the 20 second rule to create positive habits

Since February is rapidly approaching and recently my Pilates instructor referred to February as “the land of broken resolutions,” I thought it timely to talk about:

how to get out of our “default mode” and create some positive habits

First, wrap your brain around this: Studies show Americans find free time more difficult to enjoy than work. That’s crazy, right?

Our jobs engage our minds, offer goals to pursue and give us a chance to use our skills – all things that contribute to happiness. Leisure activities can too, but do you know what gets in the way? We often find it difficult to muster the energy it takes to get started.

There are two types of leisure activities: “Passive leisure” like TV, social media, or games like angry birds or candy crush. These can be enjoyable for the first 30 minutes before they start sapping our energy and creating what psychologists call “psychic entropy” which is a listless and apathetic feeling. Have you ever experienced it?

Yet, we are drawn almost magnetically to those things that are easy, convenient and habitual. NOTE: While not strenuous, reading or playing an instrument is considered active because it engages our brains and helps us make progress toward a goal (to finish the book or improve our musical ability.)

“Active leisure” – doing fun stuff that makes you move – is more enjoyable, but requires more initial effort. Why is that so hard?

Anything that takes more than 20 seconds to complete has the power to get in the way of our positive goals

For example, when we’re tempted by something enticing: Why do publishers send us 5 free magazines? Because they’re going to start charging us with #6. Of course we can cancel our subscription at any time, but that requires finding the invoice, writing “cancel” across it and sending it in – which takes more than 20 seconds – so the gimmick often works.

When we put up with something irritating: a marketing expert who studies the psychology of consumer habits, used MRI technology to analyze people’s brains during exposure to this sound (the original Nokia ring tone) and found a nearly universal negative emotional response. Yet amazingly, 80 million people had it as their ring tone because it was the default option and it takes more than 20 seconds to figure out how to change it.

That’s what I mean by “default mode.” When we let other people or situations make life choices for us and we continue down that path of least resistance. I admit to having that ring tone at one time, did you?

You see the 20-second rule in effect all the time, right?

  • We don’t exercise because it requires changing clothes. Checking Facebook is so much easier.
  • We say we want to eat healthier, but cutting up an apple takes longer than opening a bag of chips.

The key is to figure out how to make it easier to do good and harder to do bad

What I mean by easier to do good is, if you want to exercise in the morning, try sleeping in your workout clothes or keep your athletic shoes by your bed and put them on first thing.

Harder to do bad? Freeze your credit card in a block of ice if you spend too much or take the batteries out of TV remote if you want to do less channel surfing.

This applies more than you might think: When studies showed more people wanted to be organ donors, but didn’t take the time to sign up, Spain created an opt-OUT organ donor program. It doubled the amount of donors.

Where might your “default mode” be getting in the way of your success? Disabling shortcuts to our undesired behavior and enabling them to what’s good for us is as simple as it sounds. All it takes is 20 seconds more or 20 seconds less to make a difference.

If this sounds like the type of conversation you would like to join into, and you live in the greater Portland metropolitan area, come on over to a heartspark Connections. Consider yourself personally invited!