The New Year is here again, so it must be time for all that New Year, New Me stuff.
And with what we’ve all been through recently, I could forgive you for breathing one enormous sigh of relief. It’s the end of the year and it’s finally the time to move on towards better things. After all, you deserve it.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, though; it doesn’t work like that.
As humans, we don’t suddenly change personalities or perspectives just because we move from one day to another on a calendar. Our perceived bad habits, lack of exercise, lack of motivation or food binging won’t go away just because we say Happy New Year!
But if you do want to join the gym (at the busiest time of the year for gyms), start a blog or go on a diet, there are ways to move into better habits, whatever your goal is. You’ll find a whole range of tips and strategies to help you across the Internet, but in my humble (and correct) opinion, there’s only one that works.
Build a habit in a way that makes it unconscious. It’s something you just do, like brushing your teeth in the morning. Day in and day out, month after month, and even, year after year.
Jerry Seinfeld is a successful comedian. He got so by learning early on that the secret to success was consistency. Not in making grand gestures, just the boring drudgery of repetition. So he set out early to write a joke a day.
The thing about consistency is that it’s hard. Anyone who has ever tried to build a habit has felt exhaustion set in after six or seven days. Just about the time you start to lose count.
We get lazy and unmotivated. Life gets in the way. There’s always something else to do. And by the time you get to 10 in the evening and you realise you haven’t done that thing you were going to do, you let it slip till the next day.
That’s fine, far be it for me to criticise anyone for a lack of motivation.
Seinfeld realised early on that good intentions weren’t enough. He needed a system to keep his eye on the ball and keep him motivated.
So he got a big year-long wall calendar and hung it in a place he couldn’t ignore. Every day he wrote a joke he would cross off using a red marker. Rather like Robinson Crusoe on the desert island, he counted the days.
The trick, therefore, comes in not breaking the chain because, after a relatively short period, you won’t want to.
The Seinfeld Strategy is based around setting a goal, creating routines around that goal, setting up the calendar and executing.Many people will say that using a physical, paper calendar works best. Maybe it does, but I found Streaks on a Medium post and it changed my life.
It the physical act of ticking off another day doing (or not doing) is most satisfying.
As of today, I have a 1046-day stretch on Duolingo for learning Spanish and I really don’t want to lose it. I’ve added to it with 115 and 116-day streaks in Portuguese and Italian.
I’ve built 152 and 153-day streaks in yoga and meditation, and it’s been 165 days since I last had a drink. I’ve also managed to control my carb intake and radically reduce my blood sugar levels from the serious spikes I was getting in the first half of the year.
The strategy works because the disappointment and the ugliness of missing on the calendar are motivating. And filling them in is strangely rewarding.
Streaks will also not let you forget your goal, I’ve set them up as recurring tasks in my to-do list and the app sends me passive-aggressive reminders every day so I feel doubly guilty about not finishing them as well.
It’s a system that’s easy to use because it just involves ticking stuff off.
So as we go into the New Year, perhaps with a greater sense of good riddance than many of the previous ones, I can only hope that the next one will be better.
And whatever your goal, whatever habit you want to form or break, I can only hope you do.
The secret is consistency