Make New Habits 20 Seconds Easier to Start

Make tough things easy by reducing the amount of activation energy required.


What stops you from making the changes you know you should? Shawn Achor, the bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage, says it’s “activation energy.”

That’s the energy it takes to initially get your butt off the couch and to the gym.

The hard part is getting started. If you reduce the amount of activation energy required, tough things become easy.

The 20-second rule

Achor advises making new habits 20 seconds easier to start. He would sleep in his gym clothes with his trainers next to the bed, and it made him much more likely to exercise when he woke up.

Related: To Create a Habit, Tell a Good Story

“If you can make the positive habit three to 20 seconds easier to start, your likelihood of doing it rises dramatically,” he says. He also realised that having to remove his guitar from his cupboard to practice, increased the effort required. Those 20 seconds meant the difference between doing his habit – and not. He came to a resolution: to put his guitar in the centre of his apartment. Guess what happened?

“Lowering the barrier to change by just 20 seconds was all it took to help me for a new habit,” he says.

It works for bad habits too

Watching too much television? Taking the batteries out of the remote control and putting them in the next room created a 20 second delay that decreased the amount of television Achor watched.

Related: The Lies Your Mind Tells You

There’s no doubt about it: changing habits is difficult, but by understanding activation energy, we can replace negative behaviours with good ones – all in under 20 seconds