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Hacking Habits: Why Seinfeld’s ‘Don’t Break the Chain’ method works wonders

posted by Chris Valentine

Image: http://www.thequintessential.org/articles/2016/12/8/doomsday

Cultivating long-term discipline is something we’ve all struggled with at one point or another. We begin with the best intentions, hungry for success, but as soon as our motivation slips, our level of commitment takes a nosedive. What starts off as a harmless “day off” turns into days of inactivity. Then, we decide to bank our desired habits for when we have “more time” or we conveniently forget they ever existed. Sound familiar?

Jerry Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain Method is simple, yet powerful for building new habits and making them stick. This technique promotes routine by encouraging you to work on your goals or habits every day. We already know that mastering the art of self-discipline requires consistency, but creating a mental routine and telling yourself that you are going to “exercise every day before work” is often not enough when it comes to developing a new habit.

It requires a written commitment. When you satisfy the daily predetermined criteria, you can reward yourself with a big X on a calendar. The goal is to achieve an infinite series of X’s. Let’s break it down:

  1. Set a goal — what positive habit would you like to build? Be specific in your definition. For example, 10 minute full body workout every morning using the workouts from your personal trainer.
  2. Set a daily minimum — what is the minimum amount of work you’re required to complete in order to earn your X on the calendar? The minimum amount of work for the goal above would be 10 minutes.
  3. Establish rules and boundaries — what will you do when you’re sick or on holidays? Keep it realistic. You could give yourself a pass when you are sick or on holidays. This won’t count as breaking the chain because you’ve set these rules in advance.
  4. Use a diary or calendar to mark your progress. Remember that an X is earned only when the minimum criteria is met.

I recently came across a 2019 diary that actually incorporates a “habit building” worksheet based on this technique. It even includes a Habit Tracker on the weekly spread to track your progress and monthly calendar spreads if you wish to employ the original tactic of marking off each successful day with an X. The beauty of writing down your intentions is that you can flip back to it for reference, refill the motivation tank and renew your sense of focus.

What this philosophy provides is a visual display of progress. Crossing off each day is a constant reminder of what you are working on. It’s keeping your intentions top of mind. The longer the chain, the harder it is to break.

Identifying the habits you want to build, writing them down, and marking an X for every successful day? It’s honestly the most incredible feeling. If you feel pretty untouchable at work when you cross of a task, imagine how you will feel systematically building a chain of days, weeks and months of you progressing towards your goals. Don’t put your goals on hold any longer. Invest time in yourself today, and don’t forget to celebrate your progress along the way.

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