How to Build Better Relationships in Five Seconds

Give your brain a chance to talk yourself out of acting on a bad impulse.

by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)
by Colter Reed
2:07 read (647 words)

When you have an idea, you have five seconds before your brain talks you out of acting on it.

This is the behavior behind Mel Robbins’ 5-Second Rule. We have lots of great ideas that we never act on because we hesitate. We don’t act when we should. The moment passes and the opportunity is lost.

If you want to turn that thought into action, give yourself a quick countdown, like a rocket getting ready to launch, then act. 5-4-3-2-1, go!

It’s a powerful technique for turning thought into action.

There’s another way we can turn those five seconds to our advantage. Let’s turn the 5-Second Rule around and look at it from another angle.

We don’t just have ideas we should act on but don’t. We have impulses we shouldn’t act on, but do.

Somebody does something that triggers a negative response from us. As much as we might wish we didn’t, we have hot buttons. Sometimes, people discover them and push them for their own amusement. (Those people don’t belong in our lives.) More often than not, they get pushed accidentally.

Going back to the launch metaphor, rockets don’t launch accidentally. They’re a deliberate act. There is a countdown. During the countdown, there’s a huge checklist to make sure the rocket is ready and the launch will be a success.

Missiles are a special type of rocket. To launch a missile, you need to turn two keys at the same time. The keys have a simple defense mechanism: they’re separated by a gap that’s wider than your arm-span. It takes two people to turn the keys. This prevents a single person from having a bad idea and ruining the day for an innocent population.

Viktor Frankl said that between stimulus and response, there is a gap; in that gap, lies our ability to choose our response.

There are plenty of stimuli that we shouldn’t act on. Someone slights us. Our children ask “Why?” for the umpteenth time. Our children do that thing we’ve told them and told them not to do. Our children squabble. Dinner isn’t ready at some arbitrary time.

In that moment, we have a choice. We can fly off the handle and react in a way we’re going to regret. That’s a common choice that’s made. It’s often a terrible choice that shouldn’t be made. But it gets made.

The other choice is to push pause. Create a gap. Make a better decision.

When something pushes your button, count to five. Count upwards, so your brain knows this is a different signal. This isn’t a 5-4-3-2-1 countdown where you’re getting ready to act before you talk yourself out an idea. This is a 1…2…3…4…5… count to give yourself time to talk yourself out of a bad idea you don’t want to act on.

If you’re not sure how slow you should count, count off five breaths. The should be slow enough.

Acknowledge that you’re starting to feel upset and let it pass. Your system may be flooding with cortisol, but that doesn’t mean the cortisol gets to determine what happens next.

Count to five. 1…2…3…4…5…. Deep breaths. Do a quick 10-10-10 analysis. In the next 10 seconds, you might feel vindicated in your reaction. You showed them who’s boss! 10 minutes from now, you might start to regret it and you’ll need to release more cortisol to convince yourself you did the right thing. But if this pattern continues over the next 10 years, how will that affect your relationship with that person?

Don’t perpetuate the cycle. When your children see you pause and respond appropriately, they’ll learn to respond appropriately, too.

When you have a great idea, act on it. 5-4-3-2-1, go! You have five seconds before your brain talks you out of it.

When you feel your brain releasing cortisol, 1…2…3…4…5…, pause. Give your brain five seconds to talk you out of a bad fight-or-flight reaction.

Sometimes, hesitation is just what you need to build better relationships.

Question: What can you do to better recognize you need to count? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.