20 second rule-how to change bad ha bits into good ones

Principle 6 – The 20-Second Rule or How to Turn Bad Habits Into Good Ones

We are on Principle 6 in our Happiness Advantage journey. Mastery or even improvement in this area will likely lead to a jump in our productivity (and happiness), because we will be turning bad habits intosetting good habits, writing things down good ones.

Achor, the author, has titled this principle cryptically – you won’t know what he means by the 20-second rule until the middle of the chapter. I won’t make you wait that long. He’s relating this principle to a discovery he made about himself. He decided to spend 21 days practicing his guitar every day. He made a chart, put it on the wall and was expecting to achieve that goal. After 21 days, he only had 4 checkmarks and was angry and embarrassed at himself for failing. He discovered that when he moved his guitar from the closet onto a stand in his living room (20 seconds closer), he achieved his goal of 21 consecutive days of practicing.

It’s human to take the path of least resistance – to keep doing things the same way, even though we know it doesn’t work and we are frustrated with ourselves. A truth Achor discovered was,

“Common Sense is Not Common Action”

In other words, we know what we need to do or not do. Some of us have a goal of exercising first thing in the morning, but when we wake up and ask ourselves if we want to get out for a walk that day or hit the gym, we say ‘no’, and go back to sleep or do something else.

Just like we know eating sugary foods, smoking cigarettes and not exercising is bad for us, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll do the ‘common sense thing’ about them.

Every morning when I get to my office, I know the important things that need to be done that day. I’ve either written it down the day before or had gone through tasks in my mind while getting ready. I also know that getting these things checked off my list before noon (or even before 10:30), gives me a big boost and makes me feel productive. Then why do I get derailed some days? I’ll decide to check my Twitter stream, LinkedIn, Google+ and yes, even Facebook.  Many of my daily tasks revolve around social media tasks for clients, so I have to be there daily and keep them open. Since I’ve been doing it for several years, I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but some days I don’t get my tasks finished until mid afternoon.

Action is What We Need

Aristotle said, “To be excellent, we cannot simply think or feel excellent, we must act excellently”. Action is required to be excellent– to exercise first thing in the morning, to get our important tasks completed first at work, but why doesn’t that happen?

Inactivity is the Easiest Option

Doing nothing or going down the path of least resistance is what we do. Instead of getting up to walk, we hit snooze and sleep in. Instead of setting aside distractions and getting client work done first, I let headlines divert my attention.

Achor says that we make a habit of the things we want to do and that willpower alone will not change us. He believes willpower wears out over time. I’m inclined to go along with him there. How many people do you know tennis shoes, going to gymwho stick to a diet for a long period of time and maintain their after-diet weight? How well do you stick to a self-imposed budget? Then there are those New Year’s Resolutions. Studies show that 80% of people have dropped their New Year’s Resolutions after 3 weeks in January.

How To Take Action

The key is to make the things we want to do easier to do.  We want to remove the barrier to making positive changes. Let’s go back to our walking early in the morning example. Get items ready for your walk the night before, putting your clothes right by the bed and your shoes on the floor. If you go to the gym, get your bag out, or even put it in the car. Some even sleep in their gym clothes so there’s no thought or decision to make.

If you work in an office, there are so many more distractions now than before because of the internet. If your company doesn’t block the internet or certain sites, how do you keep focused? There are so many things you could do. Here are a few from this book and some from Stever Robbins’ book, 9 Steps To Work Less and Do More, that I really like:

  • turn off email notifications – you can turn off the mail arrival sound and the brief view of the message (I’ve done this one!) Then check your email at certain times of the day. How many true email emergencies do you get?
  • if you use the internet to accomplish your work, focus on the research or information you’re retrieving. If you see something interesting, write it down, don’t go visit the site. You’ll be surprised at how many sites you don’t feel the need to go back to
  • for work you have to do that doesn’t require internet, shut your browser down to focus. If you have non-computer work to do, can you physically move away from your computer monitor to do it? You could turn your monitors off so you don’t see the screen.
  • make it easier to eat healthy foods – have them close at hand, but store your treats in the garage or a closet
  • watch too much TV? The author took out the remote batteries and put them in a drawer in his bedroom. Then he had books and hobbies at hand (path to least resistance),  and found he’d gained back hours each evening.

I’ve always had a hard time finding the time to write my weekly blog post, although I’ve done it for 7 or 8 years now. It’s worked out for me to write on my laptop computer away from my desk and office where so many things easily distract me.

I’ve discovered that working on my laptop with only my writing software (Windows Live Writer), and a browser or notes for my article by me work best. I can usually focus the hour or so it takes to get it written.

Think about the things in your life you want to change and use the 20-second rule to make small changes and get big results. Share your story in the comments.

Scroll to Top