20 second rule
Change bad habits with the 20-second rule

When it takes more than 20 seconds to start a task, we are more likely to not do it. Our brain is lazy and wants to work on familiar tasks. We can use this as a strength to form new habits.

When it takes more than 20 seconds to start a task, we are more likely to not do it. Our brain is lazy and wants to work on familiar tasks. We can use this as a strength to form new habits.

Paritosh Pundir


Founder of DoRemember... 🚀 Helping people solve problems through 👨🏻‍💻 CODE, 🎨 DESIGN & 🖋 WORDS


Actions to take

  • Complicate simple things that you want to avoid
  • Have a replacement habit


Expanded perspective

Breaking or creating habits can be more fun if you don’t focus on the change. If you think of it as playing games with yourself, you will enjoy breaking bad habits and replacing them with good ones. It is all about the start and you can make this transition to new habits more effectively with the 20-second rule.

What is 20-second rule?

The initiation of any task is the most decisive part of it, where you take the decision to do it or not. If you make this process longer than 20 seconds you are more likely to not do it.

For eg. you have a habit of watching TV after dinner and you want to replace it with reading a book.

Let’s visualize this scenario in detail.

After dinner, you sit on the couch and the remote is right there on the couch. So you automatically pick the remote and turn on the TV. On the other hand the book you want to read is lying at your desk in the other room. The time required for you to start watching the TV is just a few seconds while time required to start reading the book it more than 20 seconds. To read the book you will have to go into your room, pick up the book, come back to the couch and then only you can start reading.

Replacing habits

To replace the habit of watching TV by reading a book, you will have to flip the time required to get started. Well, it doesn’t sound practical to switch places of the TV and the study table ?, there are small things you can do.

Start with the remote. Put it in the other room every-time you close the TV.

Make it even harder by removing the batteries and putting them inside a drawer with lot of stuff.

Now make the plan full proof. Every time you close the TV, remove its plug from the power source. ?

Finally take the book you are reading and put on the couch. ?

You need to decrease the activation energy you need to do positive habits and increase it to do negative habits.

Laziness of our brains

Our brain prefers to spend as little energy as possible while doing an action. Scientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG) in Switzerland came to this conclusion after studying the neuron activity of people who had the choice of either engaging in physical activity or doing nothing.

This natural laziness can be used as a positive advantage when we are forming new habits or breaking the old ones.

Taking control of the phone

You must have noticed that there are a few apps in your phone which you want to avoid, but end up using very frequently. One of the reasons for this is the habits that you have formed over time. Your brain remembers the automated pattern of opening and using the app. You instinctively know where the app is on your home screen and without giving it much of a thought, you use the app again and again.

You can reduce this automated action by moving the app to a different location in your home screen and move it again when you get familiar with that location. The next time you want to use that app you will have to search it or look at a different location. This will make you more mindful about using the application and you will have more control over its usage.


More than the task, changing habits is more about the process of getting started. Either you want to break a habit or create a new one, 20-second rule is an effective way to not worry about motivation and easily get started with the task.

What is the habit that you want to create or change with 20-second rule?


Leave a Reply