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Habits, Routines, and Streaks, OH MY!

Leveraging Habits, Routines, and Steaks to Help You Achieve Your Meaningful Goals


We all want to achieve meaningful accomplishments in life. So, we create goals for ourselves. Next, we need to identify what actions and processes we can take to achieve the goal. Let’s talk about habits, routines, and streaks.


HABITS vs. ROUTINES


21 days is the time it takes to create a habit, or so the researchers say. I cannot say in full confidence that I have ever created or broken a habit in 21 days. That just seems outright bonkers. And by habit, I mean, a behavior repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously, without thinking about it.


Other research suggests that the average time to create a new habit is 66 days. But, again, I can’t think of a single thing in which I have created a habit in 66 days.


The fastest time I think I’ve done anything consistently, certainly not subconsciously, is 90 days. And even then, for it to really become sticky and a part of my life, it’s taken a full year of intentional action.


It's easy to feel like a failure or that you are an imposter if you can’t develop a habit in 21 or 66 days. It certainly feels like everyone else in the world is somehow able to do it because it’s mentioned in almost every flippin’ New Year's Resolution or Habit-related literature.


I believe we are all trying to take advice that no longer works.


The world today is noisy, distracting, and fast. The average American is exposed to around 4,000 to 10,000 messages daily, and less than 100 will be remembered. Think commercials on TV, on the radio, on billboards, emails from work, emails for things you signed up for, emails from your kid’s school, spam, more email advertisements, newsletters, social media, pop-up advertisements on social media, text messages, phone calls, app notifications, etc.


Do you know the average human attention span? I hate to break it to you, but a goldfish beats out the human attention span by one second. We lose to a goldfish! Our attention span is eight seconds, while a goldfish is nine seconds. That’s just as bad as losing to Dory in Finding Nemo – “Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…” [While Dory isn’t a goldfish, she does have short-term memory loss in the movie.]


If we look at the foundation underneath what it takes to create habits, there are two things: routines and consistency. THAT is what we should be focused on. Building a consistent routine, that we can stick to, to help us achieve our goals.


Look at your goal. What routine do you need to help you achieve it? Should you block time once a week or twice a week? Is there a better day of the week that works best so that you can consistently take action? What consistent action can you take on those days?


For example, my goal is to read 25 books by the end of the year. Monday and Friday tend to be my slower administrative days. If I think about what consistent action I can take on those days, I know I can commit to reading for 20-30 minutes on Monday and Friday mornings. So, I have blocked my calendar to do that.


Rather than obsess around building habits, challenge yourself to build a consistent routine.


Now, comes the hard part – sticking to the consistent routine, which is where streaks come in.


STREAKS


Streaks are used in video games and game apps based on game design theory to motivate and create behavior change. The idea of a streak is to take consistent and consecutive action. Once you start a streak, you don’t want to break it. And once you start a streak, you are usually invested to try and maintain that streak.


Jerry Seinfeld kept a streak of practicing one joke per day. He would track it on a calendar, and each day he practiced, he would put a large X in the calendar box. As he looked at the X’s, he realized it created a visual chain. His motivation was to not ‘break the chain.’


I can’t imagine practicing a joke every day ever became a habit, meaning something he would do subconsciously. Practicing a joke is an action you would need to intentionally think about doing, daily. You need to think through which joke to practice and find time to practice it. Keeping a streak is intentional. You have to think about it to make sure it gets done.


Duolingo, the popular language lesson app, is well known for its streaks. To help you learn a new language, Duolingo recommends practicing for 5 minutes or more per day. The app helps you keep track of your streak. Practicing daily isn’t a subconscious action either. You have to be intentional to practice and ensure you keep your streak.


Streaks may never become subconscious and, therefore, may never become a habit, and that’s the point. You keep a streak so that you STAY INTENTIONAL in taking the action needed to help you achieve meaningful goals.


If you habitually practice jokes, are you even paying attention to what you are doing? I doubt it. If you want to become a comedian, why would you want to practice jokes absentmindedly? Oh! It’s just a habit. Wait, what? How is that helping you achieve meaningful accomplishments in your life?


What action can you turn into a streak to help you achieve your goals?


Jerry Seinfeld kept a streak of practicing one joke per day.

DON’T CREATE HABITS, CREATE ROUTINES AND STREAKS.


To achieve meaningful goals, you must be intentional and purposeful.


Identify a routine that will work with you and enable you to take and keep a consistent streak of action to help you achieve your goal. Once you start, don’t stop!


Find a way to track your progress. You can use a physical calendar like Jerry Seinfeld, or you can download an app, such as Streaking.


Going back to my goal of reading 25 books this year. I have 20-30 minutes blocked in my calendar on Monday and Friday to read. To turn this action into a streak, I plan on keeping track of my progress on a printed calendar. I prefer to have a visual on my desk to help me remember. Other people may prefer to put reminders in their phone or leverage an app. I plan on keeping this streak for three months, roughly 90-days. At that point in time, I’ll review my progress and see if I need to make any adjustments. [to learn why I'm putting a deadline on my streak, read below.]



ADDITIONAL TIPS ON STREAKS.


Streaks can be extremely motivating. Once you are invested in your streak, it can motivate you to get off the couch and act because you don’t want to lose your streak. Conversely, they can also be extremely demotivating if you break a long streak.


For example, I was on a 160+ day streak with Duolingo, learning Italian. I was consistent and gaining progress and momentum! Every blue moon, I would forget, and thank goodness Duolingo offers Streak Freezes, which can be used if you accidentally miss a day. (You earn streak freezes by being consistent and maintaining your streak.) Well, I accidentally missed one day and then another, and didn’t have a Streak Freeze to use and completely lost my streak. It was demoralizing! All that hard work lost. Sure, you can say – So what? Just start over… But, it can be hard to overcome that emotional loss and re-motivate yourself to start over. It was a solid 6 months before I attempted to try again. At that point, I was re-motivated and ready to try to beat my last streak!


A learning from this experience is that I like to put a deadline on my streaks. Once I’m at that deadline, I ask if my streak still serves me. I give myself an out. If it’s working, I extend my deadline. If it’s not working, I will look at other actions or routines I can create to help me achieve my goals. It’s always better to adjust than give up.



When will you create your routine and start your streak?


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