Season 2 Episode 17
Mel Robbins, personal development expert, best-selling author and motivational speaker
In this season finale episode, renowned author and personal development expert, Mel Robbins leads us on a discovery of reinvention through self-leadership. Mel shares her secrets of overcoming hesitation through her science-backed 5-Second Rule and how we can transform negative mindsets and habits that hold us back in business and in life.
Tune in to hear Mel’s incredible story, for tips on evolving as an entrepreneur, and for everyday techniques to move past fear, procrastination, and unhelpful habits.
Below is an edited transcript of this conversation. In this episode, you’ll hear thoughts on:
- Overcoming hesitation and procrastination
- Strengthening your intuition by heeding its calls
- Managing priorities and taking small yet courageous action
- Learning how to outsmart your unhelpful habits
- Understanding team dynamics and boosting productivity
- Minimizing friction, frustration and mental clutter
- Ensuring your purpose in business is personal
- Taking action in spite of fear
- Introducing new aspects of your business over time
- Energizing yourself into action with the new five-second rule
- Rapid-fire questions
Overcoming hesitation and procrastination
Chris Allen: Well, I just want to welcome Mel Robbins to The Entrepreneur’s Studio. Thank you so much for making the trek.
Mel Robbins: Oh my gosh. Thanks for inviting me.
Chris: All the way out here in Oklahoma City. You made the trek. I will say you’re not too unfamiliar with rural areas. Yes?
Chris: OK. All right. Well, this isn’t rural. We’re downtown.
Mel: This is way bigger than where I live. I live in a town of 3,000 people in southern Vermont, and I grew up in a town of 3,000 people in western Michigan.
Chris: Oh my gosh. So you’re used to it.
Chris: All right. Well, we want to learn quite a lot about you. I will say you’ve had a winding path leading to where you are today. You’ve been a defense attorney, a CNN analyst, a best-selling author, a motivational speaker and a podcaster. Tell us about this pivotal moment you had in your life to kind of devote yourself to helping other people.
Mel: Well, I thought you were going to ask me what is the pivotal moment for every change? And I was going to say it was usually one of these moments of thinking, “I hate what I’m doing, I want to change now.” And I think one of the coolest things about the times we live in and in being a business owner, particularly a small business owner, is that there’s so much opportunity that wasn’t even here 20, 30 years ago.
So really paying attention to those moments when you’re starting to feel a lot of friction or you’re not as engaged with what you’re doing, that is such an important moment in life because there is wisdom inside you trying to tell you it’s time for a pivot. In terms of getting involved in personal development and all of the research and the projects we’re doing now from the podcast to books to the stuff we do with companies like you guys is like all things in my life — everything seems to be the result of me either digging a hole for myself and falling into it or not noticing a hole in front of me and tripping into it.
And I tend to find myself in these situations, and this is certainly the case with my path into personal development and writing all the books and doing all the research that I do. I was at a moment in my life that you will probably relate to. So my husband had gotten laid off and decided he was not going to look for a job, but he was going to follow his dream, Chris, of going into the restaurant business. Now, if you’re in the restaurant business and you’re listening to me right now, you just took a gigantic, “Oh boy.” Because there are only two kinds of people who go into the restaurant business, people who are forced to because their families are in the restaurant business or people who typically haven’t worked in one, but think it’s going to be absolutely amazing.
And I grew up working in the restaurant business. I mean, I had a job when kids could have paper routes for crying out loud. I was in the front of the house, the back of the house, I was a fry cook. I’ve been a bartender, I’ve been a waitress. So when Chris said this, I was like, “You’re out of your mind.” And I have to hand it to him, he really pushed and pushed and pushed and convinced me he and his best friend could raise money and open a restaurant in 18 months flat, which was exactly how much money we had left in our savings to live on. And they did it.
The first one was a home run. But what happened, and this happens so much — particularly in retail stores, as you know, it is location, location, location. And it is the formula, formula, formula. When you stray from your location strategy or the formula that made one location a success, you can invite disaster. So the second location was a dog. And we, like complete idiots, had cashed out our life savings and took out credit cards and got a home equity line and found ourselves $800,000 in debt.
Chris: Went all in.
Mel: Oh my God. I don’t know if anybody knows the word factoring, but it got so desperate. I know you’re just thinking, “Mel, that should be illegal.” Yes, it should. But they were scrambling to do anything because friends and family had invested. So I found myself at the age of 41 and I had lost my job. This was 2008, so the housing market was upside down. We also happened to get five Nor’ Easter’s in the New England area that winter and you know what that means for a retail business… and they all hit on the weekend.
Chris: Oh, gosh.
Mel: Closed for five weekends, three days in one quarter. So they were hemorrhaging money we didn’t have. Chris hadn’t taken a salary in six months. We had three kids under the age of 10. And I found myself in this situation where the problem seemed so overwhelming, I became a person I didn’t recognize. I could barely get out of bed. I was hitting the snooze button four or five times a morning. The kids were missing the bus. I was so angry at Chris and I faced this moment like a high-functioning adult, that is by drinking myself into the ground and blaming everything on him. And the truth is, while it was his and his partner’s business, I had been a complete, willing participant and cheerleader until things went terrible.
And then of course, I went against him. It was during this moment where we were literally going to lose everything I cared deeply about. We were going to lose each other. The family was going to be torn apart. We were going to lose our home. I was slowly losing my sanity and the simple things I knew I should or could do seemed out of reach, like asking for help or even calling my parents and telling them what was going on or being kind to Chris or just getting out of bed and facing the day. It was during this moment that I was sitting in my living room, so it would’ve been February 2008, and I was kind of at my lowest point. I’m sitting there having this kind of talk with myself. And those moments are really pathetic. Like Chris, it’s one thing if I’m giving you advice, but if I’m sitting alone in my living room having a conversation out loud with myself, you’re like, that’s it.
Tomorrow, it’s the new you. Tomorrow you’ve got to pull yourself together, woman. Tomorrow you have to. I’d been having this talk for a while, but there was something about the talk that night. You have to pick up the phone, you have to look for a job, you have to start to fight. And by God woman, when that alarm rings, you can’t lay there in that bed like a human pot roast, marinating in fear, you have to get up. Then all of a sudden, it’s like it was a sign from God. This rocket ship launched across the TV screen and it gave me this crazy idea, what if I just launched myself out of bed like a rocket? Now I always joke that I’d had four bourbon Manhattans that night. So that’s probably what inspired the idea. It sounds kind of dumb, but that singular moment changed my life.
