoming procrastination and taking care of business isn’t just about about being motivated.

“You think what you're missing is motivation, but that's not true,” says Robbins. "To change, to start a business, to be a better parent, a better companion, and to do all the things you want to achieve in life—you will necessarily have to go through complicated, scary and uncertain things. You’re never going to ‘feel it,’ but you can do it.”

She believes that techniques such as the 5-Second Rule allow us to regain control over our minds and bodies so we can live the lives we are truly meant to enjoy. According to Robbins, asserting control over our thoughts means “regaining confidence in yourself; fighting your fears; stopping stressing; living happier, and finally having the courage to share and defend your ideas.”

So next time you are about to start a new project but your brain tells you to first pick up your phone and scroll through Instagram, simply start counting down from 5. The desire will pass and you’ll have taken the first step toward achieving your goals and getting free from your old brain.