The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage, by Mel Robbins

I can’t honestly tell you why I still read books like this because for the most part they give me a rash. My only review of The Alchemist on Amazon was “I’m sure there were worse books written but I can’t think of any.” I don’t think I’m quite as cynical as Barbara Ehrenreich about the whole self-improvement thing but I’m close. It may be because the first adult book I remember noticing in my parents’ house was How to Win Friends and Influence People. Both parents were members of a new age church and my father managed salesmen for much of his life, so there was a constant flow of positive thinking and motivational books and tapes through the house. The world has lots of room for humility and it’s a rare commodity these days.

That’s part of it but I’m also inclined to blame my antiquity. I’ve worked at a lot of different places and I’ve done a lot of customer service work and I’ll tell you plain: Some people are assholes and will never stop being such until they’re planted. And the only thing comparable to an asshole with self-esteem is a speaker with no stage fright. The latter will bore you to death while the former can be destructive to any organization or family.

You’ll frequently find them in sales and they can be very successful there. They believe they’re right about everything and so they never have any conscience about working to get people to buy something whether they need it or not. I once worked at a radio station that had a sociopath with self-confidence as the sales manager. He was a great salesman. He was also an idiot, especially about programming a radio station. This particular radio station was targeted at women 25-44 with lots of Barry Manilow type music and it was very successful. At least until this person decided that what the station needed was a morning show for farmers. And while this was in a rural state the station was in the state’s largest city and most farmers were already waking up to either talk radio or country music. He was so self-confident that he was sure three employees with a combined 100 years or so of radio experience must be wrong. Self-esteem is earned, not coached.

So this one-note book could actually be dangerous in the wrong hands. The basic concept is that Mel Robbins discovered the magical cure-all for any problem: When something crosses your mind just count backwards from 5 and do it. See a pretty girl across the room but you’re too nervous  to approach her? Count backwards and make your move. Shy at bringing up your brilliant idea at a meeting? Count backwards and shout it out. Want a cigarette? Count backwards and don’t smoke it.

This handy one-size-fits-all cure for any ill will fix your life in every area. I can see ONE application in my life. I tend to walk past a lot of things and think “I’ll get back to that in a while.” Then it sits undone until the next time I pass by. After a brief experiment with the concept (singular) of this book I found that telling myself “do it now dammit” is even more effective than a countdown and you can have it without buying my nonexistent book. That towel isn’t going to pick itself up, do it now dammit. You make yourself and your accountant miserable by not sitting down to do the taxes until April 14. Do it now dammit. It works sometimes. At other times I really do have other priorities.

I can also see the Robbins approach creating havoc in the wrong hands. In a few days I’ll be posting my review of Hillbilly Elegy in which the author talks about his addicted nurse mother spontaneously deciding it was a good idea to rollerskate in the emergency room where she worked. Use to work. She was fired. There are a ton of spontaneous ideas that deserve some scrutiny before diving in. If you’re clear on a goal and have talked over your goals with friends to minimal negative feedback AND if the spontaneous idea fits those goals then YES ACT. What if the idea is to quit your job as a corporate attorney to become a street musician? In that case make sure you’ve already paid for the house and put the kids through college. Then act.

It’s a silly panacea of a book which, of course, is now in the top 500 books selling at Amazon because people want a panacea, silly or not. But the reason nervous speakers are better is because they care about their audience. They practice what they’re going to say, perhaps even memorize a script, they rehearse in front of friends or a camera, they hone what they’re going to say. Confident speakers write a couple of one-word notes on the back of their hand and figure they can wing it. Successful people aren’t successful due to their ability to act spontaneously. They are successful because they gather skills and knowledge needed in their field, they watch and imitate the actions of other successful people, they practice their skills and accept criticism and coaching. Even Robbins contradicts herself talking about her husband and his business partner opening a second location for their pizza parlor and accepting a wholesale contract at the same time, nearly sinking the business. She uses this of an example of how the 5 second rule helped her anxiety and depression without noticing that her husband and partner might have thought harder about opening in a bad location and taking on new business that they weren’t prepared for.

Not everything in your life deserves a five-second consideration, including buying this book.