And I do believe you’re one decision away from a different life. The very next morning, Tuesday morning, February 2008, outside of Boston, Massachusetts, was this moment where I saw something I had never seen before. That is a universal experience every single human being has all day long. And it is a moment of hesitation. Here’s what happened. So the alarm went off and I immediately remembered the idea of launching myself out of bed, but then I hesitated, and this is what we all do. The moment you hesitate and you stop and think about not what you should do, but whether or not you feel like doing it.
In that moment of hesitation and consideration, all of a sudden self-doubt, procrastination, anxiety, excuses, fatigue, worry, beat down, whatever it is, that is the thing that sabotages you, that’s when it comes in. And as I started to notice this, I literally was like, “Oh, wow. I know I should get out of bed, but I don’t feel like it.” I had a million excuses. And that’s the other thing. There will always be an excuse not to do something.
Mel: I had a million of them, and I started to notice that the more I laid there and thought about launching myself out of bed, the less I felt like doing it. I don’t know what came over me, but I just started counting backwards: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. There was something about this counting backwards just like NASA does that interrupted the excuses, interrupted the thinking, and all of a sudden I stood up. I started to use this little countdown thing in secret, and it worked for everything. Whether I wanted to pick up the phone and call somebody to network for a job, because I need a job, right?
And knowing what you need to do, and this is kind of one of the major takeaways for you, listening, knowing what you need to do, that’s like the booby prize. That’s like step one of a marathon. You have to know how to make yourself do what you need to do. And particularly in business, one of the things we’re going to talk a lot about is that I think that if you were to divide your business into income-producing activities and all the other crap, we can get so focused on all the other crap that we don’t force ourselves to do the things that actually grow the business.
Chris: Well said.
Mel: So the five-second rule, which I started to call it because it’s very similar to dropping food on the floor. If you drop food on the floor, that old myth is that you have to pick it up in five seconds or else the floor contaminates the food.
If you think about something for more than five seconds, your brain contaminates your will to take action. And what I learned using this little strategy in secret, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Take a pause. Don’t scream at him. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Pick up the phone, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Just send the email. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Don’t overthink it, do it. I started to notice what I was doing was starting to interrupt and override this pattern of hesitating and this pattern of self-doubt and this pattern of procrastination, and I was encoding a new pattern.
Psychologists call this the difference between having a bias towards thinking versus a bias towards action. And if you’re in a mode in your life where you’re stressed or you’re overwhelmed or, I think a lot of us business owners feel like the second the day starts, we’re on the defense. We’re in reaction mode. If you’re in that kind of mode in your life, which is exactly how I felt when we were facing bankruptcy and the liens hit the house, I was in defense and reaction, you can get trapped in overthinking. And the only thing that changes your life or your business or your mindset or your health or your relationships is action. It’s the only thing.
And I believe that as you’re sitting here listening to this conversation about the area of your life or business where you’re struggling or you’re frustrated, I guarantee you that you know what you could or should do to just get started or to just move in a different direction. If you don’t know what you could or should do, here are two suggestions. Google and just do the first thing that comes up, move you in a different direction or do the opposite of what you’re doing right now and just try that for one day.
We know the action that could change the trajectory of things. The issue isn’t knowledge. It’s that you hesitate, and then the way your brain works is that if you hesitate for long enough, you will not do it. And so that was the beginning of my turn into this incredible, I don’t even know what to call it. I’ve been doing this now since 2008, 15 years, and it happened organically. I didn’t have this epiphany, Chris, that was like, “Oh, I’ve invented this thing that helps me get out of bed. How do I write a book about it? Make millions.”
That was not it at all. I was trying to save myself from ruining my life, and I didn’t know how to take action. I was so stuck in this moment. I was so stuck in this experience that everybody gets stuck in, which is knowing what you need to do, but feeling so frustrated with yourself because you can’t make yourself do it. I mean, how many times in business have you been in a situation where you know you need to start getting more serious about social media, but you can’t get yourself to do it. You get so sucked into the day to day, or there are phone calls you need to make. Maybe there are 10 cold calls you need to make. Maybe it’s getting yourself into a mastermind group — you know you need to do this thing, but you can’t get yourself to do it.
And it’s also there with health. I mean, if I asked you, do you know what you need to do, one change you could make that would make you healthier? You’d say, yes, I need to drink less. I need to eat less bread. I need to walk a little bit more. I need to get more bright light. We all know, yeah, I could get better sleep. I could stop laying in bed looking at my phone, but knowing that stuff doesn’t make you do it. So I started to realize I had discovered this tool that was helping me cut through the noise in my head to just get to work in my life, in my business, all of it.
That was really the beginning of it. And I think one of the things I’m really proud of is that I have never veered away from this original idea that absolutely anybody can change their life for the better. But you have to be willing to put your head down and wake up every day and chip away at it. And at the heart of everything I do is this belief that you can create a better life. So I have been maniacally focused on figuring out how to create simple shortcuts, simple little tools that are backed by science and research that could work for anybody. And that’s what’s really driven all of this. I’ve also had this huge focus on trying to make as much of what I do completely free and available to absolutely anybody anywhere in the world.
And keeping that focus was not overnight, but over time, it led to where we are now, and a lot of people are just now starting to discover me because we have 10 million followers online. We have a monster YouTube channel in terms of watch hours. We have this massive podcast. It’s been out for less than a year, so people are discovering it now and they’re like, “Wow, how’d you do this overnight?” I’m like, dude, it’s 15 years.
Chris: Yeah, it took me 15 years to be an overnight success.
Mel: Yeah, it’s therapy. It is making tons of mistakes. It’s working 100 hours a week because I don’t even consider what I do to be work. I consider it a calling.
Chris: Yeah. I’d say the magic in that thing you described where you’ve got suffering and hardship and then you’re having the conversation with yourself, which you may have had before, but for some reason you kind of grabbed onto this tool that all of a sudden you made a different decision and it created a different trajectory. It’s kind of like the analogy of a ship with no wind in its sails can’t turn. You know what I mean?
Mel: Oh, it’s true.
