The Power of the Streak

I was an active kid, and an active teenager. I surfed, rode BMX, raced motocross, skateboarded, snowboarded, you name it. As long as it was fun, I’d be into it. But deliberate exercise, like running or going to the gym? Forget about it. Not. Gonna. Do it.

I don’t quite know why, but I had stopped doing all these things as an adult. I had been leading an inactive, sedentary lifestyle, and my body was not happy with me. When I tried to do the sports I used to do, it was a struggle because I was so out of shape.

I had tried many times to get into running, but I just couldn’t get it to stick. Of course, each time I tried and failed, it reinforced the belief I’ve had my whole life—running just isn’t for me.

Well, for the last five months, I’ve been running at least three times per week, and the last few weeks, every day. And honestly, I love it.

How did I finally change this lifelong aversion to running?

I used the power of the streak.

For Christmas, my dad gave me a Nike Fuelband. Its a wristband that keeps track of your activity throughout the day using a points system. It sets a customizable points goal for the day and if you get your points, you “get to green”, or “win the day”. There’s an iPhone app that lets you view your history. By seeing your history, you can see when you’re on a streak.

When I first got it, I wasn’t sure if I would use it. I thought it would be yet another gadget to add to my collection. A few days after Christmas, I pulled it out, set it up, and put it on.

Here’s what my first week looked like with the the Fuelband:

  • Day 1: green
  • Day 2: no green
  • Day 3: no green
  • Day 4: green
  • Day 5: no green
  • Day 6: green
  • Day 7: green

I wasn’t really taking it too seriously that first week, I was just getting the hang of it and playing with the app. But something happened once I got to green two days in a row. Something clicked in my brain. I had began a streak.

For the next 40 days, I got to green every day. The longer the streak became, the stronger the motivation became to keep it going. I was more driven by not breaking the streak than anything else.

I’m not kidding either… on my run days, it was pretty easy to get to green, but on the days in between, I would go out for a walk or jog at 11pm if I needed to get my points.

On the day I broke the streak, I was out and about in the evening. Somehow, I managed to drain the battery in my car, so I spent a couple hours dealing with that. I didn’t get home until about 10:30pm. I knew I still needed to go out for a jog, but there were some things I needed to do when I got home, so I got side tracked.

When it crossed my mind again that I still needed to get to green, I looked at the clock and it was 11:50pm. Well, the Fuelband resets your points at midnight. I had 10 minutes to get 1,000 points.

At this point the motivation to continue my streak was so strong, that even though I was tired and ready to pass out, I frantically threw on my running shoes and bolted out the house in the middle of the night and ran like my life depended on it (with exaggerated arm movements to try to get more points).

When 12am hit, I was 200 points away from getting to green. I had broken my 40 day streak. Big bummer.

What happened though in those 40 days of obsessing the streak is that I successfully formed the running habit. I got over the hump, and it stuck. Since then, I’ve moved on to running every day, and am now working to incorporate strength training.

From this experience, I’ve learned that if I want to make a habit stick, I need to track it, and get on a streak. If I can do that, the motivation to maintain the streak can will push me over the hump so that I can rewire my brain to believe that it is my new normal.

That’s the power of the streak for me.

Here are a few tools I’ve been using to track my streaks:

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