The Weight of a Streak

Back on April 10, WordPress notified me that I had a 100 consecutive day streak of posting underway. I thought it was nice of WordPress to notice this and let me know about it. Thereafter, for the next 108 days (as of this writing), WordPress has sent me a daily reminder of my posting streak. I was happy with the alert at 100 days. I appreciated the notice at the 200-day mark. But every day? After a while, the weight of a streak becomes a stressor itself.

My folks visited recently and while my Dad was here, he mentioned that his streak of 600 days of walking was finally broken–on the 600th day.

Streaks are good ways to form habits. As I write this, I am on a 45 consecutive day streak of meditating each morning.

“Don’t break the chain,” sometimes referred to as the Seinfeld Method can be a powerful incentive for people to do whatever it is they want to do. Following that method is what got me my 825 consecutive day writing streak that ran from 2013 in 2015.

Heat map of my 825 day writing streak
Heat map of my 815 days of my 825-day writing streak.

I voluntarily ended that writing streak. I learned a lot from it, and not all of it was about writing. The most important thing that I learned is this: performing an activity just to keep a streak alive is a bad reason to perform the activity. For me, my writing became about the streak, and not the writing. When that happened, I woke each day feeling the weight of the streak press down on me. Each morning that streak was one day heavier. Streaks can be nerve-wracking as they build up. Winning streaks in sports sometimes built on their own momentum, but ultimately crash under the pressure of their weight. I often wonder how Joe DiMaggio felt each time he entered a game during the later part of his 56-game hitting streak in 1941.

For me, a streak is a precarious thing, balanced on a knife edge. I am fine if I keep it going, despite the pressure. But I can’t miss a day. If I break the streak, I am not likely to get it started again, and that is bad.

These day, I try to treat streaks not as tools that keep me going, but as side-effects of activities that I enjoy. Thinking about a streak in this way puts it in a different perspective. If I miss a day, it’s no big deal, I’ll get back on it the next day. There is no disappointment in breaking the streak. It’s not a crutch and I can get along fine without it. That was a difficult mental pivot for me to make.

My writing streak taught me that I could be disciplined about my writing. Yet I think the pressure to get something written every day diluted the quality of what I wrote. Sometimes I was just worn out and had nothing to say, but forced it anyway. That’s no way to do it, at least not for me.

What of the current streak I have going here on the blog? This post marks the 210th consecutive day I’ve posted on the blog? How do I handle the weight of that streak? Well, it isn’t really a streak. Yes, I have had a new post up every day for the last 210 days. But I haven’t written every day during that time. Often, I’ll write more than one post during my morning writing time. Usually, I am 2-3 days ahead in scheduled posts. That way, if I need a day off, or circumstances prevent me from writing, I’ve still got several days worth of posts already scheduled. (More about how I manage the blog is coming next week.) I’m slowly trying to work my way up to a 7-10 day lead time. Just knowing that I can skip a day or two of writing if I need to means that there really is no writing streak weighing me down here, even if posts are appearing every day.

More important than a streak is finding the joy in whatever it is you are trying to do. That, it turns out, is more motivating than any streak I might find myself in. I really enjoy writing here. It is the most fun I’ve had of any of the writing I’ve done, including writing that I’ve been paid for. Joy, not streaks, is my real motivation.

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