Have you ever noticed how some goals that you set out to achieve seem somewhat allusive? While you reach some milestones with ease, others seem to just slip from your grasp time and time again. I have definitely been there, however recently I have been experimenting with a strategy to break through those goal plateaus. My strategy for achieving my goals is nothing new, it’s as simple as building a daily habit chain.
Let me back up a bit and tell you about what inspired me to implement this strategy into my life:
I spent the last semester of my Master of Architecture program doing two studios in Australia. Four months spent in southern Australia were followed by two months of traveling up the east coast of Australia and then into Southeast Asia. Over the course of the trip, my boyfriend and I tried to make an effort to cook for ourselves, but it was just so much easier to eat out. By the end of the trip, which lasted close to six months through five countries, we had developed a pretty bad habit of eating out and had lost any drive to cook. We returned to Canada in June of 2014 and began establishing a ‘normal’ routine again, but struggled to fall back into a good rhythm with cooking.
Fast forward one year later, we were still eating out for dinner almost every day. I had, at least, gotten into a good habit with breakfast and lunch, but by the end of the day I just didn’t have the energy to get creative with food. It’s funny how time can just slip away from you like that! By July 2015 I decided something needed to change.
It was actually the “Seinfeld Strategy” that inspired the method for change that I decided to implement, which simply involves putting a big red X on each day that you successfully build a new habit. The strategy is so simple and obvious, because it really works! Jerry Seinfeld had this to say about it:
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.
For each day that I cooked my own meals at home, or chose healthy options when eating out, I was able to mark the achievement on the calendar. I had done some research and found that building a new habit can take anywhere between 21 and 260 days, depending on the habit. This range of days added a real quantitative way to measure my goal achieving. I decided I would aim for at least 30 days, but would continue to push it for as long as I could.
What I learned was the daily chain helps to break a large goal down into small, much more manageable goals. It is easy to lose sight of a larger goal when your measure for achieving it hovers allusively in the distant future. If there is nothing to remind you each and every day, then it can be easy to eventually lose motivation, forget, or start to procrastinate. However, if the goal becomes as simple as not breaking the daily chain you have started, the goal suddenly becomes a lot more realistic. You are forced to take each day one at a time. When you start your day you can ask yourself, will I be able to mark my calendar at the end of today? The answer is easy because it is just one day!
My goal of healthier eating started with one day and turned into 184. For those 184 days I avoided all of my most guilty indulgences, like pizza or pub-style mac and cheese. I wasn’t intending to continue forever without occasionally enjoying my favourite treats, but for the sake of establishing a new habit I thought I would give this strategy a shot. What I learned, was that this strategy really worked for me! I gained a whole new sense of control over all of my behaviours and realized that this strategy can be applied to any habit I choose to establish. Since then I have applied it to so many other areas in my life, including: punctuality, sleep, alcohol, caffeine, blogging, and sketching.
One last important thing to remember is: if you do end up breaking the chain, it is not the end of establishing that new habit! Don’t lose sight of your goal. Set a date to begin the chain again and commit. For example, I had been on a role for quite some time, forming all sorts of great new habits. Then, recently, I ended up getting a really horrible case of the flu that kept me away from work for almost a full week. I suddenly felt like I’d fallen behind at work and I struggled to regain my energy after illness. All of my goals suffered as a result, from punctuality, to caffeine, sleep, and weekly sketching. However, I’m committed to recover and will be focusing on reestablishing those chains in the coming weeks.
Have you tried this method for achieving your goals? If so, how did you find it?