The 20-Second Rule: Make New Habits That Stick

How many times have you told yourself that you’re going to work out tomorrow, only to snooze your alarm 5 times because “It’s too cold to get out of bed”? Or, what about saying you’re going to drink more water, but you don’t even carry a water bottle with you. There are certain energy-saving tactics that you can do to make things easier. And who doesn’t want to make healthy habits easier? It’s hard enough starting a new plan or focusing on a new goal – let’s make those steps to success so much easier!

Young woman drinking out of her water bottle after her workout.

I try to read a lot. And, if I don’t have a new book to read, I often re-read books I have read before. One of them being The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. I have read it at least 5 times. In his book, he outlines the 7 principles of the happiness advantage – one of them being the 20-second rule when it comes to creating new habits.

The 20-Second Rule

If you want to create a new habit, you have to make it easy to integrate by decreasing the activation energy for the habits you want to implement. In a nutshell: the less time it takes to get done (ideally 20 seconds or less), the more likely you’re going to do it!

Here are some examples of the 20-second rule in real life:

  • Put your gym clothes right by your bed so you can just wake up and do your Results app workout
  • Keep a water bottle with you at all times to ensure you drink more
  • Keep a pitcher of water at your desk so you can meet your daily hydration needs
  • Keep your guitar in the living room (not in the closet) if you want to practice more (Achor’s example)
  • Keep your vitamins right next to your bed, with a glass of water, so you don’t forget to take them in the morning

Young woman preparing a healthy snack in the ktichen.

With that being said, the same can be said for reversing bad habits. If you increase the activation energy it takes to do those habits you are trying to avoid, then you’re less likely to do them.

  • Don’t keep sweets in the house if you want to lose weight
  • Take the batteries out of the remote control if you want to stop plopping down on the couch and watching TV. Put them in a room that’s more than 20 seconds away (Achor’s example)

Willpower isn’t always so helpful

Willpower fluctuates, and sometimes we just don’t feel like doing the things we said we wanted to do. You cannot rely solely on willpower or some of those tougher, more stressful days will get you – I promise. Set yourself up for successful, new habits with the 20-second rule.



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