Getting Past Procrastination Using the Two Minute Rule

Early morning trail run in San Luis Obispo, CA

I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. The book explains the remarkable effects of even the smallest habits; as they compound over time, affecting our lives in major ways. In light of this revelation, I’ve tried to continually consume content that keeps this principle top of mind, and manage my own habits better. Few books do this better than Atomic Habits, which is why I’m calling Atomic Habits the most informative yet actionable book ever written on habits. There are many tools and tactics on habit building given in the book, one of which is called “The Two Minute Rule.” It’s a remarkable way to remove the barrier of procrastination from adding a new constructive new habit to your routine.

Although “The Two Minute Rule” seemed like new information at the time, I realized I had already seen this concept at work in my life before.

I was introduced to trail running by an elderly dentist I met in Colorado Springs, CO. He had run the Pikes Peak Ascent trail running race multiple times, even into his 60s and while working full time. The Pike’s Peak Ascent is a grueling race where contestants run to the top of a 14,000 ft. Peak, going far above treeline and traversing steep cliffs and shifting rocks. I saw a large photograph of the man running the race, and the portrait seemed to be some kind of a victorious decree against old age and mortality. After asking a few questions about the race, and his training protocol I him, “I would like to get into trail running, how would you recommend that I begin?”His response was unexpected, and his advice sounded counterintuitive to me at the time. The man suggested I start running a slow 1/2 of a mile for the first few months. I thought that this was  possibly to prevent injury, but his instructions were actually designed with something completely different in mind. 

Doubts aside, I began my new “get into trail running protocol,” and noticed that by limiting my runs to such a short distance I was leaving the trail wanting more. My runs lacked in some ways the satisfaction of exhaustion, but they also lacked any sort of dread that would hinder me from getting started. That 6 or 7 minutes, twice a week was all I got, and I was placed in the perpetual mindset of constantly wanting more. More speed, more distance, and more often; but I held my self back earnestly following my teacher’s instruction. My overall sentiment toward running was completely different from most new runners, having to motivate themselves to get started and then running to exhaustion. I needed no motivation whatsoever, I came pre-motivated and actually had to restrain my desire to run farther. This allowed me to create a regular habit of running very easily, it required almost no will power to get started. Once the ritual of going running was created, getting started became almost automatic. At this point, it was very easy to add distance and speed, as getting started truly is the hardest part.

Three years later, I’ve held on to the habit of running regularly. It’s served me well as a form of exercise and entertainment (yes, entertainment). I still associate running with my early feelings of “wanting more,” even after finishing a long, physically challenging run. Since then, the milage has changed, but the habit still remains. I still feel as though I have to ration my running, even though I now have no limit to how long or how often I get to go running.

This concept is explained in Atomic Habits as the “two-minute rule,” by limiting a new activity to only two minutes, you remove the resistance to getting started; thus, allowing yourself to build the consistency needed to create a habit. Here are a few examples given: if you wish to make a habit of reading every night, initially limit yourself to only reading one page per evening. If you wish to create a  daily fitness routine, limit your workouts to only two minutes. The two minute rule keeps us from getting carried away by the excitement of a new activity, allowing us to create a habit and reaping the benefits in the long term. 

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” James Clear.