Many of you resolutely decided to change something when 2015 started. “I will lose these 5 pounds,” “I will run 3 miles everyday,” “I will learn a new language this year”…but as we start the second month of the year, that sense of hope and optimism is slowly starting to dissolve like a distant memory. Invariably, we’ll find ourselves a few months down the line still at the starting gate, without a single wheel in motion. Then we play the depressing game: “If only I had started 3 months ago… I would be able to speak basic Spanish” or ” if I had just emailed one new person a week I would have 12 new contacts instead of zero”. That dose of rude reality often triggers a spiral of self-loathing and the pain either gets our butt moving to play catch-up or you fall off the bandwagon completely and lose all hope (usually the latter).
Small steps lead to big things.
In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor talks about the path of least resistance and how we can get going and keep going with the intentions we set ourselves. He explains that we often spend our time doing the things that take the least effort (“passive leisure” activities like the Internet or TV) rather than engaging in activities that we know we’ll love, but that take effort (“active leisure” activities like painting, bike riding, cooking). Active leisure takes more activation energy to get started.
Studies have shown that if we make it easy to begin “active leisure” activities in under 20 seconds, we lower the barrier to starting and give our limited reserve of willpower a helping hand. Often, it is the simple act of starting the activity that is the trickiest hurdle to overcome. Think about when your alarm goes off at 7am and you will yourself to get up and go to the gym. The thought of going seems unbearable, but once you’re up, dressed and there, doing the workout doesn’t seem as difficult.
On the flip-side, if you’re trying to get rid of an addictive behavior – say checking your Instagram for the 15th time in a day, you may want to try boosting the activation energy required by making it a harder activity to begin. I tried this little experiment by burying Instagram inside multiple folders and then placed it on the back menu page of my iPhone. I found that it took more effort (activation energy) to open it than when it’s staring you in the face every time you turn your phone on. After a few days, I had forgotten it was there and found myself filling in the time with more productive things.
So when it comes to those positive habits you resolved to form at the new year, set your intentions and more importantly set yourself up to succeed. Still trying to lose the extra Christmas pounds? Sign-up for your spin class the night before so that backing out last minute means cash down the drain. Want to get serious about learning to invest this year? Got a few books to tick off your reading list? Pre-load your iPhone with podcasts or audiobooks before your morning commute. The more you can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for your desired actions, the more you enhance your ability to jump-start positive change.
Feeling inspired to kickstart a new habit? – quick, harness that energy. You’ve got 20 seconds, go!