The 20 second rule: How to build good habits and break bad habits

Have you ever had a goal that you wanted to accomplish but, you always feel too tired to actually do it? Do you have lots of work to complete but, you always end up doing something less productive instead? What about saying you’re going to start a new habit, but a few days later you catch yourself doing the exact thing you said you wouldn’t do.
If you can relate to any of this, you need to learn the 20 second rule to take back control of your life and stop procrastinating!

What is the 20 second rule?

The 20 second rule is a term first coined by positive psychologist expert Shawn Achor, in his book The happiness advantage. In short, this technique is used to build good habits and break bad habits, this is done by making it quicker and easier to perform a good habit and longer and harder to engage in a bad one by roughly 20 seconds.
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The happiness advantage by Shawn Achor

Why willpower doesn’t work

In his book, Shawn explains that he wanted to learn how to play the guitar but, he was finding it hard to get started, so he followed the same path as most and began to use a habit tracking tool where you check off your app or piece of paper every time you complete your task.
Habit tracker, productivity planner
These tools and techniques are great in the beginning but, as Shawn found out, they often rely on your willpower and we all know that it’s unreliable for creating a long-term habit because it is a finite resource. One moment you feel like you can take on the world and the next you want your bed to swallow you up.
The fact of the matter is simple, humans are lazy creatures and we rely to much on motivation to get us going. Building or breaking long-term habits takes a lot of activation energy – the amount of energy required to start something and that’s why we always look for the path of least resistance, meaning we look for the easiest option possible.
However, you can use your laziness to your advantage and here’s how!

The 20 second rule to build good habits

Every time that Shawn wanted to play the guitar, he faced some mental resistance. He would have to get up out of his seat, get the guitar out of the closest and get it out of it’s case before he could even start practicing.
This took to much effort so, he would always choose to do something less productive. To combat this, he brought a guitar stand and placed it in his living room to hold his guitar. By doing this, Shawn made it easier for himself by bringing the guitar less than 20 seconds away, making himself more likely to play it as it was right in front of him, instead of searching for it.

The 20 second rule to break bad habits

Shawn realized he could use this method to break his bad habits like watching too much TV so, he hid the remote control batteries in a draw, that was in a room 20 seconds away.
The next day he sat down to watch some television and after pressing the on button a few times he remembered that he had hidden the batteries in the other room but, it was too much effort to get them and he couldn’t be bothered. Instead of watching the TV he played his guitar which was conveniently placed right next to him.
By implementing these tactics, choosing the more productive habit over the unproductive habits becomes more natural, making it easier for you to make the right decisions in life.

Other examples

This rule can be used in all aspects of life, from when you are working to when you are exercising. Here are some examples that you could use in your daily routine:
Going to the gym
Going to the gym can take a lot of effort, you have to pack your gym equipment, drive there, get dressed and start your workout. To reduce the time spent you could sleep in your gym clothes, go to the gym on the way back from work or even better have a home gym.
Stop watching videos
Whether it’s YouTube, Tiktok or Instagram it can be hard to put the phone down because they’re made to be as addicting as possible! It’s so important, especially in times like this to stop scrolling. There’s many things that you can do to put a stop to this, delete some of your apps, set blockers and time limits or just leave your device elsewhere.
Learning a new skill
Like Shawn, if you’re trying to learn a new skill, try placing the item in the room that you spend the most time in and remove all of the distractions. Learning to play an instrument? Swap it for your TV, watch a tutorial instead of Netflix, learn instead of wasting your time.
Making the right food choices
Choosing the healthy option when it comes to what you eat can be hard, especially with all the fast-food restaurants, sweets and tasty treats but, you know it’s the right choice. Even if you’re grandmother’s biscuit tin brings back childhood memories, try changing the biscuit barrel for a fruit bowl and instead of hiding the vegetables behind the junk food, bring them to the front.
If you have any further questions, remarks or requests for what you would like to see more of, you can comment here on the blog, or message us on our social media channels below.


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