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CHAPTER FOUR

WHY THE RULE WORKS

Over the years, I’ve received lots of questions about the #5SecondRule. I wanted to start your introduction to using the Rule by answering some of the most frequently asked question I’ve received about this awesome tool.

What Exactly Is the #5SecondRule?

The Rule is a simple, research-backed metacognition tool that creates immediate and lasting behavior change. Metacognition, by the way, is just a fancy word for any technique that allows you to beat your brain in order to accomplish your greater goals.

How Do I Use the Rule?

Using the Rule is simple. Whenever you feel an instinct fire up to act on a goal or a commitment, or the moment you feel that yourself hesitate on doing something and you know you should do, use the Rule.

Start by counting backwards to yourself: 5- 4- 3- 2- 1. The counting will help you focus on the goal or commitment and distract you from the worries, thoughts, and fears in your mind. As soon as you reach “1,” move. That’s it. It’s so simple but let me hammer this home one more time. Anytime there’s something you know you should do, but you feel uncertain, afraid, or overwhelmed…just take control by counting backwards 5- 4- 3- 2- 1. That’ll quiet your mind. Then, move when you get to “1.” Counting and moving are actions. By teaching yourself to take action when normally you’d stop yourself by thinking, you can create remarkable change. Counting backwards does a few important things simultaneously: 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 habits of hesitating, overthinking, and holding yourself back.

If you are wondering if the Rule works if you count forward 1- 2- 3- 4- 5, instead of backwards 5- 4- 3- 2- 1, the answer is no—it doesn’t. Just ask Trent.

As Trent discovered, if you count up, you can keep counting. When you count backwards 5- 4- 3- 2…there is nowhere to go after you reach “1,” so it is a prompt to move.

Why Is It Called the #5SecondRule?

I get this question a lot. And I wish I had a better answer. I called it the “#5SecondRule” because that’s the first thing that popped into my mind the morning I first used it, and this nam stuck. Remember, I had seen a rocket launch the night before and thought to myself, “I’ll just launch myself out of bed—like a rocket!” The next morning, I counted backwards 5- 4- 3- 2- 1—because that’s what NASA does when it launches a spaceship. I started with 5 for no particular reason other than it felt like the right amount of time to give myself.

I’ve come to learn that there are a lot of other “5 second rules” in the world, like the one about eating food off the floor, the five-second shot clock in basketball, the game Ellen DeGeneres plays on her talk show, and the five-second test you can do to see if a sidewalk’s surface is too hot for your dog to walk on.

Had I known my Rule would spread around the world, I might have come up with a more original name. But in hindsight, all these #5SecondRules have something in common. They require you to physically move within a five-second window.

Physical movement is the most important part of my Rule, too, because when you move your physiology changes and your mind follows. Perhaps the name is not only apropos—it’s actually perfect because it references other five-second windows in life, and that makes the Rule feel that much more familiar, universal, and true.

The Rule Sounds Like Nike’s Tagline “Just Do It”…

The difference between “Just Do It” and the #5SecondRule is simple. “Just Do It” is a concept—it’s what you need to do. The #5SecondRule is a tool—it’s how you make yourself do it.

There’s a reason why “Just Do It” is the most famous tagline in the world and resonates across all cultures. Do you know what makes the tagline so powerful? It’s the word “JUST.”

The word JUST is in there because Nike recognizes something we’ve talked a lot about in this book—right before we act, we first stop and think. “Just Do It” acknowledges that we’re all struggling to push ourselves to be better and do better. We all hesitate and wrestle with our feelings before we jump in. The word JUST tells us that we’re not alone. Every single one of us has these small hesitations.

It’s the moment right before you ask to join the pick-up game that’s already underway, the moment you contemplate whether to do a third set of reps, or when you start to question whether you’ll head out the door for a run in the pouring rain.

The tagline acknowledges that you have excuses and fears and Nike is encouraging you to be bigger than them. Come on…don’t think about it…JUST DO IT. I know you’re tired…JUST DO IT. I know you are afraid…JUST DO IT.

