Habits, Streaks, and Resolutions

I don't really do New Year's resolutions. I never really have. They have always just seemed a little too vague to me. According to a recent study1 the top three resolutions for 2014 (and I would bet most recent years) are lose weight, get organized, spend less and save more. We see all too often just how many people can't keep their resolution. Only 75% of New Year's resolutions even make it to January 7th. Even though there are far too many ways to fail a resolution there is rarely a clear win. Lose weight, how much? Get organized, how do you measure that?

I don't do resolutions but I do have habits. We all have habits, some we know about and others that we don't even realize affect us. Along with my habits I have streaks. They really aren't all that different; streaks are just habits that can be quantified. Habit: I listen to Adventures in Odyssey when I go to bed. Streak: I have listened to Adventures in Odyssey more than 2,700 nights in a row. Habit: I go to the Nook for the Burger-of-the-Month. Streak: I have had the BotM every month for the last 71 months.

The thing about streaks and habits is that they are much harder to break than a resolution. Streak: an uninterrupted series2. Habit: a thing done often and hence, usually, done easily; a pattern of action that is acquired and has become so automatic that it is difficult to break3. By definition they are either so ingrained that they are second nature or so important that is you can't miss even once. Jerry Seinfeld had a productivity tip. First decide what you want your streak to be, for Seinfeld it was writing jokes. Then everyday that you work on your streak you put a giant red X through that day on the calendar. "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 next is to not break the chain."4

This is what you do for intentional streaks, productive habits, and positive traits. You protect them, you nurture them, you look after them. But what do you do with the habits you have that aren't so helpful? Our default is not positive, our traits are nefarious, our nature is evil. There are some streaks that rather than protecting you have to work at crushing. Bad habits aren't simply bad because of their own negative consequences but because they crowd out good habits. We need to exchange our bad habits for good. We have to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles"5 and "put on the new self."

I know I said I don't really do resolutions but if you are looking to start a streak January 1 is a great time for it. (It sure makes keeping track a lot easier.)

What streaks are things that I need to start today?
What are the habits I have that need to be crushed?
What chains do I need to break?
What chains do I need to forge?