5-Second Rule

Decision Making


"There's no wrong time to do the right thing" - Charles M Blow


Many mistakes are done in a split second, but it takes a lifetime to recover from them. I've had my fair share of mistakes, whether it's a 1. stretch mistake, 2. A-ha moment mistake, 3. sloppy mistakes, or 4. high-stake mistakes (reference link). Over the years, I realized that many of these mistakes could have been avoided had I spent just a few seconds thinking and rationalizing. There are obviously decisions that take a lot of time to process and analyze, but I am talking the simpler ones that just need a few seconds. I call this the 5-second rule - it's the 5 seconds BEFORE a potential mistake, and it's also about the 5 seconds AFTER a mistake. 

Before I decide to do something that will eventually become a mistake, such as lying to someone, taking a shortcut knowing the consequences, I find the next 5 seconds crucial. Most of these decisions don't need much time to think about, because life already taught us what's right and what's wrong. Each situation is different, and there could be many scenarios or reasons to justify the next move, but we already know what's right from wrong. I just need a few seconds to think about whether this thing is right or wrong, and I make a decision to do the right thing (hopefully!). It's not complicated identifying whether something is right or wrong, but the tough part is to make that right decision and stick with it.

Sometimes I still end up making the wrong decision, so I oftentimes give myself 5 seconds to think about what I should do next. For example, if I didn't tell the complete story/truth so that I would look good, then I'd better make the slightly harder decision on the next step. Do I do something about this mistake, or do I let it go? Most likely I already know whether that thing I did was right or wrong, and if it's wrong, I need to quickly decide if I want to do something about it. This part after the fact of a mistake is harder, because admitting a mistake could have consequences. I think we probably all know it's still easier admitting to a mistake earlier than later, because as time passes, our guilt could grow and eat us from the inside, and the damage of our mistakes could also get much worse. We don't always correct my mistakes right away, but the decision itself to correct things prior to figuring out the approach needs to happen!

Every day we continue to struggle with these decisions, but the most important thing is not to be perfect, but to have a system, a habit of doing the right things. It's just like making the bed - the more I do it, the more automatic the process is, and the better the result will be. Life is truly a process of learning and adjusting, and sometimes those 5 seconds matter more than we ever expected.