Chris: You have to have some movement in order to go in a different direction. The magic in that though, you could have stayed in the mire and the muck, but for some reason you chose a different path that sent you in a totally different direction and helped yourself and you’re helping a lot of people along the way.
Mel: Yeah, I think a lot about that moment, that Tuesday morning in 2008, because had I made a different decision, my life would’ve gone in a different direction.
Mel: I’d be bankrupt, probably divorced, probably an alcoholic. Family would’ve been torn apart, and I don’t know why it happened that morning. I tend to, because there are so many miracles and so many just magical things that have opened up and happened that I truly believed I was just meant to do it. I was the one who was going to take this stupid, simple idea and pound it into people’s heads around the world that number one, you’re one decision away from a different life. And number two, if you count backwards, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, you manually switch gears in your mind and you move from thinking to doing. And it really is that simple. And I do think particularly for business owners, because we’re driven people, we have a lot on our plate. There are a lot of us who also have ADD and dyslexia. That’s why we’re prone to being entrepreneurs, because we’re creative thinkers, and we are analytical, we are idea people. That’s why you’re in the business and that is an important thing for ideation, but it can really get in your way when it comes to execution.
Strengthening your intuition by heeding its calls
Chris: Yeah, execution’s everything. The thing that was really awesome, everything that you’ve done, this arc of going from understanding yourself, understanding people and having a platform to help, I was like, “Man, the amount of things you’ve experienced and the amount of discovery that’s happened has really created this platform that’s helping people every day.” But I think this idea that you had some sort of action, there’s clouded intuition in there — and that’s one of the things as you’ve sort of understood people and done research, is this knowing what to do. Why is it so cloudy for people? Why the hesitation, why the procrastination?
Mel: I’ll tell you why. Because your intuition gets more and more clouded and hidden the less you act on it. See, every morning you wake up, let’s just take a super simple example because you’ll be able to use this countdown technique in absolutely every aspect of your business. You’ll be able to use it to go 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and take a deep breath before you yell at all the line cooks because it’s a busy night and everybody’s slow. To approach it a different way, you’ll be able to go 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and pick up the phone and start making the cold calls you’ve been avoiding. Let’s take the example of the moment the alarm rings in the morning and getting out of bed. The alarm represents intuition. It’s like a call.
You can feel it, it’s a knowing. And your instincts are always dead on. They’re not leaving you. They’re hardwired into your natural intelligence. It’s part of this inner compass you have, but you can become disconnected to it if every single time your intuition says you should make that call and then you hesitate and then you don’t, you’re training yourself not to listen to it. And so intuition, I think a lot of us don’t understand that it’s the acting on the intuition that makes your intuition louder and clearer and more accurate. And if you go back to this simple example, just try this tomorrow morning. Set your alarm for a half an hour earlier than you normally do if you’re the kind of person who can spring out of bed. If you’re like the rest of us…I still struggle to get out of bed.
I think I have really low cortisol in the morning. I think I finally figured it out, but I don’t like getting out of bed. It is what it is. I love my bed, I love my sheets. I love how warm it is. I love that my husband’s there. I just love all of it. I don’t want to get out of bed, never have, never will. I just have to do it. You can do things you don’t want to do. You don’t have to feel like it, waiting to feel like it is a losing bet. So just notice when the alarm rings tomorrow morning, if you set your alarm a half an hour earlier, there is a moment where you stop and consider whether or not you want to get out of bed. You will know in your bones that you had set your alarm 30 minutes earlier and by setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier, you had made a promise to yourself.
When that alarm rings, it is time to keep the promise, but you’re going to hesitate on that. So getting out of bed isn’t about waking up, it isn’t about rolling out of bed. It’s about keeping a promise you made. And when you do that, the alarm rings, I know I should get up. I get up. You just strengthened your intuition. When you, for example, have somebody who works for you and you just know something’s off, but you’re nervous because if you’re a small business you wonder, “How am I going to find somebody else? What am I going to do?” But you don’t address it. That’s the problem. You don’t address it. You let it slide. You let it slide. You don’t say anything. You let the resentment build up and your intuition is right. The issue is that you’re not acting on it. They can certainly, I’m sure call you guys and get advice about what to do, right?
About how you handle this, how you document things. You’re not on your own on these things, but you have this moment of intuition and then you don’t act on it because of this hesitation. So your intuition, your business instincts, your life instincts, it gets stronger and stronger and stronger and stronger if you simply start acting on it. And you can start practicing this by getting out of bed when the alarm rings.
Managing priorities and taking small yet courageous action
Chris: Yeah, that action takes some courage from time to time.
Mel: Yeah. Courage is not some big thing. Courage is a tiny thing in your life. We make the mistake of thinking courage is reserved for jumping off a cliff or stepping in front of the enemy army. The enemy army is your critic. It’s your hesitation, it’s your self-doubt. It’s the incessant worrying about stuff that hasn’t happened yet and how that robs you of time, attention and energy. That’s the battle you’re fighting every day. So courage every single day looks like doing things you don’t feel like doing, trying something new, taking a risk, leaning into your intuition, having that hard conversation. It’s not OK that you’re on the phone while you’re at the register. I realize that we’re slow, but you could be doing something else. Here’s the list of 18 things you could do, like cleaning tables, checking the trash in the bathroom — standing around on your phone is not in the job description.
Chris: Then that’s giving feedback.
Mel: Yes, you don’t have to be a jerk, but you know what I’m saying. I don’t think a lot of people realize this, but my husband and I, we had a little paint-your-own-pottery retail store where we had all kinds of employee issues, including somebody walking into it one day with people painting with their kids, and our employee was in the bathroom hooking up with their boyfriend. There are all kinds of things my husband and I have dealt with. I come from a long line of farmers who had farm stands and produce distribution businesses. My dad was a doc but had his own physical therapy (PT) clinic and did a ton of volunteering and created a clinic in a rural area. My mom had a retail kitchen store, so I grew up in retail small businesses. My grandparents on my dad’s side had a family bakery in Chatham, New Jersey. I mean, this is in my blood.
So I understand it’s a 24/7 job. I understand there are a bazillion things you’re always thinking about, but the thing I want to get to you is that you can get so mired in the thinking that you don’t act on the five things every day that actually drive your business forward. And that’s what has really helped me when it comes to the five-second rule is that there’s a million things I could be doing in my business, but I wake up every day and say to myself, what are the things I need to do today and what can I put in?
