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Don’t Break The Chain

What is it about?

We all have set new year’s resolutions or goals, whether it’s working out, reading a book, or meditating. And we all are very motivated at first, but this motivation tends to wane as time goes by. Why is that? Attaining your goals requires effort that needs to be applied day in and day out. This technique will help you stay focused on a daily basis and reach your goals.

The system

Don’t break the chain is a productivity system that consists of writing a cross on your calendar each day you complete a given task. As you mark the days off, it creates a chain of actions, that motivates you to keep the streak going. Quickly, it forms a habit, moving you towards your goal. If you miss a day, you need to restart the chain from the beginning.

Don't brake the chaine calendar

Why it works

When we accomplish a task, our brain releases dopamine (the neurotransmitter that triggers pleasure) as a reward. This « feel good » feedback loop trains our brain to desire the action again, and this is how habits get formed.

The longer the chain gets, the harder it is to break because we want to avoid the feeling of self-defeat that comes with ruining a streak.

Set your goals

First, you need to think of the goals you want to achieve, over the next few months or the next year.

For instance:

  • Become fit
  • Write a book
  • Meditate

Make sure to pick realistic goals that you are actually able to reach.

We recommend you to start with one goal at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Once you feel comfortable with one goal, add a new one, and so on.

Set your tasks

Now that your goals are well defined, you need to split them into small, manageable tasks that you can accomplish every day. First, you need to clearly define the minimum requirements for each task, otherwise it will be easy to cheat and skip the activity.

For example:

  • « Become fit » becomes « Do a 7-minute workout » every day
  • « Meditate » becomes « Meditate for 10 minutes » every day

Try to make your requirements outcome related, meaning that you should focus on what you get out of the task and not just on how long you should spend on it. This is because our brain tends to cheat and we stretch tasks to fill out time.

For example:

  • « Write 300 words » instead of « Write for 30 minutes »
  • « Run 3 miles (5 km) » instead of « Run for 30 minutes »

Define boundaries

You can’t be at your best 100% of the time and there are days when you won’t be able to work on your goals, whether you are sick, on vacation or you just need some rest.

You have to define boundaries if you want to stay motivated. Setting the bar too high or overdoing it can only set yourself up for failure. For instance:

  • Mark an S on your calendar when you are sick
  • Mark a V on your calendar when you are on vacation
  • Mark an R on your calendar for rest days (rest day rules need to be defined for each task)

If you mark a day with one of these letters, it’s ok to continue your streak when you get back to it.

If you miss a day because of other reasons, you have to start your chain from scratch. And doing extra work the next day doesn’t count.

Choose a reward

If you are having trouble finding motivation, pick a reward for yourself that you will get only if you accomplish a task a certain amount of times in a row. Having a reward to look forward to is a good incentive that can help you stay on track.

For example:

  • Buy yourself a gift
  • Go to your favorite restaurant

Pick your tools

Digital calendars like Google Calendar, Apple Calendar App, or Outlook. To mark off a task, all you need to do is select the day on your calendar and create an « all day » event. If you have multiple tasks, create one calendar per task.

Mobile Apps like Streaks, Habitify, HabitList or Coach.me (full list in the Learn More section)

Web Apps like EverydayCheck, Helix or Flowdash

Paper calendars are a very visual way to follow your streaks and a great motivator if you put it somewhere you can see easily. All you need is a paper calendar and a marker. Here a few examples: Karen Kavett’s calendarPlanniste and At-a-glance.

If you are using this technique for multiple tasks each day, we recommend you to have one paper calendar for each task.

Take action

  • Set your goals
  • Split your goals into small, manageable tasks you can accomplish every day
  • Define your boundaries
  • Pick your tool
  • Start a task
  • Mark it off your calendar or app

Benefits

  • Stay motivated
  • Move towards your goals
  • Define your goals
  • Create habits

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