Don’t break the chain. It’s a simple method to achieve personal goals, break bad habits, or start doing something new. I’m usually not one for productivity porn – think smart phone apps to track tasks – because I think they’re gimmicky and waste more time than actually attacking the goal at hand.
However, even Mr. Everyday Dollar needs some help staying on track from time to time, and when I wanted to whip my body into shape I turned to one of my favorite comedians of all time: Jerry Seinfeld.
Now, what does Seinfeld have to do with losing my love handles?
It starts with an encounter that Brad Isaac, an inspiring comedian, had with Seinfeld at a comedy club. Isaac asked the legendary comic for any tips he could give to help him break into the business.
Seinfeld responded that the way to become a better comic was to write better jokes, and the way to write better jokes was to write every single day.
Doing something every single day is easier said than done, and Seinfeld had created a system to force himself to write every single day which ultimately lead to his success.
His Red X System is quite simple:
- Get a calendar (free printable ones here). Hang it on a wall that you see every day.
- Get a red marker.
- For each day that you complete the task, put a big red X over that day.
Seinfeld stated that after a few days you’ll have built a chain of X’s. The chain will get longer and longer and you won’t want to break it by not completing the task. Then your job becomes simple: don’t break the chain.
If such a simple system could propel Seinfeld to stardom I thought it would be fun to try for Shaun T’s Insanity, an intense 60-day workout program that I intended to start.
Aptly named, the workouts are cardio heavy – a variety of jumps, martial art moves, jumping jacks, burpees – along with resistance in the form of push-ups, squats and lunges, all done at a frantic pace. (The program also doesn’t involve any equipment, a big pro in my frugal and minimalist opinion.)
In the first week of starting the program, I found that there were already days that I didn’t want to queue up the workout because I was tired, either from a busy day at work or from after-work obligations.
But then I would glance over at my Insanity Red X System calendar, and the long chain of X’s would taunt me.
I found that I didn’t want to break the chain, even on that one Friday night after I made the mistake of going out for happy hour with the guys after work. I felt pretty nauseous as I powered through the workout that evening. But I had to do it, I didn’t want to break the chain!
I finished the program – missing just one day during the first week – and got my body into great shape while I improved my rep numbers on “test” days:
|Day 1 Test||Day 15 Test||Day 36 Test||Day 50 Test||Day 63 Test|
It’s easy to miss a day early in the chain like I did, and that’s the one major flaw with the Red X System. It can be extremely powerful but only once a long chain has been established. By failing one day and then the next, you put yourself into a precarious situation where you may not be able to build the motivating chain.
It’s a slippery slope to tell yourself, “I’ll start the chain tomorrow,” so you may want to involve a friend or family member early in the process to help keep you accountable, until you have a solid chain built.
So if you’re like most people – feeling overwhelmed or frustrated that you aren’t reaching your goals or getting things done – you should try the Red X System. We all know how easy it is if we skip one day to skip the next, but using this system makes sure that we keep building a chain, thereby building the habits, that lead to our success.
It could be flossing your teeth, not going out to eat in order to save money, or putting $5/day into your emergency fund, start with a red X today!