How to achieve even difficult habit changes

This week I watched a video by Shawn Achor about The Happiness Advantage. Really great information and a significant shift in perspective about the standard success formula of "Work, be successful, and then you'll be happy." Hint: brain research shows it works the other way around. Here's a great TED talk by him on his life's work:

What Shawn doesn't cover in the TED talk is his concept of Activation Energy. In 2008 I wrote an article on how to reduce the effort in starting something to the smallest possible thing you can do successfully.

Great minds think alike, eh?

Shawn shared a personal story to illustrate how Activation Energy is the barrier between inactivity and getting started - usually the hardest part of any endeavor.

He wanted to start a new habit of exercising in the morning. Unfortunately, his brain perceived the 20 seconds to get his shoes and clothes on as a huge barrier to getting started. So he decided to reduce that to almost nothing by putting his shoes beside his bed and sleeping in his (clean!) workout clothes - just for 21 days.  After the 3 weeks, his brain perceived getting started working out as easy.  Now Shawn can get up, get dressed, and go work out without argument from his brain.

So how does this apply to us as business leaders? Simply put:

Whenever you decide you need to make a change in your behavior, the most important factor is how you can make the initial energy required to get going as easy as possible.

Once you cross that barrier, you will have energy and momentum from the success that you can use to choose the next hurdle, and the next, and so on.

Chris Hutchinson, CEO

Chris Hutchinson, CEO

You may have heard the saying "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." If you apply the principle of Activation Energy, simply pick the simplest and easiest step possible to give yourself a win and increase the chance of a follow-on step. If you do, you'll be at your destination before you know it.


Chris Hutchinson

As CEO of Trebuchet Group, Chris Hutchinson thrives working with clients and his team to improve organizational clarity, teamwork, and leadership impact.

After years of building Legos® and tree houses around the world, Chris earned his Mechanical Engineering degree and followed that with an MBA. His experiences in the military and the business world taught him great leadership can be learned, and everyone is in some way a leader.

Clients and peers describe him as an inspirational catalyst for positive change. He is the author of Ripple - A Field Manual for Leadership That Works.

Chris and his wife live, garden, and bike in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have four children. He has an unrequited love affair with brownies.