Set Yourself Up For Success
One of the difficulties with creating healthy habits is that it often takes a lot of energy just to get started. This dilemma is especially problematic when we’re feeling lethargic to begin with. Yet, you’ve probably had the experience of feeling sluggish but pushing yourself to go for a walk or hit the gym and feeling much more energized within just a few minutes. One important strategy that will help make healthy choices a regular part of your life is to decrease what’s called “activation energy.”
In physics, activation energy is the stimulus required to cause some sort of reaction. With human behavior, it’s the energy we must first expend in order to do something new. In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor talks about his experience with activation energy when he was trying to practice guitar more frequently. In his description of what he calls the 20-Second Rule, Shawn put the guitar closer to the couch and moved the television remote further away – about 20 seconds away, to be exact. “What I had done here, essentially, was put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance, so it actually took less energy for me to pick up and practice the guitar than to avoid it.” He calls it 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.”
Shawn recently told me about a strategy he used to help create a more consistent exercise routine. “I moved my athletic shoes right next to my bed and slept in my gym clothes for 21 days, decreasing the activation energy to exercise in the morning long enough to create a life habit.” He also mentioned that he was very clear as to what type of exercise he was going to do each day, and he had a specific plan for that day’s workout routine. When you don’t plan ahead, you give your brain time to come up with a million excuses as to why it’s better not to exercise. And with all that time to contemplate, it’s easy to talk your way out of it!
Here are a few suggestions for applying the 20-Second Rule specifically to adding more physical activity in your day:
- Keep your home exercise equipment where you will be most likely to use it, instead of in a dark room in your house where it is often used as storage space or a hanger for laundry.
- Put dumbbells or a resistance band next to the couch in your living room so that you don’t have to go find them if you want to exercise while watching TV.
- Pack a gym bag and take it with you to work so you have what you need to exercise during a break, or before you head home.
Simply put, the goal here is to make it easier to make healthy choices so that your brain will be less likely to talk you out of it.
Sustainable behavior change is not something that occurs as a result of doing a 30 or 90-day program, nor is it something that you master after doing it for a year. Living a healthy, happy, and balanced life takes a daily commitment to put in the time and energy, knowing that the return on that investment is great. The more we are able to invest in our own energy, the better we are able to give that energy to the people and things that matter most to us.