September 5, 2013

Don’t Break the Chain: Motivating Myself to Make Things a Habit

Several times in my Sunday Links I Love posts, I’ve shared articles about the Seinfeld Strategy (like this one from the Buffer Blog). It’s really quite genius, especially for goody-two-shoes me. (Fun fact: in 5th grade, I loved getting stickers on the “books I’ve read” chart my teacher kept for everyone in the class… until he had to get a separate “Laura’s books chart” that was just for my stickers, because I had too many to fit on the regular one. Biggest nerd ever? I think the fact that I was proud of that instead of deeply embarrassed says it all.) Anyway, in this case, for every day that you do whatever your desired habit is, you mark a big red X on a wall calendar. (For Jerry Seinfeld, the habit he wanted to instill was writing. Didn’t matter what the quality was; as long as he wrote, he got to mark an X on the chart.) Pretty soon, you start to form chains of big red Xes – and seeing the visual encourages you not to “break the chain.” So one day when Jerry didn’t want to write? He wrote anyway, to keep the chain going, and the habit was born.

While I’ve read many times about the Seinfeld Strategy, I’ve never actually done it, for a variety of reasons. First of all, who has a wall calendar these days? I don’t even sleep in the same bed every night (because I travel, perverts!), so there isn’t anywhere easy for me to keep a wall calendar (and I don’t want to drag one along with me everywhere I go). But after reading Nerd Fitness’ latest post about their new 30 Day Hard Hat Challenge, which referenced the Seinfeld Strategy, I got inspired to join the fun – and created a Google Calendar for myself to participate. After all, who says visual has to mean on paper? I stare at my computer screen all day long – why not use that for motivation?

My September challenge is to focus on weight lifting / regaining a lot of the strength I’ve lost in the last few months, and it’s going great so far. I worked my back on Sunday, biceps/shoulders on Tuesday, and legs + more back yesterday, and I am so deliciously sore it’s amazing. But while my original challenge post said that I would aim to lift every day, after seeing how sore I’ve gotten from some of these workouts, I think I’m going to dial it back. Instead, I’ll aim to lift at least three days a week (still targeting specific body parts for each workout rather than going for a full body approach) – which is a much more reasonable goal that’s also a lot more sustainable in the long term. I don’t want to have to lift every day – some days I have marathons, and some days I honestly just need a rest! (Today, for example, I did an easy 20 minutes on the elliptical in the morning, and then headed to a 90 minute Deep Stretch class at Uptown Yoga in the evening – no lifting at all.) So I’ve decided not to track lifting on my Google Calendar for my thirty day Nerd Fitness challenge.

Instead, I’m taking inspiration directly from the Hard Hat Challenge description, which suggests doing one healthy activity every day. Now, I know you’re supposed to tackle goals one at a time (so that you can focus instead of getting distracted), but I just can’t resist picking two goals for healthy living that really go hand in hand. The first is to exercise daily (any form of exercise, for at least 20 minutes), and the second is to eat healthy foods. (I realize the second one isn’t very quantifiable, but in my mind, the binary question is “did I pig out on something today, yes or no?”) Each day that I complete the goal, I’ll add it to my Google Calendar (and in the case of exercise, I’ll also note what I did – presto, a workout log!), and color code it teal for eating and purple for exercise.

So far, so good:

30 Day Hard Hat Challenge: Google Calendar
(On Monday, there was a little run in with a Mexican restaurant and a frozen sangria drink. Oops.)

I like seeing the strings of teal and purple going across the screen, and I’d really like to see how long I can get those chains to be. Knowing myself and my battles, teal (healthy eating) is going to be a much more fractured chain than purple (exercise), but since teal goes above purple on the calendar, skipping a healthy eating day disrupts the exercise chain, which shifts up on the page. Just another sneaky trick that motivates me to keep both chains going!

Anyone else here a reader of Nerd Fitness and doing the 30 Day Hard Hat Challenge? Or has anyone else tried the Seinfeld Strategy before?


3 thoughts on “Don’t Break the Chain: Motivating Myself to Make Things a Habit”

  1. I do read Nerd Fitness – such a great blog – but I missed this article! It reminds me a lot, actually, of how I’m tracking my marathon training. I’ve got my plan in an excel sheet – if I fulfill, the cell gets green, if I almost fulfill it, it gets yellow, if I don’t, it gets nothing. I love being able to fill in the boxes!

    So I guess I’m kind of doing the Seinfeld Strategy and I didn’t know it! Good luck with your goals. (I should do the healthy-eating one!)

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