Streaks Are Powerful. Here’s How To Start One.


Jerry Seinfeld came up with a technique to form a habit of writing one joke per day.

Very simply, you get a big wall calendar and put it where everyone can see it. Then each day, when you achieve your goal, you put a great big X with a
big red marker.

Over a relatively short time you get on a roll, and that series of Xs becomes a powerful thing. You don’t want to break the chain. But why?

What makes you cross?

Firstly, we get dopamine for completing the daily task. A nice little reward. Secondly, because it’s visible, it makes it much harder to say “I won’t meditate tonight, just this once.” Just this once never stays at just this once. Just this once ruins the streak. And it is going to be very visible. Streaks are very powerful. Ask Snapchat.

Thirdly, is a thing called ‘loss aversion’. Research has shown losing £50 is a more powerful motivator than gaining £50. For me, the thought of losing a 39-day no-drinking streak is more powerful a thought than having a glass of wine.

In other words, I haven’t come this far to only come this far.

The interesting thing here is this. I am not relying on willpower to break habits. And there is good reason for that. Come the first week of February, around 80% of New Year’s resolutions will have been broken. The gyms will become empty again. Chocolate makers will sell their fine wares again. And wine sellers will hear corks pop again.

The intention with these New Year’s resolutions was good. But the strategy was not. Mostly, they will have used sheer willpower to change a habit. Willpower for some works. But clearly for 80% it doesn’t. There are many reasons for this.

The main one is most of our habits are just automatic. Some psychologists estimate that 95% of our behaviours are done without conscious thought.
We are on auto-pilot. It explains why we can drive somewhere, and then wonder how the hell we got there. And if then 95% of habits are subconsciously controlled, which is right brain. And we are using willpower which is left brain to change them.

It is no wonder we fail as the odds are against us. In gambling, the house wins because the odds are loaded in its favour. In changing habits, the subconscious wins for the same reason.

So, if you want to break a habit, don’t rely on willpower. You have to hack your brain. You have to understand what makes you tick as a human. And, what makes you cross, too.

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Tony BroadbentBusiness

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