Brad Isaac, who’s now a software developer but apparently once had thoughts of being a comic, ran into Jerry Seinfeld one night and learned his secret.
One of the Seinfeld secrets, anyway; I’m pretty sure he has more.
It doesn’t seem any more or less exotic than anything else you might read along the lines of self improvement, but don’t break the streak has a particular appeal to me. Crossing off one day at a time, noting the completion of something, seeing how a pattern is developing and wondering where it will take me is a kind of magic. It’s letting the calendar do all the heavy lifting. It’s winding the clock works and letting them go. It’s a giant temporal lever to move a very specific world. I could go on.
(If you don’t want to bother to click, Seinfeld took a large calendar and marked a red “X” on every day he did a task he had in mind, in his case writing comedy material. The visual reminder kept him encouraged to not break the string of red-X days.)
Of course, I like this because I’ve been doing it for a while now, in a variety of ways. Toward the end of last August, feeling a little desultory about my exercise habits, I decided to walk at least 5 miles every day for six weeks. I did, too, and it made a difference, although I’ve been slacking off since then. Still, not breaking the streak was enough to accomplish that little goal, and I can use all the help I can get.
There’s a real obvious downside, which needs to be talked about, and that’s breaking the streak. This is the problem with streaks, after all; they only exist because of a perceived end. So it’s important, to me, to understand what would happen when/if the streak is broken, which in most cases is nothing. Climb back on the horse, make a new streak, set a new record, etc. Don’t get all obsessive here; it’s a tool only.
I had several streaks in 2012, besides my autumn walks, and they all worked out just fine. A few I managed for 366 days, even. There are others I work on, simple things that need to be integrated into my activities of daily living, little maintenance things (throwing something away or recycling it is a big one; just one a day might create a huge difference in a year, or at least a path in the basement).
The negative streak – not doing something – feels trickier, but it’s been on my mind. This is divestment, the way I think of it, getting rid of things that have some sort of hold, and get in the way, or at the very least are expenses I could certainly do without. I’ve got a whole list of these, but they start to smell suspiciously like New Year’s resolutions. Having a holiday for lifestyle change doesn’t sound like a good way to start improving, so I try to stay away from the calendar on stuff like this.
I saw a sale on ice cream the other day, though, a favorite brand, and bought a couple of cartons. I make jokes about ice cream and its role as a vice in my life, mostly because I don’t have a whole lot in that area to tweak, and most of it is food I should be eating, instead of staying away from. Besides, how can you argue with ice cream?
It occurred to me, though, that the pleasure I got from ice cream was mostly anticipation, the awareness that it waited for me at the end of a long, stressful or boring day; the actual eating was just so-so, and sometimes inspired regret, and who needs that?
It’s a small thing, then, one that has few positives, more negatives, and a lot of neutrals. And while I enjoy a good New Year’s as much as anyone, the idea of tearing a page off an old year and beginning a new one – and there are plenty of things I’d like to accomplish before we reach the end of 2013 – the streak I most like to nurture is the practical one. There are going to be setbacks, long weekends, short nights, sad days, big moments, interruptions. It would just be nice to find one thing I could change, just to say I did, just to see what will happen.
I decided that 2013 will be a year without ice cream, then. It’s less a habit than an indulgence, and there are times I’ve wandered away from the freezer section for weeks at a time anyway, or at least kept it to little Skinny Cow sandwiches, a couple of tablespoons of cold and creamy for moments when it feels right. It won’t be a sacrifice.
But it’ll be a change, and I’m a believer in that. Who knows where I’ll be in 365 days, or if? I can’t imagine that skipping one dairy item is going to make a difference, except possibly in my obliques, but I’ve been surprised before. This is the point, actually: Make the change, don’t break the streak, try not to think about it too much, and wait.
There’s always dark chocolate, anyway. And tomorrow is another day.