That’s one of the more surprising facts Shawn Achor shares in his terrific book on positive psychology, The Happiness Advantage.

Knowing the right thing and doing the right thing are… two different things.

Aristotle tells us: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

So, how do we create good habits?

One strategy involves what Shawn refers to as “activation energy.”  The key is to lower the amount of energy required for the habits we want to adopt and raise it for the habits we want to avoid.  

Let’s say we want to stop spending so much time sitting on the couch channel surfing.  What if before walking out the door in the morning, we put the remote at the bottom of a box on the top shelf of our closet?  Seriously.  If our goal is to play the guitar more, what if we took the guitar out of its case and put it on the couch?

Voila.  More guitar.  Less TV.

The key is understanding the role of willpower. Turns out we only have so much each day. Our willpower is a finite resource: the more we use it, the less we have. As we go through our day, we encounter a stream of tasks that deplete it: saying no to the ice cream sandwich after lunch, staying focused during a 3-hour presentation, etc.  

To establish new habits, we want to take willpower out of the equation and make the new desired behavior the default option. By sleeping in his workout clothes and putting his running shoes next to his bed, Shawn shares he was able to increase his number of workouts.  Dramatically.

Here’s the kicker: “passive leisure” activities like watching TV and surfing the web are enjoyable and engaging for about 30-minutes, at which point they create what psychologists call “psychic entropy” – that listless feeling we all know so well.  

“Active leisure” activities like hobbies and sports engage our minds and our sense of enjoyment – but require more activation energy to get started.  

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Performance, asks: “Why would someone spend four times more time doing something that has less than half a chance of making us feel good?”


Reflection:  Am I happy with the time I spend doing passive leisure activities vs. active leisure activities? 

Action: Select a goal where I want to make progress.  Take a specific step to “lower the activation energy.”

What did you think of this post?

Write A Comment