Updated: Oct 2, 2018
A streak is something you do everyday without fail.
In today’s society, with the rise of technology, the concept of maintaining a streak for just about anything is compelling and addicting. For example, people may keep track of how often they read the bible on YouVersion, learn a new language on Duolingo, track calories on MyFitnessPal, check the news on TheSkimm, or send pics to friends on Snapchat. Nobody wants to break a streak!
The Snapchat Streak
I recently started using Snapchat and I am already sucked into the allure of a Snapchat Streak. A streak occurs when I ‘snap’ another ‘friend’ within a 24-hour period and I receive a snap back. Once this occurs a flame icon appears indicating that I am now on a streak (see my pic below). Sounds addicting, right? The longer I go without breaking the chain of communication the longer my streak is. To make my habit of communication easier the app conveniently tracks my days by putting a number next to the flame. For additional motivation, Snapchat rewards longer streaks with special emojis, such as the “100” emoji for streaks lasting 100 days, or a mountain emoji for an extremely long streak. It might be disappointing to lose a streak so the app even gives you an hourglass emoji next to a ‘friend’s’ name if the streak is about to end. I have tweens in my household and I work in a school with young adolescents. It is not uncommon to hear them bragging about the number of streaks they have going and the length of the streaks. Many of these kids invest an inordinate amount of time keeping streaks alive because they feel it is a way to show how committed they are to a relationship. They see a really long streak as a sense of pride or an accomplishment, and there is nothing more devastating than losing a streak you’ve put months of work into. For example, my aunt had a 320 day streak going with her daughter and I was with her the moment she realized they lost their streak. Even though I am a new Snapchat user, my heart broke for her. 320 days is a LONG TIME! She says snapping her daughter is a daily habit that is important to her because it is a special connection they have. Her immediate response was sadness and disappointment because she got busy and distracted from her daily habit/streak. Totally normal! But my aunt said that she has let it go and is simply starting over. She realized that the ultimate goal of keeping a streak with her daughter was maintaining a connection relatable to a teenager. She knows that the connection didn’t suddenly go away just because the streak disappeared, it was just a short lived ‘Pause’ button and now they are back at it!
Don't Break The Chain!
The concept of keeping up a streak can be attributed to the famous Jerry Seinfeld. In an article from LifeHacker in 2007, Brad Issac, an amateur comedian, asked Jerry Seinfeld his secret on how to be a better comic and his answer was, “Don’t break the chain.” He explained how he uses a calendar system to pressure himself to write. He explained how he uses a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hangs it on a prominent wall. He then uses a big red magic marker and puts a big red X over each day he completed his task of writing. He told Issac, “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 you belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”
Keeping Track of Streaks
I am keeping up a streak and tracking my goal/habit daily just like Seinfeld did. As a matter of fact, I actually use 4 main methods of tracking my streaks!
The Habit Tracker on my website is simply a yearly calendar that I am marking X’s on just like Seinfeld.
The app HabitBull is AWESOME. It let’s you set goals, sends you reminders, provides graphs, cheers you on and send motivational phrases, and allows for community engagement thru discussion forums.
I bought my personal planner, The Phoenix Journal, on Amazon and I live for this book. I carry it with me everyday in my purse and I use it at home and work. This book has helped me identify short term and long term goals, it helps me set up my week and then reflect at the end of each week and keeps my life organized.
I use the app DayCount when I just want a super quick immediate look at the number of days I am at with the One Year Booze Snooze.
Why Do Streaks Work for Me?
Ultimately, I want to get so good at tracking my goal that the behavior becomes automatic. Each check mark I make is an accomplishment and my brain releases dopamine (the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure), which basically tells my brain that I want to do that action again. Making my check marks and checking my app feels a little like an addiction in itself. Because my goal is clearly defined and planned out, it is important to me that I don’t break the chain and I am not as tempted to say "oh screw it" like I might when it comes to working out or not eating healthy. I haven't clearly set those goals so it is easier for me to say I am tired, I don’t feel well, it will take too much time etc. Should a desire creep in to have a drink, I can look at my chain of checkmarks or my day count on the app and it taunts me a little bit saying, “you’ve made it ____ days… do you really want to give up?” Seeing the count and having it as a daily reminder makes me less likely break the chain, because I want to avoid the loss and self-defeat of ruining my streak. Warren Buffett once said, “Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” Momentum and pride can be a very powerful motivating force.
See the Snapchat connection here?
Breaking a Streak
So even though I have momentum and a 64-day streak, I wonder how I will handle it if I ever break my streak? How would you handle it? The story of my aunt and her Snapchat Streak is a great example First, do not beat yourself up about it. It happens. Often times making a mistake is actually a productive step in a quest as it might teach a new lesson moving forward. For example, let’s say you were dieting and you cave during a family birthday celebration; you will learn to prepare yourself for next time. Maybe you will bring your own snacks, or you will plan portions/calories ahead of time, or you will hold something in my hand so I am not tempted to visit the buffet table. Another strategy is to focus on the good things accomplished so far and physically write them down such as, "I made it it 150 days and I lost 10 pounds." Lastly, instead of sitting around and wallow in self-pity, you can get your ass back up off the ground, dust yourself off and say, “let’s make it to _____ days.”
The bottom line... Let it go and get back to work building a new chain!