Jerry Seinfeld attributes his success as a comedian to one particular habit. As he was developing his career, every day he wrote jokes and when he’d written the joke or jokes, he crossed the day off on his calendar. Seinfeld called it “not breaking the chain”. No day missed.
Last year, having retired from running a couple of years before, I got more serious about walking for fitness. When I got to the end of the year I noticed on my app that I’d done about 325 walks in 2019. So close but yet so far to one a day. So I decided to make a go of it in 2020.
I’ve been asked why I’m so particular about logging every walk on my app. It’s the crossing off thing. I make a habit of it and the little sense of achievement drives a behaviour that keeps me walking. A quick overnight to Wellington? Pack the shoes and clothes and I’ll almost always find the time for few kilometres around the Capital. The benefits are obvious, but benefits alone don’t create beneficial habits. I “bank” some days by walking more than once a day- although I don’t allow a longer walk to be split – no gaming the system! And there’s a minimum walk distance too. I can use those banked days when it’s just not possible – unexpected travel, long working days and so on can occasionally get in the way. So far that’s been only twice this year and I’m well ahead.
So the Lockdown has fitted very well into this routine. In fact, out and about walking these last couple of weeks has brought another dimension to the habit. Everyone seems to be in the habit all of a sudden. Regular walkers, like runners and cyclists are a friendly bunch and you can always count on a greeting being exchanged. When the Lockdown started, the newbies didn’t seem so certain. There was the two metre thing of course, but also could the ‘rona fly if you said Good Morning. I noticed this weekend it’s become friendlier and more relaxed. As we head down towards freedom again, wouldn’t it be great if some of those families, couples, singles and groups who’ve made a habit, kept it going? They won’t unless they have a system.
This “not breaking the chain” is laid out in Cal Newport’s Deep Work that I read earlier and I’ve referenced a couple of times already during the Lockdown in the context of the Facebook amnesty and Deep Work.
When I combine a set amount of time for deep work with a daily “don’t break the chain” habit for that deep work, I’ve found a winning formula for doing what is meaningful. I realise this sounds quite obvious and it’s tempting to think “I could do that if I needed to” which is a little white lie I can tell myself. If you don’t need to do meaningful work – deep work – regularly, what do you need to do? It certainly isn’t clearing emails, filling in forms and signing off stuff – yes we need to do it, but it shouldn’t be a priority – which is where a habit for what matters comes in.
So when the Lockdown was about to start, I challenged myself to write each day on this blog. I’ve never been able to get regular with it, but I thought, make some good out of a situation and see if I can create a habit. The new insight about this chain I’ve noticed after 20 odd days, is the “skin in the game” principle that’s made it a decent challenge and kept me going. This is a blog that I try to keep authenticity in leadership at its heart – so it’s important for me that I stick to that principle. No abstract blogs, it’s my experiences combined with my own reading. Put another way, no going through the motions. If it’s worthwhile creating a habit for, do it with integrity – some skin in the game – you won’t always get it right, but better to give something a crack properly than skim the surface. Save that for clearing the emails.
One chain we do seem to have broken in New Zealand, if we ever had it, is COVID-19. Eighteen cases on day 18. But there’s a new statistic – breaches! Hopefully that fades away real quick. And what about Iceland – they’ve tested a massive percentage of the population and found 50% of those with COVID-19 didn’t know! Asymptomatic, which begs the question about how widespread the virus is, and how really impactful it is on some people only. There’s a full story yet to be told.
But one story still going is my blog chain – unbroken for the Lockdown – although I could cheat and “bank” the three I wrote before the actual day (couldn’t I?) and I’ve walked 122 times this year. I can’t tell you how many kilometres or the police might show an unhealthy interest!