One of my projects this year is to complete a certificate course through Precision Nutrition focused on rest, recovery, and resilience. Such a course couldn’t come at a better time. Hopefully, it will be chock full of wonderful nuggets to share with my loyal readers. The idea of taking some five minute actions to get yourself moving perfectly matches the other ideas I’ve introduced over the last month.

The snow-covered trail to the summit of Mt. Teneriffe, January 2021.
The snow-covered trail to the summit of Mt. Teneriffe, January 2021.

Tips for Getting Unstuck: a Review

To review, on New Year’s Day, I wrote about keeping it simple and good enough (kisage). By doing so, we give ourselves permission to make mistakes, to develop a growth mindset, and to eliminate the need to do things perfectly.

Right before Christmas, I shared the importance of finding joy in the smallest of pleasures. We can get so busy that we take things for granted. By slowing down, we can appreciate the small things that bring us great joy. After all, we remember moments, not days.

And a month ago, on December 8, I described how to focus on doing one thing to get unstuck. That way, you can keep in mind your highest priority for the day, even if it changes from one day to the next. It helps us avoid overwhelm and prevents us from getting mired in long to-do lists.

Five-minute actions: this ice cream cone was literally a race against time. The air temperature was quickly rising and rain was making the snow very heavy and slushy. But a five-minute "let's just see how it is" led to an "hour tower" worthy of a picture.
Five-minute action: building this ice cream cone was literally a race against time. The air temperature was quickly rising and rain was making the snow very heavy and slushy. But a five minute “let’s just see how the snow feels” led to an “hour tower” worthy of a picture and memories.

The Idea Behind Five Minute Actions

How can taking a five-minute action help? It creates a tiny bit of positive momentum that helps you get unstuck. You’re probably thinking, “But clutter busting my house will take weeks, maybe even months.” Or maybe, “That’s insane. I can’t prepare to climb Mt. Rainier in five minutes.” And trust me, I’ve said it myself: “There’s no way I can even think about writing a book in five minutes.”

I hear you.

BUT… what five-minute action COULD you take that will get you one step closer to your goal?

Let’s use this week’s blog post as an example. I started thinking about it several days ago. It was on my “shortlist” yesterday, but it was not my “one thing.” Today, it was my ONE THING. Yet, I still couldn’t get started.

I took a five-minute action for one of my Capture Your 365 prompts, "green" on January 3, by getting myself out the door so I could spot this wonderful face on a clump of grass.
I took a five-minute action for one of my Capture Your 365 prompts, “green” on January 3, by getting myself out the door so I could find this wonderful face on a clump of grass.

Finally, I reminded myself to pick a five minute task. It could be anything. I chose to look for a few photographs to go with my post.

Before I knew it, I had chosen six pictures that represented different aspects of taking a five minute action. Then, I wrote my first paragraph. I came up with some headings. Before long, I had half the blog. And all it took was committing to taking one five-minute action.

I love the image of stalactites and stalagmites and how mightily they grow with tiny actions over many years. The icicle is another example of tiny actions making a difference. The key is to stay consistent with whatever habit you choose to build. You WILL get there.
I love the image of stalactites and stalagmites and how mightily they grow with tiny actions over many years. The icicle is another example of tiny actions making a difference. The key is to stay consistent with whatever habit you choose to build. You WILL get there.

How Five Minute Actions Work in Fitness

I have used a variation on this idea with my Body Results clients, too. If you’re having trouble committing to doing an entire strength workout or going for an hour-long walk, commit to taking a five minute action.

Set out your workout clothes. Fill your water bottle with ice. Call a friend to meet you at the trailhead. Walk to the mailbox. Show up at the gym and get warmed up. By setting your intention and just starting, you overcome inertia and create positive momentum.

You can even promise yourself, “If I’m not feeling it after five minutes, I can stop.” Nine times out of ten, by the end of five minutes, you’ll keep going since you’ve already started. Similarly, with the example of working on my blog post, after five minutes I couldn’t just stop. Try it, it really works.

Another of our recent snow creations. This year we built Stuart, a minion from Despicable Me, this bear climbing a tree to get honey, and the hand holding an ice cream cone shown above.
Another of our recent snow creations. This year we built Stuart, a minion from Despicable Me, this bear climbing a tree to get honey, and the hand holding an ice cream cone shown above.