A lot of people call it a parking lot. You can put it over in the parking lot. I like to call it a shopping list because a parking lot sounds like we’re not going to get to it. I did not name that. My team named it. Let’s create a shopping list for Mel. Everything she’d like to do that is completely not relevant to what we need to do goes on the shopping list. And when we have free time, Mel can go browse the shopping list and we can decide if we’re going to take these things on.
Chris: I say that’s a condition for ideators as well. It’s like you have to have a shopping list. We call it a backlog or a parking lot, but I have the same condition.
Mel: Well, here’s another tip that will really help, and I know this is not about the five-second rule, but I am a humongous fan of those huge, sticky, post-it notes you can put on the wall. Just stick one of those next to your desk and every time you have a great idea, stick it up there. That way you can see it, you know that it is somewhere in the world and then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, turn your face back to the screen or back to the thing you need to do. But that has helped me a lot with a way to take those ideas that come up because that’s how my mind works — throw them there and not hold them in my mind.
Learning how to outsmart your unhelpful habits
Chris: Yeah, I mean the thing I love is that you’re basically talking about rewriting your autonomic nervous system. You’re like reimprinting, rewriting to get yourself to be committed to change and finish and do the thing you’ve always imagined.
Mel: One thing I am proud of myself for is that I stopped fighting against my nature and started to figure out how to outsmart myself. It took me a long time to get here, I’m going to be 55 this year. Instead of getting frustrated that I have all these ideas and distract myself, it’s like OK, let’s just accept that as fact. How can I outsmart myself? One is a post-it note. That’s one thing I do up on the wall all the time. The second thing I do a lot around outsmarting myself is that if I have to do deep work, I don’t ever do it at my desk.
You know how people are like, “Turn off notifications.” That doesn’t work for me. I’ll just go click on the email when I stop and then I’ll just bring it right up. I know myself, I’ll go down to the kitchen and work, and I have to leave my phone upstairs because I will look at it. So instead of making myself wrong, as if I should be some sort of neuroscientist, a super geek who can sit and just focus, focus, focus. I have to outsmart my own nature.
And so I use a tremendous number of what the research calls environmental triggers — post-it notes, alarms on my phone, changing the environment I’m in. I think having that kind of approach, where you are an execution person or are you an ideation person and you’re really embracing that, is liberating because you stop trying to make yourself do everything. That was a big mistake I made for a long time where I did not focus on hiring people who could execute. Being an ideator, I used to surround myself with other people who had ideas. Why? Because it feels fun to sit like we’re all popcorn-popping ideas.
Chris: Exactly. There’s an energy there.
Mel: But nothing was getting handled.
Understanding team dynamics and boosting productivity
Chris: I mean that’s all chasing the spark. That’s what I call that. There’s always the idea, the energy’s there. You’re chasing the spark. You’re all excited about it, but the progress doesn’t ever show up. One of the things we talk about often is surrounding yourself with a team of people. You have your producer, people who get stuff done or we’ll slide it the sidelines to do it later. Your entrepreneur is the ideator, great to collaborate with, doesn’t get anything done. The integrator is going to connect people or connect systems, right? Then there’s your administrator who has the checklist.
Mel: Where were you 10 years ago?
Chris: I don’t know.
Mel: You could have saved me so much time and energy. Even marriage counseling for that matter.
Chris: I’m the ideator and I’m like, “I will get nothing done if I don’t have my producer and my administrator around me.”
Mel: Well, and I think the hardest thing is — this is a question I’m sure you guys get a lot, but who do you hire first?
Chris: That’s a good question.
Mel: I think you have to know who you are first and what your weakness is. And 10 years ago, one of the things I made a big mistake around because everything just started to take off so quickly, is I just needed help. So, “Oh, Chris, you just got me a coffee. Would you like to run a digital marketing strategy? I can just use anybody.” So a couple things on that because you may be listening and you might be a solopreneur.
One of the most important leaps you’ll ever make in your business is when you take a pay cut in order to expand your capacity. If you are thinking like, “I’ve got to scale,” the first question I would say you should ask yourself is, “If I could focus my day on one or two things that would grow the business, what would it be?” And write those one or two things down. Everything else there is your list of what you need to hire somebody else to do. Because my business partner and COO/CFO came from a much, much larger company, probably 10 times the size. She always says, “Our most valuable asset in this company is your time and energy, Mel.” And so we protect it at all costs because there’s not another person in my company who could sit here and do this interview with you.
There’s not another person in my company who could host The Mel Robbins Podcast. There’s not another person who is going to show up with any of the major brands we deal with and create custom content and productions that could close the deal. That means that’s my job. That’s my seat on the bus. There are 50,000 other things that need to go into a company of its size, and I should not be in those seats. I don’t have the expertise. It’s not what I do. So the best thing I could tell any of you who are like, “I’m drowning,” is to say, “OK, what actually grows your business? Do you need to be the one in the store every day? Do you need to be the one who is working the line? Do you need to be the one? If you weren’t there and you replaced yourself with somebody who could probably do it better than you, what would you spend your time on that actually either made you more profitable or got you more time back or made what you’re doing more efficient or better or that made you more money?”
That’s how you do it. And it’s the scariest moment because you’ve kind of gotten to this point where things are going and you think they’re going to keep going if you just keep going, “No, no, no, no, no, no.” Those moments when you feel friction, I have a really, really good friend named Peter Sheahan who is a genius business strategist, and he wrote a book called “Matter”. I remember when he sat me down and said, “The more successful you get Mel, the more miserable you are.” He said, “We have to change that.” And he had me do this very simple exercise. He said, “Take out a piece of paper, draw a line down the center, and on the left-hand side, I want you to write absolutely everything about what you’re doing that creates friction in your life and in your body.”
And let me tell you, I poured it all down on a piece of paper. I hate getting on an airplane on a Sunday. I hate not being able to get home. And it was like, hate, hate, hate, hate. It became very clear the way I was running my business was not working anymore. Then he told me to write down absolutely everything I love. So I started writing all these things down that I loved doing that brought me joy that were part of the business. This isn’t just some go find a unicorn exercise. This really gets to the heart of what is aligned for you.
