The 5-minute timer hack I use to get almost anything done
16 March, 2021
My toddler struggles with transitions from one activity or place to the next. If they're at home, they don't want to leave to go to Grandma's. If they're at Grandma's they don't want to leave to come home. If they're busy playing with cards, they don't want to get togs on for a swim. If they're swimming, they don't want to get out of the pool to have something to eat.
I have a lot of empathy for the feelings around transitions, because even though I can't throw my body on the ground and cry whenever I have to move from one thing to the next, I often wish I could. Especially if that's moving from staring at my phone on the couch to cleaning the bathroom. Transitions are exceptionally hard for me, even as an adult. Even when writing this very post right now, I had to battle so much resistance before I just started writing. My brain is very good at coming up with 15 reasons I shouldn't write and instead do something much more comfortable. Of course, now I am here I realise that the thinking about writing is far more uncomfortable than doing the actual writing. Now I've been going for 5 minutes this is all really quite pleasant.
I've heard people use "activation energy" to describe the energy required to get your butt (or brain) moving and just start doing the thing you're supposed to be doing. I wish I could tell you who I heard it from first, it was probably on a podcast. It's actually a scientific term used in Chemistry and Physics which describes the minimum amount of energy that is required to activate atoms or molecules to a condition in which they can undergo chemical transformation or physical transport. So I can see why people have co-opted the idea and used it in the context of moving yourself through transitions in your day.
The 5 minute timer
Now for my little mental hack, which I use at some point every day. If there's something I need to do that I don't want to, I tell myself that I need to do it for 5 minutes. I will set a timer and acknowledge that once the alarm goes off, I am totally free to stop doing the thing, but I need to give it 5 minutes of my best effort. 99% of the time, once that timer is up I realise that I'm quite happy to keep going. I’ve reached the level of activation energy required and have successfully transitioned myself.
This hack works great for getting tasks done, but one thing I still struggle with is transitions like moving from the couch and the TV/phone/computer to start my bedtime routine. Maybe I need to trial something like Mel Robbins' 5 second rule. A no-screens-before-bed rule just isn’t practical at the moment.
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