If you google “five minute rule” you’re likely to find all sorts of things, from computer science to procrastination.

This is a different one.


A couple of days ago I was listening to a podcast where Hal Elrod was being interviewed. (by the way, I would definitely recommend his book if you’re looking for something to motivate you)

In the podcast, Elrod tells the story of a night he was driving home along the freeway when he was hit head on by a drunk driver, at 80mph. His car spun around, and was then hit in the driver’s door at around 80mph by the car that had been travelling behind him. He broke 11 bones including his pelvis, and died at the scene for 6 minutes. When they revived him and got him to the hospital, he was in a coma for several days and when he woke up, he had brain damage from the impact and was told he would never walk again.

While he was recovering in hospital, the doctors spoke to his parents and told them they were worried about him because he was so cheerful. They said he must be in denial about his condition, and that they needed to talk to him and get him to face it because otherwise he would end up being hit by it later on, when he wasn’t in a hospital and surrounded by people who could help him.

His father came to see him and asked him, wasn’t he angry or upset by what had happened to him? He had been so happy and successful before the crash and now his life had changed forever.

When I heard Elrod’s reply, I immediately knew that he had hit upon something I really believe in.

He told his father, I live by the five minute rule. When something bad happens, you allow yourself to feel all of your emotions about it – to really feel angry or hurt or upset or whatever, but only for five minutes. After five minutes, if you can’t change it, you accept it and move on. Kind of like the famous Serenity Prayer recited by addicts the world over.

This is one of those things that’s easier said than done – but if you can manage to do it, it really can set you free.

For me, I know that when S was tiny and I was dealing with the aftermath of an abusive relationship, as well as trying to make my final recovery from a breakdown, something just sort of happened in my head. I was depressed and miserable, but I believed that if the health visitor even suspected I was suffering with PND she would take my baby away. I really believed that; I was terrified of succumbing to it. I allowed myself time to process what had happened, but ultimately I just said to myself, Right, time to get on with it; you can’t change any of that now. It was this pragmatic thinking that saved me, and has helped me to build the life S and I have now.

It sounds very glib and over-simplified to say that one can just look at their situaiton, accept what they can’t change, and then move on happily. When I was in the depths of depression if anyone had told me that I would have been so angry with them, for trying to reduce my suffering to something so simple. But the truth is that I ended up in the pit of eternal stench – and almost drowned in it –  because I allowed myself to mull over things from my past that should have long since been put to rest. Rather than deal with things as and when they happened, I have always tended to hide how I really feel, lock things away and avoid dealing with them. If I had allowed myself to really feel things at the time, then to draw a line under them and move on, I may never have had a catastrophic breakdown.

I know this means very little to anyone who is going through a breakdown right now; when you’re in the middle of it, you can’t see a way out but more importantly, part of the illness is often that you don’t want to get better. The idea of the five minute rule is more about prevention than cure, for me. I never want to go back there; I feel like I’ve wasted half my life being depressed and miserable over things I can’t change. And I want to teach my daughter a better way of dealing with things than brushing them under the carpet for later, in the hope that she never has to experience the darkness so many others have suffered.


Thanks for reading. If you’ve enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy: Learning to Dance in the Rain

Vicky Charles

Vicky is a single mother, writer and card reader.


Elizabeth Rebecca · 06/09/2015 at 13:19

What a fab idea – I’m going to apply this for when I’m exercising.

Lizzie Dripping

Shelley · 09/09/2015 at 09:13

Fabulous post, Vicky. I totally resonated with everything you said. I remember having the same thoughts about someone taking my three children away, if I didn’t sort myself out. I felt that my abusive ex-husband had got away with everything he did, and left me to cope with all the guilt and emotion. I wish I’d known about the five minute rule back then! As it was, I grew in strength and turned our lives around. I now have three happy, healthy teenagers who appreciate life. Thanks for sharing x

    Vicky Charles · 11/09/2015 at 16:11

    Thank you Shelley, I think it would have been handy to have someone tell me about this when I was coming out of a relationship too!

Catherine Ormerod · 11/09/2015 at 13:44

Great post! I haven’t come across the five minute rule before, but lately I’ve started taking a more ‘simple’ approach towards problems and difficult situations and telling myself that if I can’t change it, it’s useless worrying about it and wasting life’s precious moments feeling stressed and anxious! I think I will have to have a listen to that podcast too :-)

    Vicky Charles · 11/09/2015 at 15:57

    Brilliant Catherine! The podcast is well worth a listen; Elrod’s approach is so refreshing and I think a lot of us could learn from him!

Bethany House · 12/09/2015 at 13:07

What a fascinating concept… I’m going to have to put it to the test. Thanks for sharing.

Carol Hedges · 13/09/2015 at 11:16

Setting a time limit on painful events is such a sensible idea. You meet people all the time who are STILL being eaten away by something that happened in the past.

    Vicky Charles · 14/09/2015 at 13:42

    Exactly that Carol. I don’t deny that people have had terrible things happen – but if we allow them to bother us years later, we’re allowing the past to have a massive power over us. Life is too short to live it facing backwards!

Victoria Griffin · 13/09/2015 at 23:42

This rule can be applied no matter what you’re going through, whether it’s personal or professional, something quick or something long-term. Something that feels like the worst thing in the world can lighten when a bit of perspective if forced onto the situation. Strength is so often about having the tools to deal with stress, disappointment, etc. Thanks for the beautiful post!

    Vicky Charles · 14/09/2015 at 13:33

    Thank you! I think you’re right, perspective is a brilliant thing to be able to apply. So often we get so upset about all sorts of things that actually, with perspective, are actually small and insignificant!

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