Making a chain isn't as important as making an effort

Jan 3, 2023

It's common knowledge for those with new year's resolutions that keeping track of your new habits with streaks (or chains) is touted as a way to achieve them. For the past few years I've sought to take the same approach and crack out the habit tracker and make it a goal to keep the streaks running as long as possible. Unfortunately they always fizzle out far too quickly.

I don't think that habit tracking in and of itself is bad but the mindset we can build around it can be a hinderance rather than a help. Doing some reflecting at the start of this year about what habits I want to form I settled on two things to do with habit tracking:

  1. The thought of keeping a chain going is too daunting for me. Having a pessimistic mindset means that I am very likely to give up once I've broken the chain a couple of times. Particularly if it wasn't a long streak.
  2. Habit tracking scratches a fatal bane to my productivity and motivation, the desire to measure everything. As a form of procrastination I love to work out the way to be the most productive and reflective. Already this year I've started considering how I can incorporate daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual reviews. This is before we've even got through the first week of 2023 and needed any form of review!

These two things are what seem to derail me each year, despite being meant to help me. The issue is that by spending too much time on the periphary of my habits I waste my energy and motivation on them before actually doing the habits.

One of the 3 rules (I'll probably write about the other 2 some other time) I've made for myself this year is no streaks, just count. My tendency to count streaks and build elaborate systems to analyse my progress adds so much cognitive overhead that I very rarely look forward to practicing my habits. By just counting how often I've done a habit I'm hoping to strike the balance between visiblity and cognitive overload.

When it comes down to it, the effort we put in is always going to be more valuable than keeping a number going over the long run. Not having to worry about that increasing number allows me to channel my effort into actually doing something. So here's to a new year and hopefully, new habits.