The Additive Method: Maybe Seinfeld had it wrong?

Are you familiar with Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t Break the Chain” Rule?

This is a popular habit-building strategy that I’ve successfully used in the past.

The idea is built around the simple phrase: “don’t break the chain”:

Here’s how one comedian recalled his interaction with Seinfeld, who shared his advice for the craft of joke writing:

“He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said 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 is to not break the chain.”

As the Xs start to fill up the calendar, each day gets more motivating than the day before.

In the same way, keeping up a DuoLingo Streak or Wordle Streak is super helpful for encouraging us to keep the streak alive!

There’s just one problem:

This tactic works great…until it doesn’t.

And then it becomes unbelievably demotivating.

Steve’s Adventures with Meditation

Back in 2017, I meditated every day for six months.

I loved seeing that little meditation streak add up in my phone.

In fact, there were plenty of days that I just turned on the app and didn’t meditate, because keeping the streak alive was more important than actually meditating.

I even earned a little digital badge that said “6 month streak!”

I felt proud and motivated. (If you’re somebody checking in every day on DuoLingo to keep the Owl at bay…you know what I’m talking about)

And then, I missed one day.

I was traveling across time zones and by the time I landed, my 24-hour window to log my meditation had passed.

Suddenly I saw a glaring “STREAK: 0 DAYS” staring me in the face.

The realization sank in that it would take 193 perfect days in a row to now beat my old streak. The burden was daunting.

Because my expectation was “perfection without compromise,” I had failed.

Sure, I could have started right up again! 192 out of 193 days is almost perfect.

Except it isn’t perfect.

And because the app said “0-day streak,” I was so demotivated.

I hadn’t built the concept of “missed days” into my routine. The app had no plan for missed days. I had no plan for what would happen if I missed a day.

Here’s the funny thing: I could have meditated without the app, because the only reason I had the app was to learn how to meditate!

However, because it wouldn’t have been tracked in the app, my brain told me, “Doesn’t count, dork.”

It took me 7 years until I bothered meditating again, but with a far different mindset.

It’s the same strategy I’ve been using to build a journaling routine.

And the strategy I’ve been using to get better at golf too!

It might help you too…

The Additive Method

It’s actually a method I learned from our Nerd Fitness Coaches, who have been using it with many of our clients over the past 7 years.

Imagine you have a mason jar on your desk and a bag of marbles.

Next, pick a task you’re hoping to make a consistent part of your life:

  • Going for a daily walk
  • Hitting the gym
  • Journaling
  • Meditating
  • Flossing

Every time you complete the task you’re working on, add a marble to the jar. Your job is to accumulate as many marbles as possible in that jar.

That’s it.

Just like the visual motivation of seeing the calendar with the unbroken streak of Xs, the Additive Method can also be motivating, but for a different reason:

When you miss a day because LIFE HAPPENS (and it will), you can look at your jar and see all the times you’ve completed the task in the past. This can be motivating and reminds you that you’re making progress, even with missed days.

Have multiple goals? Feel free to have different jars with different colored marbles for different tasks.

No jar or marbles? Fine! Feel free to create your own strategy that shows you adding to a pile!

Every time you complete the task…

  • Tie a knot in a rope
  • Draw a stick figure in your journal.
  • Build a LEGO set one piece at a time
  • Color in ONE panel in a coloring book

Again, the “don’t break the streak” might work for you.

I just find The Additive Method to be a good alternative strategy, especially if you’re somebody that struggles with All-or-Nothing thinking!


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