03/31/2015 11:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Five-Minute Rule

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From time-to-time, people who learn about the inside-out nature of the human experience begin to feel guilty if they partake in any sort of outside-in action designed to improve the quality of their lives. As one of my own mentors said to me, "taking action to improve your plight is like carrying Dumbo's feather -- it's just a way of tricking yourself into allowing what would happen naturally of it's own accord."

Where I am at the moment with the seeming paradox of taking outside-in actions to make changes in an inside-out world is as follows...

In my household, we are long-term practitioners of the "five-second rule", that well-known urban myth which states that in defiance of all known laws of biology, food which is picked up and placed in ones mouth within five seconds of dropping it on the floor is still germ-free and safe to eat. We kind of all know it's not true, and we do it anyways. I think it's because we were all so well brought up that it makes us feel rebellious to do something "wrong" and "dangerous", no matter how small. (Also, Nina's a really good cook...)

When it comes to my life, I follow something I call the "five-minute rule". Despite the fact that I know my experience is created 100% from the inside-out, and biologically speaking I can only ever feel my thinking and not the events of the outside world directly, if I can make myself feel better by taking five minutes or less of action, I'll usually take it.

For example, let's say I've been stressed out about whether or not there's enough money in my checking account for an impending purchase. I know that my feeling of stress is a direct reaction to my thinking and not to the actual balance of my account. After all, there are 23+ hours of the day where my bank balance is exactly the same and I'm not feeling stressed about it.

And I know that the longer and harder I think about it, the more of a big deal it will seem to me, AND I know that if I just let the worry thoughts pass, I'll invariably get new thoughts and those thoughts will bring new feelings.

So why don't I just carry on with my life and let the worry-full thinking pass?

Because I also know that if I take the five minutes to go online and check my account, I'll feel better. Not because my bank balance will necessarily be where I want it to be, but because I'll stop thinking about it and feeling all the feelings which come with those thoughts.

In five minutes, I can make an appointment with a doctor to check on a mysterious pain or lump I've been worrying about. I can respond to an email I've been avoiding, reach out to an old friend I've been ignoring, or make amends for something I've been feeling guilty about.

I can also take a self-directed action - do some deep breathing, say some affirmations, drop into self-hypnosis, or drop down and do some push ups.

I know that it isn't really my action that's changed my feeling, but I'm happy to take that action anyways. After all, it only takes five minutes, and the fact that it was just a "Dumbo's feather" doesn't mean I'm not flying at the end of it.

For all those things that five minutes of action won't fix, it's equally great to know that I don't need the world to change in order for me to feel better. I am living in the feeling of my present-moment thinking, and I love the fact that I can't accurately predict what I'll be thinking five minutes from now, let alone five days, five months, or five years.

Since I'm only ever and always feeling my own thinking, that means I'm as likely to be feeling good as bad, happy as sad, grateful as maligned, and inspired as distraught. I don't need to control my feelings to enjoy my life any more than I need to control the weather to enjoy my day.

I am not a victim of the weather not because I can control it or avoid it, but because I can always work with it and through it. And I need not be a victim of my feelings not because I can control or avoid them, but because I can always work with them and through them.

When I'm not scared of my feelings, (because I don't need to change them, avoid them, or act on them), I'm free to feel them fully. Unresisted sadness can be delicious; unbridled anger is like being one with a gale force wind.

But from time to time, I forget all that and I once again become frightened by own internal weather. My experience of the world looks all too real, and phrases like "it's just my own thinking and it will pass" seem cruel instead of comforting.

It's in those moments that I willingly and willfully ignore the truth of the inside out nature of the human experience and take five minutes to make a change.

With all my love,

For more by Michael Neill, click here.