The 5-year rule


So you just broke up with your partner and you’re devastated.  Maybe you’ve lost a job, got in an argument with a close friend, or someone got all up in your face in the club.   All these stresses can lead to explosive emotional reactions of anger, sadness, and worry.  It’s easy to get caught up in the little details and react in ways that can be destructive.

For me, I’m a constant worrier.  I worry whether my career will pan out the way I imagined, whether I’m being true to people I care about, and whether I’ll be able to make my next month’s rent amongst thousands of other issues.  All this worry leads to a lot of stress – unnecessary stress.

My addiction to worrying was much worse before I learned about the 5 year rule.  It’s really simple.  When I’m angry, worried, or sad about something, I ask myself the question: Will this matter in 5 years?

A professor of mine once told me, “The most important decisions in life take less than 5 minutes to make.  You won’t know that they were important or that you’ve made them until you look back much later.  Everything else seems small in comparison.”

Looking back on the experiences I’ve had, I have to admit that he was right.  The “small decisions” I made such as going on a first date with a friend (now wife) turned out to be amongst the most critical decisions.  The devastating events such as getting fired from my first managerial position were insignificant when I look back 5 years later.

Now, whenever I get the feeling that something is a “big deal,” I ask myself the question “will this really matter in 5 years?”  If the honest answer is no, then I just move on.