Infallible Framework for Habit Development | Part 4: Habit Streaks for Motivation
I developed dozens of daily habits without a fail using this framework.
This is part 3 of 4 about a habit development tool widely known and highly undervalued.
BJ Fogg, a behavioral scientist from Stanford University, designed a model that describes change in human behavior. In order get a behavior you need to have motivation, ability and a trigger (cue).
The cue is the simplest part of that model. The best idea is to make an established habit a cue for the new one.
Ability is not so complicated either. Your knowledge and/ or experience in a given area equates to your ability. No magical stuff, just sweat, tears and hustle.
Motivation seems to be the most difficult part and that’s where streaks come into play.
The practice of building streaks — habits continuously maintained for a series of days — is well known. Jerry Seinfeld’s habit of coming up with a new joke every day and marking this fact on his wall calendar serves as an example. The motivational technique of streaks is also called “don’t break up a chain”.
We know about streaks, but we don’t practice them often enough.
Why do they work?
One aspect that is widely discussed is loss aversion. When you build a habit over days, weeks and months, you feel that not doing your habit the next day will “lose” you the time and effort investment you made so far. A wall calendar, or any other tracking tool, serves as a visual reminder of that.
From my own experience I can say that you draw confidence and self-esteem from building your streaks. I’ve written for at least 30 minutes every day for the last 1012 days. Very few people can say that about themselves. I have this illusory feeling of being part of a special group. Well, I suppose there are some folks who wrote every day for the last 1,000 days. But how many of them also did pullups for the last 953 days and kept a journal for the last 823 days?
This is the effect of gamification. We score “points” to feel better about ourselves. Maintaining your self-esteem is a powerful motivator.
Data driven confirmation
It’s not only my opinion. Coach.me is a project with a mission to help anyone achieve any goal. They used BJ Fogg’s model to design their application and built a community around it. They have millions of users and their data analysis confirmed that the streak approach works. Coach.me CEO, Tony Stubblebine, in explaining their philosophy put it aptly:
“One heroic week from you isn’t going to change your life, you need practices that you can keep up.”
Streaks have also one additional attribute which is unrecognized or taken for granted. In either case, I’ve never found it articulated: they solidify your habits.
If you maintain a streak of a daily habit, you do your routine more often and more regularly. It’s especially important in the initial phase of forming your habit. If you don’t track and have no visual reminder how far you are into your streak, you are more likely to skip your discipline on a given day and more prone to discouragement. An erratic manner of performing your routine for “one heroic week” doesn’t support habit development or its sustainability.
The last advantage of streaks is also highly undervalued:
You identify with them
I have well over 30 daily habits. That’s too much. Taking into account how insanely busy is my life with a day job, family and church responsibilities and a side hustle (writing), I cannot maintain all my streaks perfectly.
Recently the stress has taken its toll. I broke my streak of reviewing my personal mission statement after 800 days. After well over 500 days, I didn’t study the Bible one day. I maintained my streak for 899 days only to forget about doing a pushups series one day. I love to read works written by saints, yet I missed a day after maintaining 800+ day streak.
It doesn’t matter. My habits are ingrained into my days and into the core of who I am. In the last 1015 days I reviewed my personal mission statement 1007 times, I did my pushups 1006 times and read saints’ work 1009 times. An occasional hiccup means nothing. My streaks helped me to build my habits to the point where they are me.
Part I: The Habit Loop and Its Endpoint
Part II: Identity Habits