Nike’s tagline is pushing you to move past that doubt and get in the game. Nike knows that there’s greatness inside of you, and it’s on the other side of your excuses. It resonates profoundly because every single one of us, even an Olympic athlete, needs a PUSH. And that’s where the #5SecondRule comes in; the Rule is how you push yourself when no coach, competitor, parent, screaming fan, or teammate is there to push you. With the Rule, you just 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 to push yourself.

Is There a Five-Second Window of Opportunity for Everyone?

Yes. There is a window for everyone between the moment you have an instinct to change and your mind killing that instinct. While your mind starts working against you in nanoseconds, the barrage of thoughts and excuses don’t seem to kick into full force and stop you for a few seconds. The five-second window seems to work for everyone.

That said, by all means play around with it to make it work for you. Personally, I notice that the longer I wait between my initial impulse to act and physically moving, the louder that the excuses get, and the harder it becomes to force myself to move. As Angela found, those five-second decisions “turned into 50 seconds and then 500 seconds when the fear was deeper.” She now treats the #5SecondRule as if her brain will “self-destruct” at zero:

If it works for you to shorten or lengthen the window, personalize the Rule to make it work for you.

Matt, a good friend of my husband and myself, was training for his first Tough Mudder race. He lives in New Jersey and he sent this text to my husband during the freezing cold winter. He had shrunk the window to three seconds because he noticed how fast his mind would go to work to stop him.

“Tell your girlfriend Mel that the 5 second rule is working over here. I have it down to three seconds. Why contemplate life’s complexities when you can be moving ahead after just 3 seconds. In 5 seconds I can make up at least 2 excuses in my mind. In three seconds my mind has already pushed the first button on my phone to move the ball ahead. As I awoke this morning I mistakenly checked the thermometer (that took 2 seconds, but in that third second I started to put on my right sneaker.” That is how the system in your brain works—the longer that you think about something, the lower your urge to act becomes. We are amazing at fooling ourselves into staying exactly where we are. As soon as that impulse to act kicks in, you start rationalizing it away. That’s why you’ve got to move faster—so you can break free of your excuses before your mind traps you.

What Can I Use It For?

Over the years, we’ve heard thousands of examples of how people are using the Rule to improve their life, relationships, happiness, and work. But every example falls into one of three distinct categories for how you can use it.

• You Can Use It to Change Your Behavior

You can use the Rule to push yourself to create new habits, pull yourself away from destructive habits, and master the skills of self-monitoring and self-control so that you can be more intentional and effective in your relationships with yourself and others.

• You Can Use It to Act with Everyday Courage

You can use the Rule to discover the courage you need to do things that are new, scary, or uncertain. The Rule will quiet your self-doubt and build confidence as you push yourself to pursue your passions, share your ideas at work, volunteer for projects that stretch you, create your art, and become a better leader.

• You Can Use It to Control Your Mind

You can use the Rule to stop the barrage of negative thoughts and endless worries that weigh you down. You can also break the habit of anxiety and beat any fear. When you take control of your mind, you’ll be able to think about things that bring you joy instead of focusing on the negative. And that, in my opinion, is the most powerful way to use the Rule.

Why Does Something So Simple Work?

The Rule works because it is so simple. There are all kinds of tricky ways your brain kills your urge to act. Some of my most favorite researchers, professors, and thinkers have written bestsellers and delivered epic TED Talks detailing how our own minds betray us with a seemingly endless list of tricks including cognitive biases, the paradox of choice, the psychological immune system, and the spotlight effect. What all these great researchers have taught me is that the moment you want to change, break a habit, or do something hard or scary, your brain goes to work to stop you.

Basically, your mind tricks you into thinking things through. And the moment you get tricked into doing this, you’ll get trapped by your thoughts. Your mind has a million ways to talk you out of acting. That’s the neurological reason why it’s so hard to change. As I mentioned in Chapter One, change requires you to do things that are uncertain, scary, or new. Your brain, by design, will not let you do such things. Your brain is afraid of things that feel uncertain, scary, or new, so it will do whatever it can to talk you out of doing those things. It is part of your hard-wiring, and this hesitation happens really fast. That is why you have to act even faster to beat it.

