Back in January 2020, I sat down and reviewed my personal goals and habits. Among other things, I decided that I wanted to blog more often. The plan was to start posting new articles to my blog at least once a month, come rain, shine, sleet, or snow. I’ve been diligent in doing it too, that is until last month. In October 2022, there was no new blog post. For the first time in 33 months, one of my longest habit streaks was broken.
So how did I get into a position where I was posting blog posts so regularly for so long? I wouldn’t attribute my success solely to my habit streak, but I think its role in my motivation is unmistakable, especially when I was experiencing some pretty bad writer’s block.
The power of habit streaks
The problem most people have with maintaining habits is the loss of motivation. Motivation can be the spark that gets you going, but it doesn’t last. You need the dedication to keep going on with your desired behaviours, or, at the very least, you need momentum. This is where streaks come in.
Streaks play an interesting role in the reward and punishment systems in our brains. They create a powerful emotional response where we feel proud of our ongoing streaks, fearful of breaking them, and ultimately guilty if we do break them. This emotional response gives us a leg up in maintaining our momentum.
The length of a streak also affects its perceived value. You’re much more likely to break a short streak. We simply perceive longer streaks as more valuable and will go to much greater lengths to not break them. For this reason, streaks can be seen as being greater than the sum of their parts. If you can do the hard work to maintain a streak for a short while, you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy the benefits of maintaining it for a much longer time.
Breaking a streak
Considering all of the above, I do feel a bit bad that I broke this streak. I feel that way every time I break a streak, especially a long one. The other day I didn’t make my bed in the morning after doing it for 500+ consecutive days. You can’t help but feel a bit bummed out. However, I also recognise that there’s a time and place to take a break. We’re only human, after all.
It’s also worth noting that streaks aren’t the be-all and end-all of productivity & habit-building. As with all things, there are pros and cons. When you’re building streaks, you might feel like dropping the ball just isn’t an option. This is a double-edged sword because of that guilt you feel when you eventually do. In truth, it’s completely fine to drop the ball every now and then as long as you pick it back up.
There are even a couple of habit-tracking apps popping up that go against the grain of streaks a bit. Take Forte for example. Forte doesn’t set you back to zero for missing one day, it allows a bit more leeway than that. If you miss consecutive days, it does punish you, but the added buffer can be a godsend if the thought of breaking your streaks in conventional habit apps scares you.
Whether you like counting habit streaks or not, there’s no denying that they can be leveraged to build habits that might otherwise have been hard to stick to. However, remember that it’s okay to drop the ball every now and then as long as you pick it back up.