Will Five Minute Actions Work with Anything?

I challenge my readers to find something that does NOT have any five-minute actions associated with it. Your homework, should you care to participate, is to find a goal that is important to you and figure out several steps you need to take to get it done.

Can you take five minutes to schedule an hour for quality time with your spouse or child? What about emailing an accountability partner who will help you stick to your workout goals? Could you commit one five minute block of time, every single day, to work on your manuscript? Would it help to have a guide service send you information about a climb that you could post on your fridge or at your desk for motivation?

Anyone can find five minutes. The key is to do this consistently. Move forward, even if it’s just a small five minute action every day. They accumulate, and sometimes they grow into larger blocks of time. Before you know it, you’ll have made a sizable dent.

If you are unable to break your goal down into smaller steps, post a question on my blog and I’ll help you figure out what step you need to take to get some momentum. Remember, you’re not looking for perfect, you’re trying to get unstuck. The blog post is complete, and all it took was starting with a five-minute action.

The author, hugging a local tree. You got this!
The author, hugging a local tree. You got this!

Published by Courtenay Schurman

Co-author of The Outdoor Athlete (2009) and Train to Climb Mt. Rainier or Any High Peak DVD (2002), author of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills/conditioning chapter 4 (3 editions), and Peak Performance column for the Mountaineers Mag (2014-present). Member of PNWA, SCBWI, EPIC. Served on the steering committee for WOTS (2019-present). Completed UW Certificate program for Children's Literature and Memoir. Co-owner of Body Results, Inc. in Seattle. Climb leader with Seattle Mountaineers for over 15 years. Volunteer at Woodland Park Zoo since 2014.

Join the Conversation

4 Comments

Your email address will not be published.

  1. Yes, it works. Small steps are better than big steps. It’s better to do something for 5-minutes than 0-minute. It adds up after days, weeks and years. The hardest it is to start. True, you won’t quit after 5-minutes as you are likely to keep going. Great article.👍

  2. Thank you for providing a recap of some of the techniques discussed previously to “get unstuck”. I was thinking about going back to past blog posts and doing exactly that; now I don’t have to! Thankfully, I had not made that my One Thing for the Day, and therefore don’t need to find a replacement at the last minute 😊 Can Five Minute Actions work? How easy it is for my “but” voice to prevent action… I could do a small thing here and there, but that will not make the BIG thing happen, I will eventually run out of small things. I could spend five minutes every day but the whole thing will take months or more. I could try but I am pretty sure I can’t succeed because “I don’t have what it takes”, I can’t do it EVERY day. All “normal” feelings I believe… and they do not change the fact that the power of “showing up” is hard to fully grasp. I went through the journey from “frozen despair” to arguable success when I needed to plan for multi-weeks hikes for the first time. The amount of advice available online, with its maddening conflicting edicts, was utterly overwhelming. It is only when I defined very small goals AND WORKED THEM that movement occurred and my confidence started to build up, allowing me to tackle harder tasks. I started with tasks such as: create an empty spreadsheet but with tabs (route, resupply, lodging, pack gear, etc.), find address of Post Office general delivery in town X, create template for shipping labels, find bus schedule between A and B, etc. By the time I was a few weeks into the process, I felt much better about connecting the dots and tackling much larger tasks (such as creating and printing detailed custom paper maps of the route). For me, the key to unlocking the puzzle was building that confidence through small but regular and incremental achievements. Now, the “work” here was related to an activity I really enjoyed… can I do it for something that feels like a gigantic chore? Well… unless I can think of a BETTER way, the answer is certainly Yes.

    1. Exactly, you nailed it on the head. Taking ONE action (making X phone call) and then the next (meeting with Y person) and the next (having big scary appointment) will gently get you through the BIG THING without as much stress. And if it’s something you really ENJOY but it still feels big and overwhelming, doing exactly as you said — breaking it into smaller bites — is the way to go. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time. How do you write a book? One page at a time. Little steps, done consistently, will get you to the finish line. But the biggest hurdle? overcoming inertia. The five-minute action accomplishes exactly that.