I love tracking. Ever since I was a child I’ve counted and logged a whole bunch of activities. I’m fascinated at how things change over time and like figuring what it means so I can optimise and improve what I do. That’s why I’m now an avid streaker.
Technology has democratised tracking. Barely a decade ago life logging was a marginal activity for geeks. Nowadays your friends, neighbors, children and grandparents might track some aspect of their life by using a FitBit for sleep or steps, counting calories on MyFitnessPal, or measuring their health on a specialist app.
Hell, even dogs have exercise monitors now.
Making a commitment to streak
Logging activities taps into a desire to learn and grow, a belief that what gets measured gets improved. At its most basic, tracking the frequency you do something allows you to see patterns.
The idea of streaking takes tracking up a notch, as it’s a commitment to do an activity every single day for a period of time. This daily commitment can be really helpful if you are trying to build a habit.
Psychologist Amy Bucher wrote about the benefits of streaking, saying: “Not only does streaking teach you how to fit a behaviour into your schedule and lifestyle, but the more you do something, the more natural it feels.”
When you commit to building a streak it becomes part of your life and who you are as a person. If you take a day off it feels weird and unnatural which encourages you to pick up the streak the next day.
Build and admire a streak
Writer Jerry Seinfeld famously marked a calendar with a cross for every day that he wrote, he said: “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”
He’s right about liking the chain. There’s psychological pleasure to be had from seeing progress, a hit of dopamine that rewards a streak. Eventually the chain becomes a reward in itself.
The downsides of streaking
But it’s not all smug self-congratulation, rewards, badges and happy days – there are downsides to streaking.
People who exercise every day can get injuries and burn out from not having enough recovery time. This can be the same with writing and I’m not just talking about problems with RSI and backache from sitting too long – I burned out from doing NaNoWriMo.
I loved the idea of the November novel writing challenge: I had an idea for a story, a cracking character and plot which would be perfectly suited to the fast-paced daily challenge. I made time to hit that punishing word count every single day, but by the end of the month I hated everything about the novel. I’ve not touched it since.
Streaking that intensely killed the idea. I should have taken it slowly, enjoyed the process of writing, and tried to stay in love with what I was creating.
When you make a commitment to streak your focus is on building a regular practice not about the quality of the work or the final output.
If you turn up each day and write to just meet your target, then there’s a chance you might be writing complete rubbish. Especially, if you don’t get feedback or spend time editing and rewriting. So, try to write deliberately, use the streak to first build a regular habit, then focus on using the time well to improve what you write.
You might find that streaking is perfect for throwing down a first draft, but when you get to editing, this might be better done in less frequent but longer chunks of time when you are able to concentrate.
Don’t break the chain
For the last two and a half years I’ve used an app called Headspace for meditation. It logs how many sessions I’ve done and rewards me for streaks.
I’m less than a month away from achieving a year-long streak. That means that for the last 339 days I have meditated every single day, without fail. I am determined (in a relaxed, chilled out way) to hit my goal and get my 365-day streak badge. I won’t break this chain.
I’ve learned a huge amount from trying to build, and maintain, streaks across a variety of activities including writing, exercising, diet and mindfulness. If we take my progress on Headspace it took me well over a year of practise to get anywhere near a daily habit.
- Consistency – the most important factor I found in getting a streak going was finding a consistent time of day to mediate. I now schedule my practise for first thing in the morning before I get distracted by the day’s demands.
- Adapt to change – life doesn’t run to schedule so I need to build in a bit of flex. My daily routine is different at weekends, when I’m travelling, or on holiday. So I recommend you have back up plans for when and where you’ll write.
- Don’t be perfectionist – done is better than perfect. You might want to write for an hour each day, but if you’ve only got 15 minutes, use that time, even if it’s sitting on a crowded commuter train or during your lunchbreak.
- Don’t judge – streaking is about building a consistent practise, so don’t judge yourself if a day doesn’t go well, or you miss a day. Focus on the practise, not the output, and if you miss a day, get straight back to it.
- Rise to the challenge – making a commitment to streak is a challenge, so have some fun with it. You’re setting yourself a stretch goal so it’s not going to be easy.
- Reap the reward – doing something I love every single day is a reward in itself. And seeing progress is an even better reward, so enjoy it and take pleasure from building a streak. I’m guilty of bragging on social media about my streaks but I feel super proud of what I’ve achieved.