In a college-level media literacy course I taught last semester, I challenged my students to alter their social media routines in a significant way for three consecutive days and then reflect on the experience.
Many of them chose to give up a platform that they felt addicted to, and for many of them, this was Snapchat, a.k.a. the technology that makes me feel the most like an old lady because I. do not. get it. (Luvvie says this is the natural order of things, though.)
Anyway, one of the conditions of the assignment was that I asked students to please not lie in their reflection. If they broke their challenge, if they failed in resisting the technology they sought to resist, I wanted them to admit it, and then to explore it. What conditions made it difficult to keep up their goals for three straight days?
This was how I learned about Snapstreaks.
Several students told me that even though they did not regularly engage with Snapchat during their “media diet” for class, they did log in quickly to post something very minor in order to keep a Snapstreak going. (According to Snapchat, these streaks start when two friends have Snapped each other within 24 hours for more than three consecutive days.) Some of these streaks have been going on for hundreds and hundreds of days, and there are entire support pages for recovering “streaks” that have been eliminated by error.
This is, my students assure me, a big deal.
And though I may not see the appeal of Snapchat, I actually do get the appeal of a streak. I use them a lot in my personal life, particularly related to fitness or nutrition goals, and I also use them in my creative life. I first heard of the idea from a Jerry Seinfeld quote (or at least that’s who it was attributed to. I did not fact check this; regardless, it resonated!)
As the legend is told here, Seinfeld gave this advice to a young comic:
“[Seinfeld] said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day…. get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. [Then] get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.
After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”
Your only job is to not break the chain. So simple, yet so powerful.
Now, I can’t commit to a year at a time, whether it’s related to my writing or what I’m putting in my pie hole. (For instance, if I said my goal was to go a year without drinking soda, I would very quickly find myself sitting in front of the fridge, binging on two-liters.)
But I can do five day streaks. Six days. Sometimes a week or two, depending on the goal at hand.
And so, I set small streak-related goals for myself. When I’ve reached my goal, I often take a day off (or two) and jump right into a new one. One benefit of shorter streaks is that you can change the goal. Sometimes it’s not about writing 1,000 words a day, or resisting soda, or hitting my 10,000 steps. Sometimes it’s about editing a certain number of pages, or packing lunch from home instead of eating out. The magic of the short streak is that it can shift and adapt as the seasons change and your goals evolve.
I don’t have the big wall calendar that Seinfeld recommends, but because I am really just an oversized five-year-old, I do have sparkly stickers, and I really like seeing them line up in shiny little rows on index cards hanging on the wall above my desk.
I may not ever understand Snapchat, or whatever hip + newfangled thing the kids will be doing tomorrow, but I definitely get the satisfaction of a streak, and unlike the latest media trend, a system for getting things done never really goes out of vogue. I highly recommend seeing what streaks can do for you.
Jess Vonn is the author of the “Love by The Seasons” series. Her first two books, A Time to Fall and Warm Me in Winter, are available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. Her third book publishes in Summer 2018. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.