The closest thing I've found to real life cheat codes

Happy Tuesday! Welcome to the second post of Bright Blue.

If you’ll remember, I ended my first post by talking about the Motivation Problem. The main idea was this:

The only thing keeping us from being much happier, longer-living, and more impactful than we are is a lack of motivation.

That’s not a blaming statement—it isn’t our fault that we don’t have more motivation, it’s just a side effect of the way we evolved. Still, it’s on us to figure out how to create it.

To live the best lives that are possible for us, we need to learn how to generate motivation efficiently. It’s the fuel that helps us do the good-but-hard things our legacy brains don’t encourage (like eating well and reading).

To that end, I want to share a simple motivation generator that’s really changed my life over the last 2 years: streaks.

Streaks are a strangely powerful brain hack. They’re so simple that they seem trivial, but I credit them with something like a 25% improvement in my quality of life.

They didn’t do it directly. They were the catalyst that allowed me meditate, gratitude journal, and exercise much more consistently than I could before. In turn, each of those activities have made my life way better.

Streaks work like this:

  • If you want to create a habit, you start a counter at 0.

  • Every consecutive day you do the habit, you add 1 to the counter.

  • If you miss a day, you start over at 0.

  • The goal is to go as long as possible without missing a day.

For some reason, paying attention to this number is VERY motivating to the human brain. You do not want to break your streak, and it keeps you going on days when you’d usually give up. My meditation and gratitude journaling streaks recently passed 140 days; before I found streaks, I never managed to do either for more than 2 weeks in a row!

Streaks have 2 traits that make them particularly effective.

  1. They get more motivating over time.

    The power of your streak grows with the amount of progress you’ve made on your habit. A 2 day streak isn’t very motivating, but a 7 day streak is, and a 30 day streak really is.

    That’s great because you need more backup to maintain a habit as time goes on. Initial enthusiasm carries you for a bit, then fatigue and complacency start interfering. Your streak pushes you through the weak moments.

  2. Every day is a win.

    Most people try to create habits by committing for a set period of time (or worse, forever). That almost never works, and it makes you feel like a failure. Even on the days when you do the habit, it doesn’t feel like winning, it just feels like staying afloat. Streaks feel much more proactive.

    Every day you extend a streak is a new accomplishment. Sometimes you break the streak, but then you just start again and try to beat your high score.

In my never-ending quest to improve my willpower, streaks are both the easiest and most effective technique I’ve discovered.

If you want to join the lifestyle, you can download the streaks app I use here: Streaks app.

Bonus Tips

Through trial and error, I’ve figured out some tweaks that make streaks way more effective. Here are 2 that I highly recommend!

  1. Set a super easy daily goal

    The most important thing is to maintain your momentum. To do that, it’s best to choose a goal that’s super easy to hit each day. I really do mean super easy—like around 1/4 of your true goal.

    If you want to meditate for 20 minutes everyday, set your daily goal to 5 minutes.

    The easy goal keeps you from getting overwhelmed. Once you get started on the activity each day, you’ll usually find it easy to keep going past the minimum. On hard days, hitting the minimum will keep your streak alive!

  2. Don’t take days off

    Streaks apps give you the option of skipping certain days in the week (e.g. weekends). It’s really hard to build a habit like that. It kills your momentum! Instead, you should do your habit every single day.

    I used to try taking weekends off, but I never managed to get a good streak going that way. After two days off, I would drop the ball on Monday. Plus, when I broke a streak mid-week, I always wanted to wait for the next Monday to start again.

    This tip is another reason for the first one. Your minimum goal should be so easy that you can hit it even on weekends or busy days.