The Rule leverages and is an example of some powerful and proven principles in modern psychology: a bias toward action, internal locus of control, behavioral flexibility, the progress principle, starting rituals, the Golden Rule of Habits, authentic pride, deliberate action, “If-Then planning,” and activation energy. Throughout this book, you’ll learn more about these principles as we go into greater detail about how you can use the Rule in specific areas of your life.

How Can One Rule Work On So Many Areas of My Life?

The #5SecondRule actually only works on one thing—you. You stop yourself from changing the exact same way every single time—you hesitate, then you overthink, and you lock yourself in mental jail.

That moment of hesitation is a killer. Hesitation sends a stress signal to your brain. It’s a red flag that signals something’s wrong—and your brain is goes into protection mode. This is how we are wired to fail. Think about this for a minute.

You don’t hesitate all time. For example, you don’t hesitate when you pour a cup of coffee in the morning. You don’t hesitate when you put on your jeans. You don’t hesitate when you turn on the television. You don’t hesitate to call your best friend. You don’t think at all. You just have the instinct to call your friend, and you pick up the phone, and you call them. But when you hesitate just before making a sales call or texting someone back, it makes your brain think that something must be wrong. The longer you think about that sales call, the less likely you’ll make it.

Most of us don’t even realize how often we hesitate because we’ve done it so often that it’s become a habit. Here’s how Tim described it after using the Rule:

“Honestly, I think the Rule is powerful simply because keeping it on the tip of your thoughts allows you to process and start on activities you would normally gloss over and ignore. I also keep saying, “What the hell, I’m leaning into this.” So, it is powerful because it helps you break the formally embedded thought patterns about doing things and allows (me anyway) to safely ‘go for it’. Seriously, why was I afraid of doing some of the things I am now doing? It was never like anything I did or didn’t do was going to end the world.” But what you will soon learn is that moment of hesitation can also be used to your advantage. Every time you catch yourself hesitating, it is a push moment! The five-second window is opened and it is time to 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 to push yourself forward and be bigger than your excuses.

Seeing the 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 countdown can serve as a vivid reminder of the Rule and its importance. Art hung the numbers on his office wall to keep him motivated and moving forward all day at work:

Can the Rule Create Lasting Behavior Change Too?

The Rule will beat the brain’s operating system to help you win the battle with resistance in the moment. But do you know what else? Over time, as you repeat the Rule, you destroy that system all together. One thing most of us don’t realize is that patterns of thinking like worrying, self-doubt, and fear are all just habits—and you repeat these thought patterns without even realizing it. If everything you do to sabotage your happiness is a habit, that means you can follow the latest research to break the habits of: Waiting

Doubting

Holding back

Staying silent

Feeling insecure

Avoiding

Worry

Overthinking

There is a “Golden Rule of Habits” and it is very simple: In order to change any bad habit, you must replace the behavior pattern that you repeat. I will explain this in detail in Part 4 of the book. I’ll teach you how to end the mental habits of worrying, anxiety, panic, and fear using the #5SecondRule in combination with all the latest research.

For now, what you need to know is this—the #5SecondRule and its countdown trick, 5- 4- 3- 2- 1- GO, will become your new behavior pattern. Instead of holding back, you’ll 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 to push forward. The countdown is also what researchers call a “starting ritual.” Starting rituals interrupt your bad default patterns and trigger new, positive patterns.

If you master the Rule you will reprogram your mind. You will teach yourself new behavior patterns. Instead of defaulting to worry, hesitation, and fear, you will find yourself automatically acting with courage. Over time, as you take more and more steps forward, you’ll discover something else—real confidence and pride in yourself. The authentic kind that comes when you honor your goals and accomplish small wins that are important to you.

Everything that you think might be set in stone, including your habits, mindset, and personality are flexible. The implications of this for your life are absolutely thrilling. You can change your “default” mental settings and your habits one five-second decision at a time. Those small decisions add up to major changes in who you are, what you feel, and how you live.

Change your decisions and you’ll change your life. And what will change your decisions more than anything? Courage.

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