How the 20-Second Rule Can Help You Find Time for Fitness

Catherine Turley
Thrive Global
Published in
4 min readAug 23, 2017


Photo by Veri Ivanova on Unsplash

How do you find the time to fit in fitness? This is one of the most common questions I’m asked as a personal trainer and the owner of a fitness company. It makes sense. After all, a lack of time is one of the top two reasons Americans give for not being consistent with their fitness routines. Working in the fitness industry for over a decade, I’ve learned several tips to help busy people find the time to move more. My recently published book (an excerpt of which you can find HERE), features the stories of several high-powered women who shared how and why they find the time to fit in fitness. I summarized several of my favorite tips from our combined experiences in THIS article for Thrive Global. However, there’s another hack to help you fit in fitness that I really love, but didn’t mention there. This trick is the 20-second rule and I’m excited to share it with you today.

About the 20-Second Rule

The 20-Second Rule comes from New York Times Best-Selling author Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage. This tip is one of seven principals Shawn identified that can help people become happier and more successful. To implement it in your life to help you fit in fitness, you’ll need to identify bad habits that you can make 20-seconds more difficult to engage in and good habits that you can make 20-seconds easier to embrace.

Find yourself coming home from work and opting to Netflix and chill vs. work out night after night? Do what Shawn did to break his tv-watching habit — move your TV remote batteries twenty seconds away from your living room.

“By adding 20 seconds to my day, I gained back three hours.” ~Shawn Achor, Author of The Happiness Advantage

If you’re anything like the average American, who watches 5–7 hours of TV a day, you can find your gym time and then some by implementing this tip! As Shawn summarized in his book, “our best weapon in the battle against bad habits -be they Slurpees, Seinfeld reruns, or distractions at work — is simply to make it harder for ourselves to succumb to them.”

Following the 20-second rule will help you turn bad habits into good ones by minimizing barriers to change.

To get the most time with the 20-second rule, you can also use it to make it 20 seconds easier to engage in positive habits. One idea to try is something that Shawn, many of my own clients, and I often do — sleep in your workout clothes.

This tip works for two reasons. First, picking out clothes in the morning requires extra time. Second, this process of deciding what to wear also takes up some of your willpower. Anytime you are faced with making a decision, you reduce your self-control. If you can avoid presenting yourself with too many options for this task at the beginning of your day, you’ll have more willpower to go around when it comes to making other decisions. Perhaps, whether or not to eat a salad or fried chicken, when you’re heading to lunch. Live in a colder climate or just don’t like sleeping in your fitness apparel? Try what superwoman Nancy Staib recommended when I interviewed the Connecticut native earlier this year — stash your AM workout gear under your sheets.

Go beyond sleeping in your workout clothes to plan out the specific workout you’ll complete and any other details the night before to avoid using and losing any willpower on this task. For example, if you’re not working out at Fit Armadillo, you might decide which gym you’ll go to the night before instead of as you head to your car.

The 20-Second Rule is better than willpower

Many of my new clients lament that they haven’t been successful with their fitness routines because of a lack of willpower. If you’ve ever said something similar, you need to start using the 20-Second Rule to set yourself in the right direction.

The 20-Second Rule works because it helps you eliminate the activation energy it takes to complete a healthy habit, like exercising, in spite of your busy schedule. It works better than relying on your willpower, because willpower diminishes over time. As Shawn shared, “the reason willpower is so ineffective at sustaining change is that the more we use it, the more worn-out it gets.” Unlike willpower, the power of the 20-second rule to disrupt bad habits and almost magically help new ones take over doesn’t wear out.

Now that you know about the 20-second rule, I’d love to hear how you’ll use it to start positive habits and eliminate any that aren’t benefiting you. Share your plan to use it in the comments:

Catherine Basu, MEd is an ACE-Certified personal trainer, the owner of Fit Armadillo®, and author of Superwomen Secrets Revealed: Successful Women Talk About Fitting in Fitness and Dare You to Join Them. She has zero tolerance for diets, supplements, and detoxes and not just because she’s a huge fan of gluten-FULL bread, but lots of love for those new to fitness. An avid runner, she has competed in races from the 1500m to the full marathon, and loves helping others start a running routine.



Catherine Turley
Thrive Global

CEO of Fit Armadillo, Bestselling Author of Superwomen Secrets Revealed, Host of The Fit Fifteen Podcast | Loves running, the beach, & aunt life.