Activation Energy and Habits

habit habits Dec 07, 2021
Braco Pobric Life Success Academy Habits and Happiness


  • A new routine will require an initial "spark" 
  • The 20-second Rule is a great way to introduce a new habit or replace the existing routine. 
  • Creating a new habit takes 20 - 30 days. 


To start any new habit, you will need what late psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the "activation energy"—the initial energy required to get you started. Nothing happens without the initial spark.

But how long does it take to create that initial spark? Days? Hours? Minutes? It certainly depends on what you are trying to accomplish and your personality. Some of us will keep pushing until we get what we want, while others take their time.

One Rule, the "20-Second Rule," is a positive psychology principle introduced by Shawn Achor. Achor wanted to begin playing guitar, but three weeks after committing to his habit, he realized he had only played four times.

Realizing something was amiss, Shawn took his guitar from the closet and placed it in the middle of his room. Three weeks later, he noticed he hadn't missed a single day of playing. By conveniently putting his guitar in plain sight, he decreased the "activation energy" required to start his new habit.

What was different? The guitar was right in front of him, and not tucked inside his closet, 20 seconds away. Now that he learned how his brain worked, Shawn knew he could trick his brain the same way his brain had tricked him.

He applied the same idea when he decided to cut down on the time he spent watching TV. In order for this new habit to be implemented, he removed the batteries from his remote control and placed them 20 seconds away in a drawer in his bedroom. He now had to increase the activation energy that would take him to go to his bedroom and pick up the batteries.

To introduce a new habit, we need to decrease the activation energy for 20 seconds (make it as convenient as possible to start a new habit), and to avoid an existing habit, we need to increase the activation energy for 20 seconds (make it inconvenient to continue the existing habit).


Where can you apply the 20-Second Rule?

Think of a habit you want to implement. What do you need to do to decrease the activation energy?

Now think of a habit you have but want to stop. What can you do to increase the activation energy?

Braco Pobric is an Internationally Recognized Positive Psychology Expert and Corporate Trainer. He is the bestselling author of Habits and Happiness: How to Become Happier and Improve Your Wellbeing by Changing Your Habits. Braco is a founding member and Chief Happiness Officer of the Life Success Academy Certified Positive Psychology Master Trainer and former globally Certified Trainer and Business Coach for Dale Carnegie Training. He trained over 60,000 Students in 172 countries. 

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