How to Start a New Healthy Habit in Just 20 Seconds
The 20-Second Rule isn't just about altering the time it takes to do things. Limiting the choices we have to make can also help lower the barrier to positive change. You may recall how Roy Baumeister's willpower studies showed that self-control is a limited resource that gets weakened with overuse. Well, these same researchers have discovered that too much choice similarly saps our reserves.
Their studies showed that with every additional choice people are asked to make, their physical stamina, ability to perform numerical calculations, persistence in the face of failure, and overall focus drop dramatically. And these don't have to be difficult decisions either—the questions are more "chocolate or vanilla?" than they are Sophie's Choice. Yet every one of these innocuous choices depletes our energy a little further, until we just don't have enough to continue with the positive habit we're trying to adopt.
One of the life habits I wanted to create was exercising in the morning. I knew from numerous research studies that exercise in the morning raises your performance on cognitive tasks and gives your brain a "win" to start a cascade effect of positive emotions. But information is not transformation, because every morning I would wake and ask myself, Do I want to exercise? And my brain would reply, No I do not.
If you've ever tried to start up the habit of early-morning exercise, you have probably encountered how easy it is to get derailed by too much choice. Each morning after the alarm clock sounds, the inner monologue goes something like this: Should I hit the snooze button or get up immediately? What should I wear to work out thismorning? Should I go for a run or go to the gym? Should I go to the nearby gym that's more crowded or the quieter gym that's slightly farther away? What kind of cardio should I do when I get there? Should I lift weights? Should I go to kickboxing class or maybe yoga? And by that point you're so exhausted by all the options, you've fallen back asleep. At least that's what would happen to me. So I decided to decrease the number of choices I would have to make in order to get myself to the gym.