It’s been a while since we blogged about hacks for personal performance. Too long.
Which is kind of the point, considering that today’s topic is about streaking.
We’re NOT talking about Will Ferrell’s scene in the movie ‘Old School’ where a drunken Frank the Tank tries to get a mass streaking event going and ends up being the only one running.
We’re talking about putting together your own streaks – building towards lasting, positive habits, or consistent progress towards a goal.
Habits, both good and bad, tend to obey Newton’s first law’s of motion, in that a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest. Habits can get really ingrained the more you do them, often going from “occasional” to an everyday event. Committed runners can attest to this. As can committed couch potatoes. Tracking streaks is a way to build and reinforce positive habits or break bad ones.
Habits tend to sink in happen over time, from a few days to a few weeks, eventually becoming a routine. During the pandemic, both good and bad habits have flourished.
Here are a few examples from professionals we know:
“While working from home, I have started taking an hour at lunch to walk my dog and listen to audio books. In the past year, I have listened to over 50 audio books and lost 30 pounds. My dog has lost ten. Before the pandemic, I read maybe two or three books a year.”
“Drinking for me had always been a social activity, going out with friends on weekends and having a few glasses of wine. In the past year, I started rewarding myself for another day in the books with a glass of wine. One glass became two. Two became ‘I might as well finish the bottle.’ I don’t know where the border is between a habit and an alcohol problem and didn’t want to find out so I stopped. It’s been six months since my last drop of alcohol and I do not miss it.”
“I started journaling to help process the disaster that was 2020. On average, I would take 5-10 minutes each day to write. I’ve done it every day for the past 200 days and it helps cope with the stress.”
“Since the pandemic started, making in-person sales calls has been impossible – so I switched to the phones and make sure I make 10 extra calls each day. I get a lot of voicemails, but the people I DO get on the phone are often just happy to have a real conversation. I’ve gained twenty new clients…all without having to leave the house.”
Streaks have the power to sustain habits you are trying to create, or habits you are trying to break. They can help get you through any droughts in motivation and turn it into a game (called gamification). For example, if you have gone on a walk every day for sixty days, and one day it’s cold and rainy and all you want to do is sit on the couch and eat cookie dough and binge-watch Netflix, the fear or regret of losing your streak might be enough to get your shoes on and go get it done. Nobody will know or care if you break your streak (unless we are talking about substance abuse, then I hope you have someone who will care). If you do break your streak, you can always restart and try to beat your previous streak.
Here are some recommendations to get started:
1. Set realistic & achievable goals. If you need to lose 50 pounds, don’t start with “I need to lose 50 pounds.” The magnitude of your goal might be so intimidating you never get started. Maybe start with “I’m going to lose four pounds over the next four weeks.” If you hit your goal, then set a new one.
2. Plan for success. Plan to remove as much friction keeping from doing the thing you want to be doing. If your goal is to take a walk every day, figure out when you will most likely make that happen – early morning, lunchtime, after work, after dinner, etc. Then block out the time and do it. If you are going to get up early, then set an alarm for the night before to remind you to turn off and go to bed. Staying up until midnight if you have an alarm for 5AM is a recipe for failure. Going to bed at 9PM to get up at 5AM will have a higher chance of success.
3. Get support. Get a running buddy or gym buddy. Join accountability or support groups on Facebook or Reddit. Talk to your family about your goals so they can support you and maybe join you.
4. Incremental progress is better than no progress. The gyms are normally packed in January. The New Year’s Resolution crowd is gone by February. Most people try to do too much, all at once. If you have not been to the gym in years, don’t do so much that you end up painfully sore at best or get hurt, at worst. Instead of trying to run ten miles, start with “run for one minute” and build from there. Instead of reading or writing for three hours, try ten minutes. Progress might be slow but will build over time and ultimately be more sustainable.
5. Treat yourself. Positive reinforcement works – either in small treats like having a favorite show you only stream when on the treadmill, or for milestones like buying a new outfit when you hit 60 days.
6. Shoot for 21 days at first – studies show that the average for an activity to become a habit is 21 days.
7. Get back on the horse. Don’t quit if you end your streak. Start again as soon as possible. You’ll end up competing against yourself. Maybe that “sixty days in a row” becomes “61.” Don't wait until next New Years to try again.
8. Track your progress. Find something that works for you and will help keep you motivated. It might be as simple as putting a big “X” on a calendar for each day. Remember that what gets measured gets managed.
9. Use Cheat Days, Rest Days, or go for 100%. Some habits will be much more successful if you program in a break – like having a cheat meal on your diet where you are “allowed” to pig out once a week, or taking doing a rest and recovery day. Your rest day does not have to be completely inactive, take a walk, do some yoga or stretching. Some habits, like smoking, for example, do not allow for a “cheat day” so plan accordingly.
10. Get professional help. No matter what you are trying to accomplish, there are professionals out there that can help make the process easier and faster. The bigger the goal (“lose 100 pounds”) or problem (“I cannot stop drinking”) the better your chance of success will be if you get some professional help involved. Personal trainers, dieticians, doctors, therapists, counselors, etc. It will be worth the investment in time and money.
At this point, there are zillions of self-help books, podcasts, programs, supplements, pins, tweets, groups, and videos. Some are highly effective and backed by real science and experience. Some are just “this is what worked for me.” And some are just there to take your money. Here are a few tools that we recommend that might get you started:
1. Smartwatches and wearables. From a basic band that tracks your steps to high-end GPS watches can everything you do. They can nag you to get up and walk around a bit every hour. Some can track your heartrate and sleep quality. I personally use an Apple Watch, and it helps me gamify my exercise and earn awards that mean nothing to anyone but me.
2. Guided Journals. Guided journals are designed to help guide your thoughts for about ten-minutes of mindfulness. This does not have to be some hippy-dippy new-age process, but a few minutes of collecting your thoughts, and focusing your mind on what is going on in your life and staying focused on your goals. There are plenty of options on Amazon. Journaling is a common habit of world-class entrepreneurs, executives, and athletes.
3. Beachbody Online. Beachbody is the company behind workout programs that are sold on infomercials like P90X & Insanity. They have built a streaming service with dozens of workout programs you can stream on your phone, tablet, or TV. The programs are designed to be done at home with minimal equipment and vary from hard-core weight training to yoga to hip-hop dance. Perfect for the pandemic and beyond. You can download workout tracking sheets and get other content like eating plans. It’s cheaper than a monthly gym membership.
4. Audio book apps & podcasts. Audible, an Amazon company, sells downloads of audio books and has a subscription service. Hoopla is an app (check the app store) that library systems like mine provide to “check out” audio and e-books for free. Podcasts are usually free and there are literally tens of thousands on every interest. Routine activities like walking, housework, grocery shopping etc. are opportunities for you to learn new things at the same time by listening to content.
5. Commitment apps that are designed to help you achieve your goals. Apps to check out: Noom, Stickk, Headspace, MyFitnessPal.
We’ve talked mostly about personal goals today, and we did not want to ignore professional goals – we subscribe to the philosophy that when everything else in your life is in balance, whether it’s personal relationships, physical health, creative endeavors, self-reflection, or learning new things and skills, your professional life will be much better as well. Your productivity will be off the charts if you are healthy, rested, and your brain is running in top-form.
If you are finding yourself consistently out-of-balance, and you feel you need help either with professional coaching or finding a better job, let us know how we can help.
If you found this post helpful, kindly consider sharing it so others can read it too. If you did not, let us know.
As for me, one of my goals is to write more consistently, and have engineered time into my day to do so.
Thanks for reading!