I’ve Broken the Chain. So I Started a New One This Month
Are you lacking the discipline to continuously improve your craft? Those 10,000 hours needed to master an art can seem daunting. As part of my desire to be more disciplined I made the mistake of tweaking Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity hack. Made it almost two and a half years and never truly got disciplined. In hindsight, if I’d correctly followed the methodology I’d still be publishing an article here. Just not on this topic. Plus the blogging I’ve done over the past few years would have been much higher quality. This month marks an honest start on the correct method. I’d like to share what the hack is, the mistake I made and what I plan to do moving forward.
Build The Chain?
Jerry started by having a goal. Every day work on his craft. You don’t need grand plans for what you will accomplish every day. Simple small steps are adequate. Jerry was certainly brilliant here. His goal? To write just one funny line a day. Not a full joke that day, not the script to an episode that week and not a full comedy that month, just one funny line.
The brilliance comes in both starting with small steps as well as the second part. He has a full year calendar covering a wall. Each day he’d write that one funny line and put a big red X on that day. It didn’t take long and he had a chain of red Xs on that calendar. This was a clear visual reminder of the consistent work he had been putting in. This also created a future goal to break if he did miss a day. Not to mention a streak he’d not want to ruin.
Want to run a marathon? Start with walking 15 minutes a day. Save $500 a month? Skip that morning trip to Starbucks. Write a book? Write 15 minutes a day. Lose 15 pounds? Eat a healthy breakfast every day. By eating at home, you might also save that $500 . . .
Don’t Break The Chain!
Do something related to your craft every day, no matter how small that action is. Start down this path and you can quickly see that you’ve got 5, 10, 15 days of consecutive work in. It becomes harder to not apply a little time each day. And if you do fail for a day, you’ve got a new goal – make it more consecutive days. Have that chain be longer this time. Build a stronger habit!
For my calendar, I used print-a-calendar.com. Start with “Yearly” for the type, “Yes” to Grid Lines in Black and begin with the current month. If you want something larger than the typical printer can do, print out 12 individual monthly views and bust out the tape. Or search Amazon.com for year calendars.
Science to Habits
There are studies that show how long it takes for a habit to form. The most commonly quoted number is that it takes 21 days. Likely this originates from Psycho-Cybernetics. Plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz published this in the 1960s:
‘It usually requires a minimum of about 21 days to effect any perceptible change in a mental image. Following plastic surgery it takes about 21 days for the average patient to get used to his new face. When an arm or leg is amputated the “phantom limb” persists for about 21 days.’
A lot of writers latched on as that this was evidence of how long it took for the mind to form a habit. Maxell Maltz never said this was how long it took to form a habit. That is evidenced two sentences later in that paragraph:
‘These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.’
The best study I’ve found so far was in the European Journal of Social Psychology. Although it was only 96 volunteers over 12 weeks, the average was 84 days. It took 18 to 254 days for the participants to reach 95% of their asymptote of automaticity. That is to have them plateau at a point where they did something without thinking about it.
I Tweaked (It) – I Like Tinkering With Things
For me, I tweaked the method. Yes, I was partway (or perhaps not at all) successful. I wish I’d just followed it as he created.
My goal was to have a blog article published every month, and evolve this into two posts per month. My “chain” was the chronological list of months/years that WordPress can display on a blog. I was very aware of blogs I’d seen where there were large gaps between months. Not something I wanted to have my name on!
So every month I need to make sure I had something posted to keep this chain going. Unfortunately this lead to many posts being at the end of the month. The content is frequently slim and not the quality I wanted. Yes, I did a post a month for nearly two and a half years. But a lot of that content I wouldn’t use as a portfolio of what I can do. I need to go back and refine a lot of articles.
Reality Sets In
If instead I just committed to spend some time on my blog every day I’d have created that content and it would be the quality I desired. Moving forward my plan is to log in and do something on this blog every day. I might jot down some notes, work on a post, or improve an older post that is lacking. (To me, this is a living blog and I’ve been open about that.)
I’m frequently awake at 4 or 5am. This started after the accident I was in several years ago, and is not something I’ve desired. It is so bad at times I’ve even considered looking for remote work where I need to be available during East Coast hours. Sometimes I sit and read the news, other times I’ll check email and get a slow start on the work day. Now I will take my supplements/meds as soon as I walk into the kitchen, boot up and dive in. I will apply time I normally “waste” just surfing news to building this habit.
More To The Craft
Blogging is not directly key to my “craft” right now. But diverse tech knowledge and storytelling* very much is. For that reason I’m adding learning into my chain. There was a time when learning was a big part of my morning ritual. I’d get up, settle onto the couch, and see which LinkedIn Learning course I wanted to work on. Access to LinkedIn Learning was a perk for work. The benefits team regulary posted how many courses had been completed the prior quarter. One time, half of that number was from me alone.
This diverse knowledge set helps me have relevant facts and solutions during any conversation. It also is something relaxing for me. By listening to some LI learning before I start working on my blogging it sets the mindset, eases me into the task, and also adds another link to building this habit.
Hopefully you can see something small you can do daily to work toward a larger goal. Something simple where there won’t be much resistance each day.
* By storytelling I am referring to the Sales Engineer practice of working a relevant “day in the life” story into each demo. Not “telling lies” or “embellishing” – that’s the quickest way to lose your “trusted advisor” status.