That became a roadmap I followed for two years to make a huge pivot in our business so I could spend more time doing the things that naturally felt good. And I could figure out how to change the business model and the team so that the things that naturally brought me friction could be handled by somebody who loved doing that kind of stuff. And look, this is after 10 years of building this business, this is not what happens when you’re the entrepreneur and you’re the one person running a retail store. So I need to just say that this comes with time. But you can even do that now. You can figure out if there are aspects of your business that you could get a high schooler or intern to do for you. Are there aspects of your business that you could hire one person to do that would free you up both time — and here’s the most important one, energy.
Because if you’re frustrated walking into your business, here’s the other thing that was a really hard lesson for me, as an entrepreneur and a leader and how I define a leader is if you have an impact on other people, you are a leader, which means if you’re listening, you are a leader. You’re a leader in your family, you’re a leader in your neighborhood, you’re a leader wherever you work because your behavior impacts people. And there’s a saying that leaders bring the weather. And it’s true. From an energy standpoint, you bring the weather and if you wake up on a sunny day, there is something about just seeing the sun that slightly shifts your energy. If you wake up on a rainy day, it has been raining all summer in southern Vermont, it’s like, “Oh, another day of rain?” It changes your energy. You have to really start to think about your energy because if you feel a lot of friction in your business, you are fighting against your own energy and your own business.
Minimizing friction, frustration and mental clutter
Chris: Everything you just talked about, that’s all the clutter you just talked about, the writing things down. I think one of the things that gets really distracting as an entrepreneur, even as a person, is if you really forget your “why”. A lot of feelings get us to our “why”, but a lot of action is what’s going to carry us forward. There’s a clearing of the clutter from that exercise of writing it down. That is the moment you start working on your business, and you can get really distracted with all the things in your business, but the second you decide to go, “OK, I’m going to get all the clutter out. Here’s everything that has friction, these are all the problems, I’m going to get it all out.” That’s when you start working on the business. That is almost like the five-second rule in the sense that it’s the moment of change when you decide to take the action to write the things down.
Mel: Well, because you’re getting it out of your head and you’re bringing it into the real world. And when you put it on a piece of paper, it is suddenly not a problem you’re thinking about. It’s a problem you can work on and it becomes concrete instead of something that bothers you. And the cool thing about being a human being is that you’re a natural problem solver. If you see that list of things that are causing you friction in your business, it’s a gift because those are just all problems to solve. There’s nothing personal about this. Just look at it like, “Oh, well this is cool. These are all the things that aren’t working.” And here’s the other thing, maybe it’s not working because you’re meant to do it a different way.
Maybe things feel hard because you’re approaching it the wrong way. So how cool, let’s circle back to your intuition, which is showing up as friction and frustration over and over and over again. And I want to be clear about something. I’m not talking about the frustrations that happen once or twice. You have a customer that’s super angry, you have a shipment that gets destroyed, you have a pandemic that shuts you down. You have whatever—
Chris: You’re talking patterns.
Mel: I’m talking about the things, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, that bother you. That is your intuition. So take the time to write down all the things your intuition says like, “This isn’t working, we can do better.” That is strengthening your intuition, that is also getting you out of this habit of thinking about things instead of doing something about it. Then what you do is take that piece of paper and take a tack and nail it into your wall where you can see it and chip away at it. That’s it.
Ensuring your purpose in business is personal
Chris: I’ll tell you where I got lost as an entrepreneur. It’s kind of like if you have three different points in the triangle, you’ve got your purpose, what you’re going after, and then you’ve got two sets of responsibilities and you maybe feel a responsibility to the purpose, but you’ve got to show up — and I have four boys. You’ve got to show up and deliver for your family. You’ve got to provide, and then you’ve got the responsibilities of the business. Where I got really lost is that I forgot some of my purpose. It felt really far away. Then I really committed myself to the work. I was like, “I’ve got to show up for the family.” It started lacking. I wasn’t present for my purpose. I wasn’t present for my family. I was sitting here trying to figure out how to solve all of these problems.
So what would you say to somebody who’s in that sort of stretch, that kind of high-stress moment where everybody’s sort of waiting for you to deliver?
Mel: Well, I think it’s a major mistake to tie your purpose and your business performance to something related to your family.
Chris: That’s good.
Mel: Because then you get mired in all of this crap with guilt and shame.
Chris: You don’t say.
Mel: And not measuring up and all of that stuff. Don’t do that to your family. Don’t do it to yourself. Pursue a business because it fulfills you. If your business becomes a vehicle for something else, it’s going to just create all kinds of mixed emotions. If you’re sitting there because you’ve inherited a family business or like my husband who went into the restaurant business because he had been in business development for software companies and was always traveling and had been kind of laid off in the first dot com-era — he went to another company, then he went to another one, and he just didn’t feel connected to what he was doing. He thought if he could start a restaurant in the community, he would be around more. I mean, everybody running a restaurant must be laughing because of the hours you work and because you’re gone every weekend.
He thought maybe he’d be able to be present at the booster clubs and coach the kids when they were little and all that stuff. And that did happen a little. But he started to spiral when the business started to fail because he not only felt like a failure in business, he felt like a failure as a father because so much of why he did it was tied up with providing.
So I would encourage you to go back to why you want to do this because if your business becomes an obligation, it’s not going to be as successful as it could be. It’s not going to be fulfilling. You have to figure out how to find purpose for yourself because your kids are watching you. They feel your energy, they’re getting messaging from you. And the best thing you could model for your kids, I don’t care if you’re the mom or the dad, the best thing you could model is what it looks like to be an adult pursuing something you care about. And that is working hard through the ups and downs because that’s what you want your kids to do. If it turns into an obligation and guilt and all this stuff, that’s what you’re modeling to your children.
And so for any of you who may feel like, “But I’ve got to pay the bills,” I get it. But what I’m trying to get you to understand is that the more personally connected you are to the business for yourself — selfishly as an individual, because you need something that’s driving you to feel successful and fulfilled and to wake up every day and have a sense of purpose in your life — if you can tap back into that, that is the single best business advice we can give you because it unlocks a different level of energy in you and a different level of focus in you and a different way for you to shift into a higher gear.
Chris: I think when I imagined purpose, it was something really far away. So the difference between purpose as a destination or something you carry with you, I want to hear how you think about purpose. And maybe it’s not a vision, right? Because that’s something that seems far away that you’re headed towards, but purpose is something you carry with you. Talk to us a little bit about how you see purpose, how you see us discovering it and how that sort of is a driver for us.
