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Use The 20-Second Rule To Improve Your Life

Building good habits and breaking bad ones isn’t easy when we have a limited supply of willpower. One way to make this easier is by implementing a “20-second rule” to lower the barrier for change.

Photo by Alex Kalmbach

This simple trick comes from Harvard happiness expert Shawn Achor, as quoted by writer Eric Barker on Barking Up The Wrong Tree. In The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Achor recounts how just moving his guitar to be in immediate reach instead of 20 seconds away made him practise more. He no longer needed self-control to create the habit he wanted:

I like to refer to this as the 20-Second Rule, because lowering the barrier to change by just 20 seconds was all it took to help me form a new life habit. In truth, it often takes more than 20 seconds to make a difference-and sometimes it can take much less-but the strategy itself is universally applicable: Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

So, for example, you could end bad habits by making them take 20 seconds (or longer) to start. For example, move the junk food to the back of the pantry.

Sometimes, if you want to change your life, the tiny things are what make a big difference.

Is the “20 second rule” the key to being your best? [Barking Up The Wrong Tree]