When establishing habits, the challenge is to stick with something long enough so that it actually becomes a habit. There are plenty of techniques or tips for helping with this process, but one practical bit of advice comes from the Jerry Seinfeld.
Brad Isaac writes about how he once asked Seinfeld if he any tips for a young comic who wanted to get better. He responded by saying that to become a better comedian he would need to create better jokes, and the way to create better jokes was to work on writing them every day. Then he told him to do the following to help him establish that habit:
- Get a big wall calendar that has the whole year on one page, and hang it in a prominent place;
- Get a large red marker; and
- Every day he work on writing jokes, put a big red X over the day.
He said that after a few days of red X’s, there would be a little chain, and the longer it got the more he would like seeing it grow. His only job then would be to not break the chain. “Don’t break the chain,” he repeated for emphasis.
Now, although you or I may not be looking to become great comics, his advice can be helpful in almost any area we want to grow in. Long-term growth comes through regular, on-going practice, not through doing something just once in a while. If we do something day in and day out, eventually it will become habitual. And once it becomes a habit, it will be easier to continue to do it regularly, and the ongoing time we invest will continue to help us grow.
The trick is how to keep going in those early days when what we want to do is not yet a habit. That’s where Seinfeld’s advice can help. The act of making our progress visible (possibly even public), can provide us with tremendous motivation to keep going. And the longer we keep going, the more motivation we have to not break the chain.