Mel: Sure. So I’m going to bring another word into this — passion. People tend to conflate those two. So let’s start with passion. So passion to me is another word for energy. You can be passionate about anything because passion is just what brings you energy in your life. And the way to bring more passion into your work and into your life is to do the list I’m talking about. Identify what the friction is, write down what you love doing, and try to spend a little bit more time every day. Dedicate it to some of the things you like doing because it brings you energy. And if you think about the way people talk about passion, you’re passionate about things you like. I’m profoundly passionate about flowers and gardening and my deadheading, and I could talk to you for hours about dahlias and peonies. I don’t know why — it just brings me a lot of energy. My husband is profoundly passionate about telemark skiing. He could talk to you for hours about it, loves to skin up the mountain and back country and all that stuff. Are you kidding me? That is putting me in a morgue talking about that. So passion and bringing more passion is about energy, and that is hardwired. You can’t fake it. So thinking about it from a business or a life perspective, what are the things you do that naturally energize you? Just insert a little bit more. I do understand what you’re saying when you say it’s like a directional signal. It’s a thing that’s out there, but I believe everybody’s purpose is exactly the same.
I really do. I believe your purpose is to figure out what brings you individually more energy in your life that makes you come alive. And then your purpose is to share yourself, your story and that energy with the world and whatever expression that is, whether it’s the flowers you grow or it’s the energy you bring when you’re skinning up the mountain with your buddies, or it’s how you open up your retail store in the morning or greet customers coming in because of how it energizes you or if it’s the kindness you show a stranger because you know everybody is trying to climb out of some hole because you’re constantly doing it in your own life, sharing yourself your unique story, your wisdom, your energy, that’s your purpose. That’s why we’re all here.
Taking action in spite of fear
Chris: So good. I knew your perspective on purpose would be illuminating. It took you 15 years to be an overnight success and people are discovering you. What is the difference between what got you here and then where you’re headed? What is the thing you really want people to come away with when they’ve encountered you or the platform?
Mel: Yeah. So there are a couple questions in there.
Chris: I like compound questions.
Mel: That’s OK. I like breaking them apart. That is one thing I think is my genius. Taking really complex topics and just drilling them down to their essence and making them so simple and actionable that anybody could do it. So I’ll kind of answer them a little bit in reverse. I want absolutely everybody I interact with, whether it is somebody who sees a piece of content online or somebody who bumps into me in an airport or someone who listens to the podcast episode or a YouTube episode anywhere around the world, to feel moved emotionally.
And what that means is I want you to feel a little better than you did when you encountered the piece of content. And I want you to have one actionable thing or one idea or one new insight to leave that interaction with. That is how I move through life. So that’s number one, and I’m pretty maniacal about it.
Number two, talking about how I got to where I am… I literally went from giving this TEDx talk back in 2011, which was the first speech I had ever given to—
Chris: That was the first one you’ve ever given?
Mel: Yeah. If you watch that TEDx talk, which has now got like 31 million views and is one of the top 20 in the world, you’ll notice in the first minute all of this rash all over my neck that people get when they drink too much or they have anxiety. Oh, I was out of my mind anxious and I literally forgot how to end the speech. I wasn’t planning on talking about the five-second rule. It was a total accident or intervention from God. I’d been using the five-second rule for three years in secret. I didn’t know why it worked. I had never told anybody but my husband about it, and I forgot how to end this little talk. I looked out on that stage and I had this blank stare and then all of a sudden I’m like, “Oh, there’s this thing I do. I call it the five-second rule.”
The moment you have an instinct to act, you have to move in five seconds or your brain will kill your instinct. Move. Thank you very much. And I was so panic-stricken, that I gave out my email address. Something crazy happened. A year went by, and I forgot about that. I went on with my life. Somebody put it online. Then in 2014, it went viral and people started to write to me at that email address. So here I am working at a job. I still have $800,000 in liens on the house. My husband is leaving the restaurant business, a shell of himself, an alcoholic. We’re barely making the ends meet. And I’m spending every night responding to strangers about this five second rule thing.
And they were writing to me about crazy stuff. I’ve lost 100 pounds, I’m able to stay sober. I’ve doubled my business, I’m present with my kids. Why is this working? And I’m like, “I have no idea. I have to figure this out. So I took on a research project so I could answer emails from strangers and then people started to call and ask me to speak. I didn’t know people made money doing this. So for the first year in 2014, I went to six or seven women’s conferences, and was not paid a thing. And at the end of 2014, or maybe it was 2013, a woman came up to me after a talk at the Pennsylvania Women’s Conference and said, “Hey, I was a speaker this morning. Can I ask you a question?””
And I’m like, “Sure.” And she goes, “Did you get your check yet?” I’m like, “Check? People get paid for this?” And she kind of took a pause. She’s like, “Oh my God, I’m really sorry. I just assumed because you’re in a really big room.” I’m like, “People get paid for this?” I had no idea. I thought you had to be famous or an author or someone else like that. I was a nobody trying to pay my bills who had done a TEDx talk for free because my college roommate had recommended me to somebody because I had changed my job so many times and they were offering two plane tickets and a night at a nice hotel in San Francisco. And when you have $800,000 in debt, that sounds like a vacation. So I’m like, “OK, Chris, we’re going to San Francisco. Let’s do this.”
I had no idea what I was doing. So all of this just took off and I made myself this promise. This is another one of those moments when you’re one decision away from a different life. I had no idea what to charge, no idea. And if you have no idea what to charge for your services or for your consulting, you can do one of two things. You can either do a competitive analysis and try to figure it out and just push through the imposter syndrome, or you can try this strategy, having no idea what to charge. So I made myself a promise. The next time somebody calls, just count 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, and pause and then say, “What’s your budget?” And then count 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, pause and say, “Normally I’m double.”
So two weeks later, the phone rings. It’s a guy named Darrin Powell who has a whole other crazy story that’s just yet a whole other synchronicity moment in his life and my life intersecting at exactly the right time. And he says, “Yeah, I’m calling because my wife is a huge fan of yours. She’s seen your TED Talk on Facebook, and she works for a company called J. Hilburn, which is a men’s custom suiting company, and they’d like to bring in an outside speaker for their sales conference.” By the way, I had no idea what any of this meant. And he says, “Would you be available to give a keynote in August?” And I’m like, OK, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. “What’s your budget?” He said, “$10,000.” I dropped the phone. I had no idea. That was three months of our mortgage. I forgot the second part. I was so blown away that I picked up the phone.
