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The 20-Second Rule: Build Better Habits

Have you ever noticed how some habits seem effortless to maintain while others feel like an uphill battle? I certainly have, as I struggled to stick with my weekly exercise routine. The idea of hitting the gym after a long day of work felt daunting, and more often than not, I’d find myself making excuses to skip it. It wasn’t until I came across a concept called the 20 Second Rule that everything changed.

This simple rule not only helps me consistently stick to my workouts but has also transformed how I approach building any new habit. So let me share with you what the 20 Second Rule is all about and how it can help you develop positive habits in your life.

Table of Contents

What is the 20 Second Rule?

The rule originates from the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. It suggests that if you can make a habit take less than 20 seconds to start, you’re more likely to do it consistently. On the flip side, if you can increase the effort required by more than 20 seconds, you’re less likely to follow through.

So simply put, the 20 Second Rule is about reducing the friction between you and your desired habits. It’s based on the idea that if you can make good habits easier to start and maintain, you’re more likely to stick with them over the long term. Conversely, you can make bad habits more difficult to start.

stopwatch 20 seconds rule clipart
The 20-second rule

How to Apply the 20 Second Rule

Now you know what this rule entails, let’s explore how you can actually apply it in your life:

1. Identify Your Habits

Start by listing the good habits you want to adopt or strengthen, or the bad habits you want to stop. These could be anything from exercising daily to reading more books.


2. Good Habits: Reduce Friction

Look for ways to make it easier to start these habits. Ask yourself: how can I make it easier for myself to do the desired behavior? Then make adjustments to your environment. For instance:

    • Exercise: Lay out your workout clothes the night before or do a mini warm-up routine.
    • Reading: Keep your book by your bedside or download audiobooks for easy access during commute.


3. Bad Habits: Increase Friction

Conversely, make it harder to engage in negative habits. You can do this by adjusting your environment in ways that prevent you from doing the undesired behavior. This could mean:

    • Reduce Screen Time: Keep your phone in another room during focused work hours.
    • Healthy Eating: Remove unhealthy snacks from easy reach at home.

Examples of the 20 Second Rule in Action

Here are a couple of examples to help you get started:
  • Morning Routine: If you struggle to wake up early and snooze a lot, place your alarm clock far from your bed to force you up.
  • Exercise: If you want to start a workout routine in the morning, put on your exercise gear as soon as you wake up to remove excuses. Also be sure to lay out your equipment the evening before.
  • Eating Healthier: Pre-cut veggies for easy snacking or have healthy meal options ready in your fridge. Conversely, place the cookie tin on the highest shelf, out of arm’s reach.
example of the 20 second rule in action
Use the 20-second rule to improve your habits, like snoozing

Why It Works

The 20 Second Rule capitalizes on human psychology. We tend to gravitate towards actions that are convenient and avoid those that require effort. By making positive behaviors more accessible, you’re more likely to stick with them consistently. And by making negative behaviors less accessible, you’ll be less likely to keep doing them.

Final Thoughts

The key to building better habits lies in simplifying the process of starting them (or making it harder for bad habits). So use the Habits Scorecard to identify which good habits you want to improve or bad habits you want to stop. Then use the 20 Second Rule to your advantage by tweaking your environment and routines. If you want to take it to the next level, also implement the 2-Day Rule. And remember, small changes can lead to big outcomes over time. Start implementing this rule today and watch how it transforms your habits and, ultimately, your life. Good luck!