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How the 5-Second Rule Can Help You Change

Image of goodie basket. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, Katherine Broadway, change

From her earliest memory, Katie had been told she had a bad attitude. People said she was too angry and resentful. As an adult, she told herself that she was bad because she was resentful but secretly, she also enjoyed the defiant feeling that brought her. She tried to get over it but couldn’t, wouldn’t and really didn’t want to. On the outside, she looked like she was trying to conform. On the inside she was like a two-year-old, saying, “no, no, no!”.

As she progressed in therapy, she decided that she was tired of trying to not be resentful; she was going to enjoy and relish her resentment, which she did for several months. She was like a kid in a candy shop, eating all the candy she wanted. Eventually, she realized that feeding on resentment was fun at first but gradually it felt unfulfilling and empty while being stuffed. Being indulgent made her feel queasy and weak, just like a kid spending day after day in a candy shop.


It was an odd reversal of what she had experienced before. How was she ever to change this irresistible and ultimately, dissatisfying compulsion? Digging deeper, she soon realized that she was one part unruly child, one part ineffectual adult and one part wishful thinker. All the ingredients of that internal struggle I talked about in last week’s article.

What does Katie’s struggle have to say to you about your struggles? I propose that we all have different parts of ourselves that we have to manage. These parts have different goals, desires, feelings and thoughts. They create a gridlock of conflicting desires...internal conflict.

The 5 Second Rule

Mel Robbins discovered the power of what she calls the “5 Second Rule”. This is not the same 5 second rule that says if you drop food on the floor, you can still eat it, if you pick it up in 5 seconds. This is a very different rule, that gives us a possible solution to dilemmas such as this.

Robbins discovered this rule the hard way. She was at the lowest point in her life.

Financially, she and her husband were steps away from losing everything. She was incapacitated with depression and getting out of bed each morning was almost impossible. She knew what she needed to do-she had a long list-and she simply could not do it. When her children started missing the school bus in the morning, it was a wake up call.

She developed the 5 Second Rule: “If you have an impulse to act on a goal you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it.” It does not matter how insignificant or seemingly useless the action. When you move, your brain begins to build new habits and weaken old ones. Every time you repeat an action or thought, you dwell on a negative feeling, it is reinforced. Your brain adds another layer to the memory. When you do, think, or feel something different, then a new pattern begins to form.

Resistance To Change

Why 5 seconds? Because your brain is quick to hold onto its old ways. Patterns are in place for a reason, and you must fight that resistance to change.

How might this relate to Katie? She wanted to change her pattern of resentment to something positive. She was continuing the patterns that she used to survive as a child. She needed to take action on her own behalf.

Katie realized that she had been shamed all her life for having feelings and needs. The criticism was focused on her resentment and anger. Her unmet needs caused by the problems in the family were not being seen. She was surrounded by ineffectual adults so she developed an

ineffectual adult inside. Her behavior and feelings were an attempt to communicate to the adults in her family the best way she knew how. No one was listening. She developed a part of her that was wishing, hoping and longing for someone who would understand.

An Unconscious Wish

Katie carried this resentful, angry behavior forward in her life. She was living out an unconscious wish that someone would finally understand what she wanted and needed, when she didn't understand that for herself. It was essential for her to become the adult who could hear her, understand her, and meet her own needs.

The 5 second rule teaches us not to wait for the imaginary good parent to come and help us. That opportunity is long past, and is now simply wishful thinking. We must grieve that loss and move forward into our own abilities and power.

When Katie gave herself permission not to change she quit being that ineffectual parent and took charge of her life. She became responsible for her feelings. When she was no longer fighting with herself and the parent of the past, she was free to be in the present and feel what it was like to have a rebellious child in charge. Just like eating candy, at first it was fun and pleasurable but it soon brought consequences that she did not like. She had enough. It opened the way for the strong, clear thinking adult part of herself to be heard. She began to take action immediately to move towards a positive life.

Feeling stuck in a part of yourself and need help to change? Call me at (919)881-2001.

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