I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can be there. I can be there. I can be there.” And I felt so unworthy of that kind of money that I then made a second decision that changed everything. I figured to be able to be paid that much money, I better have a presentation that looks good. So I spent half of the money. I mean, get this into your brain, half of the money, my husband is now not working. I am somehow holding down the fort. We’ve got liens on the house. I’ve got enough money to pay the mortgage for three months coming in out of nowhere. This is like a gift from God. And I take half of it and spend it on a PowerPoint presentation with a graphic designer so I can get on that stage and feel like I was worthy of being there. And it was one of the best decisions I have ever made, because when you make an investment like that, it forces you to prepare.
And so there are these moments in your life that get teed up. It’s like an at-bat moment. And when I stepped on that stage, I fricking crop dusted that place with motivation. I was ready and it changed the rest of my life. Darrin came up to me and said, “I’ve been in this business for 20 years. You are probably one of the top three speakers I’ve ever seen in my life. And you’re single-handedly the best female keynote speaker I’ve ever heard. Who runs your business?” And I said, “You do.” And he has run it ever since. I went on to do 47 speeches that year, and then it was 99, and then it was 115. And it allowed me to pay back all of our debt. Everything that came in, I put 50% towards paying off bills.
Chris: Insert standing ovation here, it’s pretty awesome.
Mel: Literally, it came out of nowhere, and I took it so seriously. And I think this is one of the things that really drives me. I’m still so close to breakdown in terms of that experience that I relate to the headaches and heartaches and feelings of overwhelm that normal people like you and me and you listening to us are experiencing every single day. And that’s who I’m talking to every day. Even though I’ve solved the money part, I still have all kinds of struggles in my life, whether it’s people I love dying or losing people to addiction or despair, or it’s kids struggling with anxiety or it’s fighting with my husband about things.
So I never, ever get too far away from the fact that life can be a struggle. And it’s also the most extraordinary, beautiful gift. How do you ride the wave of it? And one thing I will tell you is that all along the way, we’ve talked a lot about intuition. I’ve paid very close attention to my intuition because my intuition typically doesn’t come in positive ways. My intuition is negative. I can’t help it. I get frustrated about things or I’m jealous. And when I get frustrated about things or I’m jealous of other people, that to me is a blocked desire, because you can’t be jealous of something you don’t want.
So you have to unpack those moments of jealousy. What is it? Because for me, when I was really struggling financially, I was so jealous of my friends whose husbands worked and who didn’t have to work and who were renovating their kitchens. And meanwhile, I’ve got collections agency callings and bills piled high. I didn’t want a new kitchen. I wanted the peace I perceived they had. And when you unpack your jealousy, it becomes a roadmap to where you need to pivot and where you need to go to work.
Introducing new aspects of your business over time
Every single business decision I’ve made has been a moment where I’ve either noticed somebody and been slightly jealous of what they’re doing and made a pivot. I remember with social media when I first stumbled upon Gary Vaynerchuk. God, it was probably six years ago. I was jealous, but I couldn’t put my finger on it because as the speaking career took off, I noticed again the piece that you really love. I noticed that it wasn’t being on stage that I loved. It was what happened after. It was bumping into people walking to the airport. It was bumping into people who came up and said, “Oh my God, I saw a YouTube video and I used it with my kid, and it helped with their anxiety. And it wasn’t the accolades, it was the information and the data that it was really helping somebody that fueled me.
It was also these intimate conversations with people that made me feel like this is what should be shared. So I hired two people to follow me around and just film everything. And that changed our social media strategy. Then I started to have this other kind of friction. I really want to be doing more audio stuff. I really love the audio format. And podcasting was getting out. So we ended up pivoting and started to do more original productions for Audible. A lot of people don’t realize this, but you look at my business from the outside and think, “Oh, she writes books. She hosts a podcast. She’s a motivational speaker.” Nobody knows I have a production studio called 143 Studios, and that we partner with companies like Ulta Beauty, Starbucks, JPMorgan, and LinkedIn. We create custom, original content that is backed by science and research to address particular behavior changes or mindset issues that are entertaining and actionable.
We have the number one course on LinkedIn out of all the courses in the world on the science of confidence. We’ve done six No. 1 original audiobook releases that Audible hired our company to create for and produce for them. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done with Starbucks and their 194,000 employees. And we are in the middle of but it’ll already be public by the time you’re listening to this, but we’re rolling out a nationwide campaign with Ulta Beauty and 50,000 associates called The Joy Project, which is a training curriculum where we’re teaching 50,000 associates to really silence their inner critic and then pass the joy forward to the people they interact with every single day who go into stores and look in the mirror and think, “I hate this. I hate this about myself.” They can actually interrupt that criticism and insert something that is inspiring and yet will actually land. Because when you say to somebody who’s criticizing their appearance, “You’re beautiful.” The person’s like, “No, I’m not.” That just doesn’t work.
So you can try different strategies. And that’s a massive part of our business. We also have had more than 1 million people take free courses online. We do paid programs. There’s so much our company is doing behind the scenes, but all that most people see is where my commitment is, which is really all the free content we put out every single day. We’re doing almost 70 pieces of content every week on social media.
Chris: That’s incredible.
Mel: We’re averaging 800,000 watch hours a month on YouTube, 800,000 watch hours a month.
Chris: You tapped into something.
Mel: Well, you know what I tapped into? Hope. I think that’s what a great mentor does, they allow you to borrow confidence. So our brand is an unwavering stand in your ability to do the work and create a better life for yourself, just unwavering. I am unwavering in my belief because I have too much evidence based on the size of our audience, that there is somebody who is dealing with the exact same situation somewhere in the world you are dealing with. And if they were able to slowly, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, wake up and chip away at it. So can you.
Energizing yourself into action with the new five-second rule
Chris: I love that. Hope is required there. It’s so good. Well, we’ve talked about a lot of things. I had one more thing I wanted to ask. If I could have a box, a package with an open-top that I could just slide over to you, what gift would you put into that box? What’s the one thing you would say you would give as a gift to everybody listening? What would that be?
