Let’s Go Streaking

The Power of Continuity

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

March 2, 2017, I pasted this line from Semisonic’s “Closing Time” into a journal entry alongside a calendar marked with a single, red x. It wasn’t my first attempt at stringing together sober days and tracking them visually.

A year prior, in March of 2016, a similar calendar filled with green checks reflected two significant sober streaks… 10 and 11 days. That month, I raced my second fastest half-marathon ever and also astounded my doctor with bloodwork improvements “like he’d never seen.” But those are stories for another day.

Back to 2017; That March did not end on a positive note. I abandoned the calendar, and my attempt at sobriety, after a string of red x’s and, oddly, a single green check. I could not overcome the psychic weight of those negative marks.

March, 2016: Two good runs

March, 2017: How it started

March, 2017: How it ended

Something interesting is at play. Why does starting and maintaining a streak motivate people so effectively, while breaking one has the opposite effect?

The why: We’re wired for it.

We should try to resist describing complex behaviors as “fate” or “destiny,” but various aspects of human nature do seem to predispose us to predictability and sustained commitment (AKA habits).

From an evolutionary standpoint, strong familial and social connections tend to encourage survival of the species. Biologically speaking, positive experiences flood our brains with feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters that create intense bonds with those experiences.

Marketers and social media companies pull all these levers on the daily.

Emotions also incline people to commitment. Repeated behaviors become more “valuable” to us over time. It’s why the perceived sense of loss that accompanies change can feel so strong, even if we’re only thinking about the change, and even if we know it would be for the better.

Marketers and social media companies pull all these levers on the daily. So do Big Alcohol and your friendly, neighborhood narcissist. But we can manipulate them ourselves, too… Mindfully.

The how: Six steps to consider.

Knowing there’s power in the streak, how can we exploit that psychological stimulus to help us learn and grow? To start, quit, sustain, and abstain? Here’s a basic playbook.

1. Set clear goals: Define specific, achievable goals for your streak. Whether it’s running a certain number of days in a row or maintaining sobriety for a set period, clarity is key.

2. Or, don’t: It’s also okay to start something without expectations and give yourself the grace to move in and out. Just run today. Just don’t drink today. The best streaks are built (if you’ll pardon the expression) one day at a time.

3. Adjust as needed: Whether you take the regimented approach of #1, the softer strategy of #2, or somewhere between, be flexible in adjusting your goals. Try to anticipate “streak disruptors” and plan for a pause if necessary. A scheduled break and restart may actually help you build resilience for unexpected twists and turns to come.

There’s something to be said for seeing your streak at a glance.

4. Track progress: This one gets two big paragraphs, because yes… It’s that important.

Keep a daily log of your streak activity. Journaling can be a powerful tool for linking your streak to its real impacts on your life. How are you feeling? Are you noticing physiological changes? How’s your sleep? Work? Relationships? When I embarked on the 30-day sobriety attempt that would ultimately lead to me quitting booze for good, I used my journal to track weight (15 pounds lost), appearance (eyes and skin cleared up), and other metrics, along with thoughts and feelings in paragraph form.

Make it visual. There’s something to be said for seeing your streak at a glance. Use calendars, charts, or apps that display your progress in a way that’s easy to see and understand. The act of “checking a box” at the end of the day provides wonderful reinforcement. I’ve even experimented with “pre-checking” boxes at the beginning of the day as a way of setting intention. Many apps have visual streak tracking features as well, though there’s something that feels more concrete about “tactile” methods.

Experiment and find the tracking methodologies that work for you. But don’t skip this important step.

5. Engage with a community: Linking up with like-minded folks builds elements of social influence and accountability into your streak. Being part of a community pulls those powerful “levers of purpose’ we talked about in the previous section. You’ll enjoy a sense of belonging and lessen the feeling that you’re in it alone. You can ask for and give support, be recognized for achievements and milestones, and even compete in small side challenges. See below for a few additional resources to get started!

6. Consider a coach: Like involvement with a community, engaging a coach levels-up your intrinsic commitment and puts an experienced guide and advocate in your corner. There are, of course, coaches of all stripes. If you’re a male masters runner (40+) interested in better running and alcohol-free living, consider giving me a shout for a free consultation.

Contact Coach Mike (my daughter loves it when I call myself that)

The gremlin: Self-criticism.

One sure way to sabotage a streak is through excessive worry and negative self talk, so be easy on yourself. Rather than perfection, strive for self-compassion and patience. Remember that you are not your thoughts. When negative ones intrude, acknowledge them and then let ’em go. If you encounter a setback, spend a little time on the “why” (but not too much), then embrace the opportunity to learn, adjust, and start the next streak anew.

The wrap-up: We’re going streaking!

Back to that opening line from “Closing Time, remember that streaks break. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end… It is okay to operate in “intermittent streaks,” starting over many times. Whether your goals are health, wellness, running, or sobriety-related, there’s resilience to be found in restarts and renewed energy in “Day Ones.” Keep showing up every day, open to the full experience, and soon it will stick. 🤙

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