Don't Break the Chain

Jul 28, 2021

Today is my 60th consecutive daily blog post. Every year, I've wanted to write more, and this year I finally did. So this is a story about the process.

First, Seinfeld is one of my all-time favorite television shows. I've seen every episode multiple times. How is it so funny, and what does that have to do with writing daily blog posts? It all traces back to a story I read about Jerry Seinfeld's creative process that stuck with me.

It's a story that happened almost 20 years ago when Jerry was still on tour. A young comedian named Brad Isaac found Jerry backstage and asked him what his secret was. (Brad later quit and went into software engineering - maybe I should become a comedian?)

Jerry said it was simple. To be a better comic, write better jokes. To write better jokes, write every day. But Jerry also told Brad about his system: Don't break the chain:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.

“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 is to not break the chain.”

I don't have a physical calendar, but I used to track habits in a giant spreadsheet with a fancy automatic streak calculator.

I started with daily running, going a few miles every day. After a few months, I was hitting more than 55 miles a week and crushing personal records. Then, in May, I decided to do the same for writing.

I'm starting small, and that helps. I told myself I would publish something every day, regardless of length or how profound the ideas were. There's scientific evidence that we're more likely to keep habits if they start small (BJ Fogg, Director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford, wrote a great book called Tiny Habits).

Attaching the new habit to an existing one works well too. For example, I added writing to my morning routine before my runs. Every morning, I drink some water, eat a banana, and write for 30 to 45 minutes before going on my run. I took this tip from James Clear, who wrote Atomic Habits.

At first, I thought I'd enjoy deep rather than rote work. But rote work begets deep. And routines work for me. I can see the improvement in my writing. I feel more creative than before. I wonder what habit I'll tackle next.

Some of the more popular posts over the last two months:

[You can read the original story of Jerry's advice from 2007 here]