Photo by Yaoqi LAI

A Crucial Mental Model for Understanding Why Taking the First Step Can Be the Toughest 💥

It’s called activation energy, learn it now in two minutes

Julia Clavien
Nov 12, 2019 · 2 min read

This mental model — activation energy — is a useful concept we can borrow from both chemistry and physics. It’s got some great broader applications related to why getting started can often be so tough.

Let’s add it to your mental model arsenal! 🧠

What is activation energy?

Svante August Arrhenius was a chemist who worked out that reactions needed energy to occur. He created a formula for the concept and coined the term ‘activation energy’ in 1889. It’s defined like this:

Activation energy is the energy which must be available to a chemical system with potential reactants to result in a chemical reaction.

A great simple example is that of lighting a match. A match touching the box doesn’t result in spontaneous combustion. You create the activation energy (heat and friction) required for the combustion when you strike the match against the box with enough force.

Activation energy is really interesting when applied metaphorically to other parts of day to day life. One example is looking for ways to reduce the activation energy for anything that you want to do more of, or increase the activation energy for things you want to do less of. This is why I now put my exercise gear at the front of my cupboard, and the chocolates in the difficult-to-reach top cupboard! 🍫


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Julia Clavien

Written by

Curious to a fault. Technology | Psychology | Philosophy. All opinion subject to change. ☺ linktr.ee/juliaclavien

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