Imagine you're standing at the foot of a seemingly insurmountable mountain. Its peak pierces the clouds, and the path ahead is winding and steep. Discouragement threatens to overwhelm you. But wait! Before you turn back, consider this: every great journey begins with a single step. That crucial first step, like many things in life, requires overcoming an invisible barrier called activation energy. Just like scaling a mountain, every change, every reaction, every achievement needs a little push to get going. Think of it as the initial spark that ignites a fire, the nudge that sends a ball rolling, or the push that launches a rocket into space.

In chemistry, chemical reactions are the intricate dances of molecules, each step requiring a specific amount of energy to initiate. This critical energy threshold is known as activation energy. In this blog post, we will delve into the significance of activation energy in building better habits.

What is activation energy?

Activation energy is the minimal energy required to kickstart a chemical reaction, marking the threshold for a reacting molecule to transform into a product. The intriguing aspect of activation energy lies in its role as a gatekeeper, determining the pace of chemical transformations.

Activation energy example:

As an illustration, consider a friction lighter. The lighter by itself will not produce fire, but when you put energy into rolling the metal on it, it creates the friction and heat required to start a fire.

The force you added by rolling the metal gear was enough to reach the activation energy threshold and start the reaction. The same goes for when you start a motorcycle with a kick or push the remote to turn on the television.

Okay, so we live in a world where chemical reactions involving activation energy occur all the time. But how can this be applied to our daily lives and the development of healthier habits?

The Activation Energy of Developing Better Habits 

Every habit or behavior can be thought of as having activation energy, just as every chemical reaction does. For example, you wanted to change your habit of eating chips to eating more fruits. The activation energy is that you need to buy more fruits and fewer chips on your grocery list. Also, you can put the fruits in a more accessible area and the chips in a less accessible area. I did this when I had a goal of drinking more water a day. I put a tumbler or water beside my bed and in the living room, where I usually stay.

Bridging the Gap Between Goals and Habits

Encountering a common challenge in the pursuit of establishing new habits is a scenario many of us can relate to. The initial surge of motivation and enthusiasm surrounding an ambitious goal often fuels our lives with a fresh set of habits. Unfortunately, this eagerness can lead to a fixation on envisioning great outcomes rather than focusing on the gradual improvements that shape our daily routines.

The main problem is that important objectives frequently require large activation energies. At first, the thrill could give you the drive to start every day with a purpose, but this drive usually wears off in a matter of weeks. The consequence? A deficit in the energy required to consistently activate the intended habit. This brings us to our first lesson: smaller habits demand smaller activation energies, rendering them more sustainable over the long haul. In contrast, consistency becomes more difficult to maintain as the activation energy is required for a habit. There will undoubtedly be days when starting the habit becomes an impassable obstacle when the energy required for initiation is high.

Catalysts: Bridging the Energy Gap

Catalysts are chemical agents that react with the reactants to form an intermediate complex, subsequently transforming into the desired product. When the activation energy is lowered through catalysis, the reaction rate experiences a surge. This catalyst helps with the process by lowering the activation energy needed to make the change. For example, rubbing one piece of wood on another can make a fire, but it requires a lot of energy. If you use kindling such as twigs, shavings, or paper, it will make it easier to set the wood on fire. Kindling is the catalyst for change.

In the same way, catalysts lower the activation energy that is required to start a new habit. For example, if I want to read more, I would set a catalyst to make my effort less in reading. I could, for instance, add a reading application that pops up every morning. Another example is, if I want to build a habit of exercising, I would subscribe to a gym near my office so it is easier for me to get there. 

Breaking Big Habits into Chunks for Success 

Tackling big habits can be overwhelming, leading to frustration and potential setbacks. A strategic approach involves breaking these significant habits into smaller, more manageable chunks. Breaking big habits into chunks is a strategic and effective approach to habit development. By focusing on manageable tasks, individuals can reduce overwhelm, stay motivated, and build a solid foundation for lasting positive change. Implementing these practical tips can make the journey towards habit transformation more attainable and sustainable.

Benefits of Chunking Big Habits: 

  • Reduced Overwhelm: Breaking down a big habit into smaller tasks makes the overall goal appear less daunting. This reduces the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed, making it easier to initiate and sustain positive change. 
  • Increased Motivation: Achieving small milestones along the way provides a sense of accomplishment, fueling motivation to continue the habit-forming process. This positive reinforcement encourages individuals to stay committed to their goals. 
  • Enhanced Focus: Chunking allows for focused attention on specific aspects of the habit, preventing distraction and improving concentration. This targeted approach helps individuals address the root causes and challenges associated with the habit. 
  • Established Routines: Smaller, more manageable tasks are easier to incorporate into daily routines. By gradually integrating these tasks, individuals can establish a consistent routine that supports the development of the desired habit. 

Practical Tips for Chunking Big Habits: 

  • Define Clear Objectives: Clearly outline the overall habit you want to develop, and then identify specific, achievable objectives within that habit. For example, if the big habit is exercising regularly, start with a specific and achievable workout duration or frequency. 
  • Create a Step-by-Step Plan: Break down the habit-forming process into a series of actionable steps. Outline what needs to be done each day or week, making it easier to track progress and celebrate small victories. 
  • Set Realistic Timeframes: Establish realistic timeframes for achieving each small task. This prevents the pressure of unrealistic expectations and allows for a more gradual and sustainable habit development process. 
  • Build Consistency: Focus on consistently completing the smaller tasks, reinforcing the habit-forming process. Consistency is key in habit development, and by mastering the smaller components, individuals build a strong foundation for the overall habit. 
  • Adjust as Needed: Regularly assess progress and be open to adjusting the plan as needed. This flexibility ensures that the approach remains effective and adaptable to individual circumstances.


In conclusion, understanding the concept of activation energy, as seen in chemical reactions, provides valuable insights into the development and transformation of habits. By recognizing the activation energy required for habit initiation, individuals can bridge the gap between ambitious goals and sustainable habits. Moreover, drawing parallels to catalysts in chemical reactions, incorporating supportive elements or "habit catalysts" can significantly lower the activation energy needed for positive behavior change. Furthermore, breaking big habits into manageable chunks emerges as a practical strategy, allowing for reduced overwhelm, increased motivation, and the establishment of consistent routines. Embracing these principles empowers individuals to navigate the complex terrain of habit formation, fostering lasting positive changes in their lives.

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