How to Motivate Your Kids With the 5 Second Rule

posted: 07/20/18
by: Katie Morton
Close up of stopwatch at 5 seconds

All parents have been there. You're trying to get your kid out the door on time in the morning, or you're trying to motive them to do their homework, go to bed, or any number of dreaded tasks that cause resistance, arguments, or other states of tension and conflict. You wonder why on earth these things that have to get done every day are such fertile ground for trouble.

So what's a parent to do? The first step is to educate yourself on why we all--not just kids--sometimes have a hard time doing what we know would be good for us.

Mel Robbins, Relationship Expert, Radio Host, Life Coach, and the Author of the book The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage explains why we put on the brakes mentally when it comes to doing things, and what it takes to motivate ourselves to get moving towards our goals.

During her talk at TEDx San Francisco called "How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over," Mel offers these tips for how to motivate yourself and your kids towards what you want.

1. Get Clear on What You Want

Mel says the word "fine" is to be avoided. We use the word "fine" to lull ourselves into a sense of complacency over our current circumstances, whether that's your weight, your relationships, or how your family operates on a daily basis.

Stop accepting your current circumstances as fine and get clear on what you really want to see change in your life so you can actually get happier. It's about not remaining complacent about how things are now, but getting a vision for how things can improve.

2. Get Used to the Idea of Forcing Yourself

The mistake almost everybody makes--kids and adults alike--is waiting to feel like it: to stop playing video games, to clean up, to get ready to leave the house, or whatever other unsavory tasks you need to accomplish. Whether it's the adults in the house, or the kids--we're never going to feel like it. Mel says scientists call it activation energy: the force that's going to get you from doing whatever you're doing on autopilot to trying something new.

Mel sets the challenge (and you can set this challenge for yourself and your kids) to experience activation energy. Tomorrow, set your alarm for 30 minutes earlier than normal. When the alarm goes off, throw off the sheets, get up, and start your day. No hitting the snooze. You will come face-to-face with the force required to change. The first three seconds after you get out of bed are hard, but once you're up, it's great.

Mel says we all have great ideas all the time, but few of us act on them. Instead, we hit the inner snooze alarm, convinced we will get to our great ideas later. But she says that once the initial impulse passes, it's highly unlikely we'll act. She says we have to get used to the idea of forcing ourselves to act right away.

Mel points out that when you turn 18, nobody tells you it's going to become your job to parent yourself. It's your job to make yourself do all the things you don't want to do so you can become who you're supposed to be in the world. And parents often give themselves the job of making their kids do those things they're supposed to do, instead of helping them learn how to motivate themselves. She says it's simple to get what you want, but it's not easy. You have to force yourself to act, but then you get what you want.

3. Understand How Your Brain Works

Mel describes the two sides of the brain as she understands them. One side of the brain is autopilot. These are all the habits you and your kids have developed, such as running late, overeating snacks before dinner, or leaving your beds unmade. The other side of the brain is the emergency brake. This is the part of the brain that resists change when you try to break your habits.

Your brain loves being on autopilot because it conserves energy. Anytime you try to act outside of autopilot, your brain applies the emergency brake and resists those changes you and your kids are trying to make.

Anything that's a break from you and your kids' typical routine is going to require force. This means you must get out of your head, get past your feelings, and get outside your comfort zone. You can help your kids get motivated to change by promising them the outcome of their actions: being on time without yelling and stress, for example.

4. Use the 5 Second Rule

Mel says that when you get an impulse, such as to get up early, we need to act and to employ activation energy--the force required to try something new--within 5 seconds, or our brain pulls the emergency brake and kills the impulse. If you have the impulse to get up and dance while the band is playing for example, if you don't act within 5 seconds, you're going to pull the emergency brake and stay seated.

How do you apply this to motivating your kids? When you ask them the first time, and they resist and settle down into the couch and try to avoid doing whatever it is you're telling them to do, it's easy for many parents to just let it go and think you're going to come back later and try again to motivate them. Stop. Approach your child and get them to act right away. Don't let 5 seconds pass. Say what you need to in order to get them to move, but the key is not to let too much time to pass so they get comfortable in the old habit.

The key is to break the patterns and habits your family has fallen into by acting quickly and creating new ways of acting. Soon you'll have a new autopilot, hopefully one that lends itself to happier and healthier ways of functioning as a family.