Sunday, September 22, 2013

The 20 Second Rule

"The less energy it takes to kick-start a positive habit, the more likely that habit will stick."

I just finished reading a chapter in The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Accor that confirms my suspicions and my own at-home experimentation: following the path of least resistance can lead to the greatest success.  As I read his story and experimented with my own, I'm now on a quest to see how I can apply this in the classroom.  I'll keep you posted on that, and I'd love to hear your ideas, too!

In the book, Dr. Accor gives the example of trying to create a new habit of practicing his guitar every evening.  He set up an elaborate record keeping system, kept his guitar in the closet not 20 seconds away from his couch where he usually succumbed to the lure of television, and decided to replace his TV watching habit with his previously joyful habit of playing guitar every day.

Guess what?  It was a rip roaring failure!  He played for four days out of the 21 tick boxes he had set up, and went right back to viewing old episodes of Seinfeld.  Now this is a social scientist who studies successful habits and happiness as his career.  What could have gone wrong?

If you haven't guessed it yet, it was the 20 seconds it took Shawn to go to the closet and retrieve his guitar.  In try number two, Shawn got a music stand and set it up in the middle of his living room with his guitar perched on it.  Success?  You bet!  In his words: "What I had done here, essentially, was put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance, so it actually took less energy and effort to pick up and practice the guitar than to avoid it."

Just to add fuel to the habit fire, he did one more thing: he took the batteries out of his remote control and put them in a drawer very close to the couch where he always watched TV.  The time it took him to put the batteries into the remote control (about 20 seconds), greatly reduced his TV watching habit as well.  He just couldn't be bothered.

 A few weeks ago, I started a habit of my own.  I have an old step box from aerobic videos that I used to indulge in and suffer from.  It's been sitting in our bedroom for years, occasionally used for bouts of exercise or for our daughters to have tea parties on.  I noticed how ugly and unused it was and resolved to throw it out, but then I had a better idea.  I put it on top of my scale (effectively hiding that guilt-inducing machine that I haven't stepped on in more than a year) in my bathroom, right beside the bathroom sink.  Since that step box has been living in our bathroom, I have been using it during all of my morning and evening ablutions:  while brushing my teeth, flossing, moisturizing and the like.  And it adds up!  At least twice a day, I step up and down maybe forty or fifty times, and sometimes longer since I'm now more inclined to polish and floss and exfoliate since I know I'm getting in my exercise at the same time!

I figure this easy, incidental exercise will pay big dividends: bigger than a daily weigh-in on the scale that's for sure.  In fact, I was so affirmed by "The 20-Second Rule" that I've just moved a set of eight pound weights beside the toilet.  This is perhaps an image you don't want to entertain, but you get the picture.  Essentially, the en suite bathroom is becoming my new gym!

So, my personal victory is underway, but next I want to figure out how to translate it into success with my students at school.  I want to make it easier for them to reach their goals, and it seems a few little time-saving tweaks could help them maximise their efficiency and increase their output in so many areas.  Trial some ideas in your own classrooms and let me know how it goes.  Meantime, I'll see what I can come up with and keep you posted!

How about a climbing wall in the bathroom?

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