Why You Should Break the Chain

I feel like I have to preface this.

Before we get too far, it’s important you understand that I believe in the power of consistency.

Incremental progress over a long time nets results. It’s a valuable skill, learning how to stay with something. Learning how to treat a hobby almost like a job.

It’s that incremental progress and consistent effort that nets you that final thing you can be proud of down the road. It’s also the thing that most people lack and subsequently leads them to feelings of disappointment and dissolution.

But still, fuck streaks.

There’s this old story about someone asking Jerry Seinfeld about how to become a great comic. He advises them to buy a big, yearly calendar. Hang it on the wall. Every day they write jokes, they put a big red X on the day. Each day they write, each day they X. Eventually they have a big chain of Xs. Ultimately, the desire to not break the chain of Xs is so great that they have to keep going.

Seems reasonable, right? Seems like good advice. And for some, sure, it might be. If you’re monomaniacal about a single goal, maybe go for it. Make your chain.

Me, I’m not having it.

I’ve chained many times. I had a 6-month running streak. I had a year-long language streak. Just last month, and the impetus of this post, I had a journaling streak going.

And every time I’ve done it, the second I finally threw in the towel, I was down for the count for months.

With running, I don’t think I put my shoes on for a solid 6 months after I was done. For the language, well it wasn’t that long, but there was a break.

Here’s my problem with the streak, the chain. So much effort and shame and emotions go into the consistency of the streak, that the joy of the process is eventually teased completely out. The streak, not the task, becomes the important part.

In the end, all you’re left with is the pressure. Go on a trip with the family? All you can think about is when can I get my run in. Have a busy day at work and home, you’re cramming to get that writing session in before you go to bed.

For me, every time I go for a streak, it results in the same thing. The burden and the stress of maintaining the streak shades the entire activity.

I, personally, opt for a looser approach now. I think Matt D’Avella’s 2-day rule offers a streak with a bit of flexibility. In it, you can do something every day, but the rule is you can’t miss 2 days in a row. One could even extend it to a week.

These systems are to help you keep going. If it’s causing you burn out so much that you go strong for a month and then take a month off, well, that’s not very productive.

K, that’s it. Best of luck!

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