Don’t break the chain

Back on the topic of productivity tools, I’d like to talk about one simple technique that can help you build and maintain healthy habits. It comes from some advice given by Jerry Seinfeld, a comedian, to a novice writer.

To become a writer, you should write every day. Print out a calendar (monthly or yearly). Every day you write, you put a big red cross on that day. Several crossed in a row form a chain. Your objective then is to not break the chain. This can spur you on to write every day just to keep that chain together, all the while building up that writing habit. If you’ve missed a day, you’ll have to start a new chain.

This method can be used for any daily habit – exercise, learning a language, watering plants, going to bed at a certain time – anything you want to do daily. Once your chain begins to grow, you’ll feel motivated to continue, so watch the chain grow longer.

A word of warning, however: if you have a tendency towards all-or-nothing thinking, you may find this method unhelpful. For example, if eating a single cookie when you’re on a diet makes you throw in the towel, breaking the chain once might be too disheartening for you. You do need to be able to start again and work harder on the new chain instead of giving up completely.

A few more things to plan before you start:

  • What will be your daily minimum for the task? How much do you need to accomplish each day before you’re allowed to cross it off?
  • Planned breaks – what happens to your chain if go on holiday?
  • Force majeure – what if you get sick or if your house burns down?

Finally, I’d like to point out that there’s something immensely satisfying about putting a big red cross on a real-world paper calendar. But if that’s not your thing, do not despair: there are many apps dedicated to this method! Just have a search in your favourite app store.

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