Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Don't Break the Chain

Someone once asked Jerry Seinfeld {this is when he was a touring stand-up comic just breaking out as a sit-com star} what his secret was to coming up with such great material. Jerry pointed to a calendar. The large wall kind that has the entire year on one page.

Jerry explained that he believed to improve as a comedy writer, he'd need to write comedy every day.

So each day that Jerry wrote, he drew a red X on the day's block on the calendar. Several days of writing would form a long chain of Xs. And not breaking the chain became its own motivation to keep writing.

Jerry improved greatly by writing daily. And he wrote daily by trying to keep his writing streak alive ... as evidenced by the chain of Xs.

I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking some Xs on a calender wouldn't really be enough motivation for you. I figure you're thinking that because it occurred to me too.

Like our brains are some how more complicated and advanced than Jerry Seinfeld's?

Why This Works

Often there's a lot of mental resistance we have to overcome to begin doing something we actually wish we'd do. (Strange and frustrating, huh?) Like writing or cleaning or exercising daily. (Anyone want to amen?) We want to do it but we-don't-wanna, and we're stubborn.

The beauty of the "don't break the chain" method is that it lets us divert our stubbornness away from the "I don't wannas" and redirect it towards not wanting to mess up a good winning streak.

Raise your hand if when you're on a roll, you're highly motivated to keep rolling. 

I thought so.

You can put your hand down now. (Seriously, if you are at work or in a coffee shop, please put your hand down.)

If you want scientific reasoning for why this works, I'll tell you what clinical neurologist Dr. Daniel Amen says. (Can I get another amen? Just kidding - I should let Jerry write the jokes.) Dr. Amen explains that:

"The chart appeals to your logical PFC; but the series of Xs, signifying accomplishment, gives your limbic system a little rush of good feelings."

And we tend to continue doing anything that gives us a rush of good feelings. Don't we?

So, could you be only one pen and one calender page away from improving at something? Or from creating a good habit? Only a chain of Xs away from a daily quiet time routine or a daily walk after work?  Try it and see.

I'm going to try it. Like Jerry, I'm going to mark an X for each day that I write since my one word is CREATE. And I'm going to see if my brain buys in to the concept of keeping the streak alive.

I want you and I to become the kind of person that keeps our good streaks going. So I'm encouraging you today to think about what you could try using this method to do. A daily quiet time? More home-cooked meals? Training for marathon? ...


  1. Oh I like this. Definitely appeals to my sense of...what? Neatness. Routine. Symmetry. Like making a list and ticking boxes.
    Also, I'm going to google 'Dr Daniel Amen'. Really? :-)

  2. This is a great motivating tactic. I use it for exercise, unfortunately the chain has been broken over and over. I don't get too down about it though since a broken chain is better than no chain as far as exercise goes. I am going to think up something else to do this for, something more attainable.

    Maybe we should all post our calendars at the end of the month............or not.

    1. Good idea. I'll post my writing one on Oct 22. That gives you a few days to decided what your Xs will stand for.

      And yes, a broken chain is way better than no chain!

  3. Not wanting to mess up a good thing has definitely been a motivation for me in lots of things but particularly in my weekly exercise of running. I usually run 3 days a week and not wanting to mess up my pattern has kept me from skipping one of those 3 days on any given week. Now, of course, I've had weeks where I've had to do that for one reason or another BUT wanting to get my pattern back has motivated me to get back going time and time again! I am a left-brained, first-born who loves order and doing things sequentially : ) Now if I could just get this motivation in the area of cleaning out some drawers and closets around here . . . . . okay, calendar, get ready for the X's!!!

    1. Bravo! And I love how well you know yourself, Pam. (Self-awareness is key to making changes or making progress.)

  4. I think you've started something, Rachel! I'm cleaning off shelves and cleaning out closets and drawers like nobody's business!! I guess my spring cleaning was a little delayed : ) LOL! Thanks for motivating me!

    1. Yay - that's terrific, Pam!

      If you run out of things to clean, holler. You can help me with my garage. :)


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