Mel: It’s definitely the five-second rule. I mean, there’s a ton of different tools I can teach people. But without you being able to push yourself through self-doubt, procrastination, anxiety, the heaviness of depression, without you being able in a moment when you’re alone to do that for yourself, nothing’s going to change because no one’s coming to do it for you. And I can inspire, empower, educate, and encourage you all day long, and I will. But when I’m done talking, it’s up to you to push yourself to take action.
And this simple little countdown technique, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. We didn’t discuss the science at all, but trust me when I tell you, you start counting backwards, it works. The reason why it works is because of this. The second you decide to start counting, you’ve made a decision to do something different. And the act of saying 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 is the first domino. Counting backwards is an action. So that thing you have been thinking about, whether it’s going to the gym or making that phone call, or getting out of bed or walking away from that drink or having the conversation with the person who works for you, it all of a sudden moved from a thought to a decision to the first action, and now you’ve tapped into momentum in a new direction. That’s why it works.
Chris: And what a gift. What a gift. Well, we’ve talked a lot about a lot. That is what you do. We want to know a little bit more about who you are. So I have some rapid-fire questions.
Mel: Oh, cool. OK. All right.
Chris: What’s the weirdest situation where you’ve applied the five-second rule?
Mel: OK. So I was standing on stage in front of probably about 400 small business owners, and I was giving a speech, and thank God I was wearing a long black skirt and high top tennis shoes because I sneezed. And when I sneezed, having had three children and ran four marathons, I literally leaked. I was like, it happens. It happens to women. And it leaked to the extent that it hit my ankles. I was so mortified and everybody’s staring at me. I’m in the middle of the speech, I’ve just sneezed. And I didn’t know what to do. So I just started counting backwards, 5, 4, 3, 2, silently to myself, which allowed me to compose myself. And I kept on talking.
Chris: Oh, man.
Mel: You were not expecting that.
Chris: No. That is awesome though. Well, what’s one habit you still struggled to change, even with the five-second rule?
Mel: Getting out of bed.
Mel: Getting out of bed.
Chris: Well, how would Mel Robbins answer the infamous question, what’s your greatest weakness?
Mel: I think my greatest weakness is that I don’t consider what I do to be work, so I work too much.
Chris: OK. Well, what’s the most unusual skill you possess that people don’t know about?
Mel: I am crazy flexible, and I can get into all kinds of weird handstands and balances and weird stuff like that.
Chris: OK. What’s your guilty pleasure?
Mel: Sex in the afternoon with my husband.
Chris: OK. Well—
Mel: Should it be a guilty pleasure? I don’t know if that’s a pleasure. I don’t know, but guilty sounds naughty and kind of fun.
Chris: All right, there you go. Well—
Mel: Our therapist, here’s a great tip, everybody. I interviewed this sex expert, Sex with Emily. I mean, we’ve been married 29 years. I mean, you’ve got to mix things up. She literally said, start texting each other and make dates in the afternoon. Like, “Hey, in between calls at two o’clock, you free?” “I’m free.” “Should we meet up?” It’s kind of fun.
Mel: OK. There you go. Too much information.
Chris: It’s a good tip.
Mel: It’s a business podcast.
Chris: Hey, I mean, come on now. We said we wanted to get to know you. What’s your morning routine in three words?
Mel: A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
Chris: OK, that’s your morning routine.
Mel: A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
Mel: It’s a subject of a huge project we’re working on. And those are all habits. A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
Chris: All right, well we wait with bated breath.
Mel: It could be Get Ass Bed or something like—
Chris: Get out—
Mel: Get up, woman.
Chris: Get out of bed.
Mel: Get up, woman. All right.
Chris: What book’s on your nightstand right now?
Mel: Oh, I have that tower of guilt. They call it that in the publishing industry. The pile of guilt. I don’t even know what’s in it, honestly. I don’t.
Chris: It’s just there.
Chris: Do you have a favorite recent read?
Mel: Yeah. What the heck was it? See, when I read, I read so much academic crap for work and research studies and that kind of stuff, that when I read I want a novel. I want to lose myself in a book. I can’t remember what the last one was, but it was something I’d probably be embarrassed to admit I read. But I do have a book I read every day when I’m home, and it is “The Book of Awakening”. It’s by Mark Nepo. He wrote it when he was going through cancer. And it’s like these two-page reflections on life and it’s by the date. I just find it to be a really grounding thing.
Chris: Oh, I love that. What are you high-fiving yourself about in this season of life?
Mel: The amount of work I’ve done in the last three years to heal my nervous system and stop the obsession with being busy and racing around all the time. And to just learn how to be present.
Chris: Love that. What’s one thing you’d tell your younger self?
Mel: I wouldn’t.
Chris: Well, what’s next for Mel Robbins?
Mel: What’s next? We’re launching a podcast network and an audio and publishing imprint. So new shows are rolling out. We’re opening production studios in Boston and a new office space for our employees. And I live in southern Vermont. One of the reasons why I really wanted to do that is because my success was born out of a crisis. And when your success is born out of a crisis — you have to pay your bills, you have to get the liens off the house — you can become addicted to saying yes to everything and you can confuse busyness with success.
And because I love what I do, that is a recipe for disaster. While I would not change a thing, I do hate the fact that the success came at a price. I really missed a lot of my daughter’s high school, and I did not want to do that with our son. So I am taking very strategic steps to separate work from my life and to give you an indication of just how much I love my work, I needed a three-hour drive between the studio space and my house so that I would really stop and think, “Is this necessary?” It’s so I could separate my home from being the place where all work gets done and so I had better boundaries and that the amazing team of people that worked for us had a fabulous place to be and I’m really excited about it.
Chris: That’s good. Well, there’s kind of a stay-tuned moment because we’re going to ask you some questions that everybody sent in. But I want to say one thing to kind of close this part of the conversation, and that is that your authenticity and effervescence are really contagious.
There were a couple times in this conversation where what you said just really resonated with me and I know it’ll resonate with a lot of other people who are listening. So I just wanted to say thank you. Thanks for doing what you do. Thanks for coming. Thanks for giving. And I would just say for everybody here and everybody listening, thanks for keeping going.
Mel: Well, thank you.
Chris: Appreciate you a ton.
Mel: Thank you. I appreciate you.