Building a new habit or skill in any area of your life requires consistency and deliberate practice. Ask any expert about their journey, and you’ll receive the same answer or some variation of it (The Beatles, Bill Gates, Michael Jordan have all talk about the same method). Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Outliers sheds light on it as a part of the 10,000-hour rule. While plenty of articles on the internet claim to “debunk” this theory now, the essence of those claims essentially circles back to consistency and deliberate practice.
While we find it easy to set audacious goals, when it comes to following through, many of us don’t quite manage to do it. That’s why the gyms are empty from the second week of a new year, or many of us never complete the online courses we signed up for. We eventually end up going back to doing things in our old ways.
The famous comedian and co-creator of the famous sitcom Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld did something rudimentary yet effective to instill the habit of writing jokes daily. His secret to productivity was simple: Write. Jokes. Daily.
“For each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. After a few days, you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it, and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.”
In recent years, his productivity secret has gained reverence as the Seinfeld Method or Don’t Break the Chain. And although he has said to have no part in its development in a Reddit AMA session, the method has become eponymous to Jerry Seinfeld.
Anyway, keeping the origins of the method aside, let’s understand why the technique works:
We are said to have a limited reserve of daily willpower that depletes as the day progresses. We spend willpower every time we make a choice or decision. If you haven’t scheduled time to focus on your habit, you might procrastinate because you have to decide whether to do it or not. The Seinfeld method works because you have scheduled the activity and are aware of what you need to do. Therefore, you don’t have to spend your willpower in making a decision.
It can get overwhelming when you lay out the big picture. Completing a 10-week online learning course can seem daunting when you haven’t even begun.
Don’t break the chain takes an entirely different approach. Rather than obsessing over the future, you do your daily task, mark an X in the calendar, and you’re done. Instead of looking at the ten weeks, you decide that you’ll spend half an hour studying the course material and that’s it. Baby steps are far more effective than on-and-off sprints.
The founder of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, Dr. BJ Fogg, has done some significant research on making small changes to build sustainable habits. According to Dr. Fogg, the feeling of success is a strong enforcer in forming new habits. Our brains repeat behaviors that induce positive emotions. Our brain perceives the act of marking an X on the calendar as a success.
Scoring small success daily compound over time and start showing the actual results.
Now you understand how the habit of not breaking the chain can bring positive behaviors in your life, here is how you can implement it:
Decide what you want to do or be? For instance, if you want to get in shape, you may want to build the habit of working out daily.
You could be a marketer looking to improve their writing skills, so writing daily is something you aim.
An example of goals could be someone looking to become a programmer to get a programming job.
There are a thousand things you can do to reach your goal, but you need to pick one activity that you can do consistently to keep the needle moving. For instance, the programming enthusiast can break down the dreading 10-week online course into chunks of daily 30 minutes of study and practice each.
If you are looking to improve your fitness, you can set your weight loss or muscle gain goals and create workout schedules to get there. Similarly, the marketer looking to improve their writing chops can develop a routine of writing 500 words daily.
You need a calendar to record your daily wins. You can go old-school and use a calendar to mark your streak or build an aesthetically pleasing DIY habit tracker if you are interested in something called bullet journaling.
Tech people can pick smartphone or web-based habit-tracking apps. Habitica is an excellent app to track habits. It doesn’t have the traditional calendar view to implementing the Seinfeld method, but its gamified approach lets you set rewards to motivate you to perform your habit.
An implementation intention is the human equivalent of the conditional if-then statement. The implementation intention will help us set the routine. To set the intention, identify the activity, and decide the preceding event to set the trigger. You can also set time and location to get more granular.
For example, if you want to write 500 words early in the morning, you can set an implementation intention like, “I will write my daily 500 words after my morning coffee*.”
* you can replace coffee with your favorite beverage.
There are days when you might get caught up with so many things that you don’t get to work on your habit. This doesn’t mean that your streak is broken. Remember that beating yourself up won’t motivate you to build better habits. You need positive emotions to thrive.
A simple way to avoid failures is to set a bare minimum criterion to count it as a daily win. For instance, to practice programming on your busy days, instead of 60 minutes of practice, you can set 10 minutes of study and 20 minutes of practice to qualify it as a win. The goal is not to let the momentum wane.
Not all habits require daily practice. It’s perfectly fine to decide a frequency that works for you. The only rule is that you must schedule them or set an implementation intention to follow through. So, to lose weight, you can plan your workout sessions on alternate days. You can be lenient with the writing practice on weekends.
Decide what works for you and stick to it!
In closing, we would like to share one last tip. To succeed in the Seinfeld habit, always practice at the edge of your comfort zone. You don’t want to make it too easy to the point where it gets boring or make it too challenging to the extent of giving up. Daily 1% improvement is sufficient to bring the compounding benefits.
The don’t break the chain method seems simple and easy, but it’s the simple things that bring a monumental shift. We would like to encourage you to experiment with this technique and know your results! Let’s hear from you in a month?