3 Reasons Why the 2 Minute Rule is so Powerful

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear argues that a habit needs to be established before it can be optimised. This means that the first principle to establishing any habit is just consistency.

He argues that to establish any habit, you should minimise the habit down to just 2 minutes.

This may sound counterintuitive. Why would you only want to exercise for only 2 minutes? Write for 2 minutes or read for only 2 minutes?

Shouldn’t the goal to be to read a book a month, exercise 5 times a week or write until you’ve got a manuscript?

That is still the end goal but most of the reason why you don’t have a habit is because you haven’t been able to start.

This article details my own experience and application of the 2 minute rule. At the start of 2020, I set the goal of writing more often and publishing frequently.

Here are the 3 things that I’ve learnt along the way.

We all underestimate progress.

To quote management guru Peter Drucker, “people often overestimate what they can achieve in a day but greatly underestimate what they can do in a year.”

When it comes to habits you want to think big, start small and scale fast.

Recent research has demonstrated the power of steady progress.

For instance, Professor Bob Boice at the State University of New York looked into the habit of writing for young professors starting out and tracked them to see how they fared.

Since this particular job doesn’t really have a boss and no one sets your schedule, the young professors took a variety of approaches. Some were ‘binge writers’ — writing for long periods that include all nighters where others took a slower but consistent approach by aiming to write a ‘page-a-day’.

Years later, Boice found that the page-a-day professors had done well and generally gotten tenure at their respective universities. The binge-writers fared far less well, and many had had their careers cut short.

Boice’s advice for young aspiring professors was to: ‘write everyday. Use your self-control to form daily habits, you will’ll produce more with less effort in the long term.’

You want progress over perfection and consistency over intensity.

Every time I write for 2 minutes, I only aim to make progress on my articles.

This might mean fixing a clunky sentence, restructuring parts of the article or introducing an idea through a story for only 2 minutes.

I don’t strive for standards of perfection or even good. I want consistent development and redevelopment.

Over a long enough time period, progress compounds.

Even 1% of progress everyday has the potential to radically change your life over the course of a year.

Newton’s first law of motion states that “a mass at rest tends to remain at rest; a mass moving at a constant velocity tends to keep moving at that velocity, unless acted upon by an outside force.”

Put simply, once something starts moving it is easier to keep it moving than it is to stop it.

Habits tend to work the same way.

Popular science says that it takes 22 days to form a habit or one study says an average of 66 days.

The tacit question being asked is: how long do I have to work for?

The real answer is: forever.

Otherwise a habit will cease to be habit if you stop doing it.

James Clear describes a habit as a lifestyle to be lived rather than a finish line to be crossed.

This mean you should aim to do the absolute minimum in order to keep growing over a long period of time than do something intensely for a shorter period of time but quit after a couple of months.

You are allowed to walk slowly, just don’t walk backwards.

As you would have learnt as a kid, it is easier to keep the flywheel spinning than constantly stopping and trying to start it again.

The power of the 2 minute rule is to master the ability to maintain the momentum day in, day out. Week by week. Year by year.

For me, writing does not come easy. It makes me feel insecure, self-conscious and vulnerable. Nothing else I do makes me feel so exposed or uncomfortable, which tells me I am on the right track.

I am sure there are many habits you’re trying to establish that makes you feel the same way. They are hard because we are not only trying to change our habits we are trying to change our identity too.

We don’t just want to write, we want to be a writer. We don’t just want to quit smoking, we want to be someone who doesn’t smoke.

Changing dispositions of character is harder to accept than changes of context.

Inertia can work both ways. And sometimes the familiarity of staying the same can be too comfortable to overcome.

Almost every successful person you know didn’t get to where they are today by one giant move. Often it is the accumulation of many small moves, actions and habits over a long period of time.

“Success is more about endurance and sustainability. Success is not so much about the final performance, it’s about the continual practice” says Thomas Oppong.

So instead of trying to force myself to sit down and write an entire article with perfect prose, I’ll set myself the goal of writing 4–5 times a week for a minimum of 2 minutes.

No expectation of more, no expectation of less.

This takes all the pressure off me by making my long-term goals infinitely more accessible. It also deactivates my auto-immune response to the thought of having to experience jarring change.

On days where I don’t really feel like writing, I’ll only write for 2 minutes. On days where I can feel the creative juices flowing, I’ll write for longer.

I don’t judge the quality or quantity of work. I just sit-down and aim to write for 2 minutes.

This cognitive strategy is a forcing function. It helps me to create bounded structure around my nascent writing habit and overcome what Steven Pressfield labels the ‘resistance’ to doing the creative work necessary for that day.

I’ve always thought that creativity was something that you’re either born with or not. But it is actually a really disciplined endeavour.

You want to implement gradual, marginal and seemingly inconsequential actions that pushes you towards your desired goals and habits.

I don’t expect to see change over one day, one week or even one month.

But every time I show-up to write for 2 minutes instead of watching Netflix, I am casting another vote for the writer I want to become.

Over a long enough time period, I’ll cast enough votes to be that writer.

  1. Minimize any habit down to 2 minutes.
  2. Ensure you make progress every time you do that habit for 2 minutes.
  3. Consistency creates momentum to keep driving you forward.
  4. Slow, steady and relentless wins the race.

Do all this and you can achieve even your most ambitious habits.

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Michael Lim

I write about personal development, finance and productivity. Connect with me at michaellim.co