Posted on Nov 4, 2018
Five minutes. It’s not much time. 300 seconds; that’s all. It takes more time to make a pot of coffee, and yet it’s the amount of time it took Abraham Lincoln to write the speech that would change the course of a nation. But you’re not Abraham Lincoln. What can you do in five minutes?
One might conclude that Isaac Newton understood human psychology better than he did physics when he created the first law of motion, summarized here as “An object in motion tends to stay in motion. An object at rest tends to stay at rest.” After all, how difficult is it for us to start a project we’re dreading or unsure about? Five minutes can make all the difference:
The 5-minute rule is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique for procrastination in which you set a goal of doing whatever it is you would otherwise avoid, but only do it for five minutes. If after five minutes it’s so horrible that you have to stop, you are free to do so.
It’s difficult to start a task, but once started it’s more difficult to stop. Follow Newton’s lead and give it five minutes.
In every contest of endurance a threshold is crossed where it ceases to be about who has the most energy to who has the most will. The boxer, the runner, and the cyclist must all face this obstacle. Can they give it five more rounds, five more yards, or five more miles? It’s a matter of endurance; a matter of focus.
Focus. It’s not limited to the physical, and like strength and endurance it can be improved. But you have to push beyond your boundaries. Are you reading a difficult paper, learning a new concept, or thinking through a difficult problem? Like the athlete, there will come a point where your brain wants you to stop; where focus gets blurry. To build your mental stamina and strength, this is the point where you must persevere. Tell yourself you’ll give it just five more minutes. When you get to the end of the five minutes, maybe give it five more.
There are moments when you can’t focus any more; where banging your head against the problem in front of you isn’t doing anything other than giving you a headache. It’s moments like these that you need to take a short break.
[A] 3-5 minute break gives you the time you need to “disconnect” from your work. This allows the mind to assimilate what’s been learned in the last 25 minutes, and also provides you with the chance to do something good for your health, which will help you to do your best…
Francesco Cirillo, The Pomodoro Technique
We’re all familiar with the experience of struggling with a problem for hours or days only to “discover” the solution in our sleep, the shower, or some other non-work context. When we step away from the problem – when we stop pumping our brain full of information – it gives the right side of our brains the chance to churn through all the data to reveal a solution.
“It’s very clear that for a lot of people the creative process includes an enormous amount of sitting around doing nothing.” But to clarify that position, it’s not the idea of not doing anything; it’s the idea of not doing something.
Andy Hunt, Pragmatic Thinking and Learning
It’s hard to step away when you “almost have the answer”, but when you give your whole brain the time it needs you’ll find the solutions come that much quicker.
Your opinion isn’t so important the world needs to hear it this very moment. You get some bad news, receive a scathing email, hear about yet another tragedy, overhear a negative remark. Don’t react. Stop. Wait.
Do you know all the facts? Do you know the context? Could you be wrong? Will your immediate response add light or just add heat or will it even be noticed?
When you wait instead of react, you give your mind more time to process what you’ve learned; time enough to compose yourself and respond with grace and dignity. Did she really say that? Did he mean it like that? Will any more information come out? Is this the proper way to respond? There are few situations that are so time-sensitive that our response can’t wait five minutes – and the 24-hour news cycle isn’t one of them.
So stop. Wait. Walk away if you have to, but don’t react. Force yourself to respond on your terms and no one else’s.
Learning to think first rather than react quick is a life long pursuit. It’s tough. I still get hot sometimes when I shouldn’t. But I’m really enjoying all the benefits of getting better.
– Jason Fried, Give it Five Minutes
At first blush, meditation appears to be one of the most self-indulgent, touchy-feely, wastes of time concocted by the human race. The idea of sitting around in the lotus position, breathing deeply, with a brain full of nothing doesn’t seem like anything that could be productive.
I cannot say this frequently enough: the goal is not to clear your mind but to focus your mind—for a few nanoseconds at a time—and whenever you become distracted, just start again. Getting lost and starting over is not failing at meditation, it is succeeding.
– Jeff Warren, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics
Meditation is about focus. It’s about intentionality and discipline. At no point does the practitioner empty his or her mind, but instead his or her entire focus is on one single act or sensation, whether that’s breathing, feeling, or some other focus. As distracting thoughts invade or discomforts announce their presence, the practitioner calmly keeps coming back to his or her center.
Think you have enough focus already? Try this experiment: find an analog clock and focus on the second hand as it marches around the clock face. Do that for 60 seconds without a single distracting thought. Now do you think you’re focused?
Lastly, set aside five minutes at the end of each day to reflect on the day and everything it had to offer. Walk through the day from the time you woke up to the time you have now. What happened? Can you find three things about your day you can be grateful for? Write them down.
Did you have breakfast and coffee? Did you go to work? Was your home safe when you came back, and was there someone to come home to? Did you have food? Are you healthy? Do you have friends? Do you have a place to live? Do you have a device by which to read this?
Everyone of us, regardless of circumstances, has cause to be grateful.
There’s some real utility in gratitude. It’s also good protection against the dangers of victimhood and resentment. Your colleague outperforms you at work. His wife, however, is having an affair, while your marriage is stable and happy. Who has it better? The celebrity you admire is a chronic drunk driver and bigot. Is his life truly preferable to yours?
– Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
Misery is like a gas, it expands to fill whatever container it’s put into. We all know someone who, regardless of wealth and comfort, still manages to find something to complain about. There is no gratitude, only pain, and they allow it to fill them to the brim.
Gratitude is the antidote to misery, taking up the space misery would otherwise expand into.
In an expression of true gratitude, sadness is conspicuous only by its absence.
– Marcus Aurelius
Five Minutes. It’s not nearly enough time, but then more than enough. It’s time enough to fight procrastination, build focus, and reset. It’s time enough to step away before you regret it. It’s time enough to breath, and time enough to be grateful for that breath. Five minutes. It’s enough time.