Taking small steps every day that most people are unaware of will help you get closer to your goals. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as turning your palms. According to a European Journal of Social Psychology study, people need 18-254 days to form a new habit. But have you ever wondered how to motivate yourself to be consistent for 254 days?
Several methods can help you be consistent, one of them is a productivity strategy called Don't Break the Chain. Jerry Seinfield supposedly popularised this new habit-forming method. A comedian who accidentally creates an 'X' chain in his calendar while making stand-up material. When he saw the 'X' chain on his calendar, he was motivated not to break the chain.
In this article, we will learn about the Don't Break the Chain method, its power, and how to implement it.
What is 'Don't Break the Chain'?
Known as The Seinfeld Method, this productivity method binds you to accomplish daily goals for an extended period. You will complete the daily goal and add an 'X' to the calendar. Eventually, you’ll build a long 'X' chain, days, weeks or months. A rhythm subconsciously encourages you not to break the 'X' chain until you develop new habits.
This strategy will help you achieve your big goals and grow as an individual. This productivity technique is suitable for someone who:
- Likes to see visible progress
- Wants to build long-term habits
- Learns simple productivity techniques
- Likes to play with pen and paper to get things done
Why is 'Don't Break the Chain' powerful for building habits?
If you ever make a resolution or want to reach a goal, you are probably familiar with the three-day arc:
Day one is easy.
Carry out a new beginning with a pile of strong motivation to reach a goal. With a happy feeling, you pass the first day. You start making healthy lunches or exercising in the morning.
Day two, get in harder.
It feels like you can't adjust to a new reality as well as you hope. The road ahead seems bleak, and slowly, optimism fades. Making a healthy lunch is not as fun as yesterday's, and morning exercise is becoming too heavy.
Day three falls apart.
You are in between giving up or running toward the goals. You forget why you made that goal – and again, you catch your bed warmer than usual.
It doesn't matter; whether it's three days or three months, you eventually return to your old habits. Make a promise to yourself to start over on Monday. Trust me. This cycle will always repeat itself.
You don't give yourself the time to turn new routines into habits. That's why you need to understand the cycle. According to Charles Duhigg in his book "The Power of Habit", the habit loop consists of three elements: a cue, a routine and a reward. Understanding these elements will help you change bad habits into better ones.
The cue: something that triggers a habit. Routine is an activity/behaviour that you want to become a habit. The reward is positive reinforcement for routine behaviour. To succeed at least in the first weeks, combine these three elements. This is where 'Don't Break the Chain' presents a practical solution.
1. Extremely simple
When using this method, you only have two choices. It’s either to continue the 'X' chain or break it. The tools you need are also simple: a paper calendar and a pen.
2. Make tangible progress
The process you can see is like giving yourself a shot of enthusiasm. The row of 'X' lines on the calendar is a tangible result of you getting better every day. Even though sometimes you don't feel the effects immediately, you still clearly see that you are running towards your goal.
3. Stay focused
This productivity strategy forces you to focus on today without thinking about tomorrow or a week later. All you have to do is complete your daily goals. Instead, you can add an 'X' line to the calendar. It's like getting short-term rewards for behaviour with long-term rewards. This strategy focuses on immediate action that you have full control over rather than distant goals with multiple factors. For example, it’s like choosing between increasing your vocabulary every day or becoming an expert German translator. Trying to learn new vocabulary every day is simpler and much easier than suddenly becoming an expert German translator.
How long does it take to build new habits?
It takes between 18 to 254 days. Some argue; that routine occurs because of doing the same thing for 30 days without stopping. But only you can understand how long it takes. Do trial and error to find the best timeframe to make a habit.
'Don't Break the Chain' in five steps
Now, how to start this productivity method? You can apply these five simple steps:
1. Think of one of your big goals
Determine the target you want to achieve. You are free to choose – such as getting in shape or mastering German literature.
2. Choose your daily goals that support your biggest one
Select the daily goals that you can do to run towards the big goal. You can start by removing negative habits and creating positive ones. Here are steps to replace habits:
- Identify cues that trigger bad habits. It can be emotionally, situation or time
- Find out what rewards bad habits provide. For example, if you can't stop eating junk food, it may be because it is delicious
- Think about what good habits have the same reward
3. Set your minimum goals
Do you remember how long it is ideal for forming a new habit? When you start, it's easier to have a minimum goal, like creating an 'X' line of up to 100 days. Assume that setting this minimum line is the first try. Through this process, you can see patterns of habits formed and determine the ideal time to form a new habit.
4. Determine what breaking your streak looks like
Stop being so hard on yourself and start over every time you make a small mistake. If your goal is to eat healthily, does eating homemade cookies count? Or if your daily target is 30 minutes of cardio, is walking the mall worth an 'X'? These things you need to decide beforehand to become parameters. Here’s the example:
5. Choose your medium
The simplest way to record each 'X' chain is with a calendar and pen. However, it doesn’t limit you from choosing the tools you want. Some recommended applications that you can use:
- A wall calendar
- Desk calendar
- Google Calendar
- Time management apps
Doing something good every day takes discipline and dedication. It doesn't matter whether something serves good or bad goals. But breaking bad habits is also challenging and the good news is that it gets easier over time. Even after a while, you can do it without thinking. Remember that progress is made day by day. Until that happens, please don't stop doing it, and of course, don't break the chain.