Do you have goals? Do you know how you can achieve them? Or do you believe in overnight success?
Let’s take a guess at the origin of some of the “success” we seen.
- Behind every toned six-pack, do you think it comes from a day of strict diet and exercise? Or do you think it comes from months of strict diet and exercise?
- Behind every successful online business, do you think it comes from a day of launching a website? Or do you think it comes from months of deliberate planning and marketing?
- Behind every outstanding product, do you think it comes from one day of luck? Or do you think it comes from months of understanding the market needs and constant improvement of the product?
You see, behind the attainment of every goal is not simply a day of effort. It’s months of effort … effort put in day after day, for months.
But how can we ensure that we put in daily effort to reach our goals?
There is an amazing method you can use to do that: Don’t Break the Chain.
What is Don’t Break the Chain?
Don’t Break the Chain is a productivity system that will ensure you execute a given task daily and move towards your goal.
Why is this important?
First, look at what James Clear has to say about this.
“So often, we assume that excellence requires a monumental effort and that our lofty goals demand incredible doses of willpower and motivation. But really, all we need is dedication to small, manageable tasks. Mastery follows consistency.” – James Clear
Yes, to achieve our goal, we have to dedicate ourselves to complete small tasks consistently. Because these daily actions will eventually build up to excellent results.
And we need a system to ensure that we put in these daily actions. That’s where Don’t Break the Chain comes in.
In short, here’s how it works:
- Choose a task
- Get a calendar and a marker
- Put a cross on the date for each day you execute the action
- Keep the chain growing and don’t break it
1. Choose a task
Think of your goal that you want to achieve. What you want to achieve?
To make things easy, think of what you want to have or achieve one year from now. Build those sexy abs? Lose some weight? Write a book?
What is it? Decide on your goal and convert it into tasks that you can execute daily.
Here are some examples:
- To have a six-pack can be converted to keeping to a strict diet daily
- To have a closer relationship with your family can be converted to communicating and bonding with them daily
- To have a startup can be converted to putting effort into your startup daily
After that, decide on the minimum effort for your daily task.
Instead of saying you want to put in time for your online business, be specific and decide the amount of time to put in.
Anything that’s less than your minimum effort is not counted.
For example, your goal is to write a book. You convert writing a book into days of planning, outlining, writing and editing, etc. You decide that the minimum effort to put in is 30 minutes a day.
Note: The daily task can change. It’s not fixed.
You might want to start off with a low minimum effort to keep the momentum going, and gradually increase it.
2. Get a calendar and a marker
The second step is to get a calendar to keep track of your daily actions. You can choose to do this on a physical calendar or a digital calendar.
For a physical calendar, you can either buy or print it yourself.
If you want to buy, you can visit Amazon to get wall calendars.
If you want to print it yourself, here are some free stylish templates that you can use.
Personally, I prefer the one from Karen Kavett since it gives me a clearer view on the day of the week.
Once you’ve obtained the calendar, put it in somewhere where you can see it easily. This is important because visually seeing the calendar reminds you of performing the task.
For those who don’t want to get a physical calendar, you can use a digital calendar.
3. Put a cross on the date for each day you execute the action
After you prepare your calendar, it’s time to put on the crosses.
For each day you perform the daily action, put a cross on the date.
The original Don’t Break the Chain technique advises you to use a big red marker. But honestly, I don’t think it really matters.
Just make sure that the cross is prominent.
4. Keep the chain growing and don’t break it
The last thing to do is to grow the chain.
When you first start to grow your chain, it may seem a little funny and ridiculous since you only have a few crosses on the entire year of the calendar.
But once your chain get really long, like after a few weeks, it will look pretty impressive.
Keeping the calendar in a place where you can see it easily helps to remind you to execute the task. And if your chain is really long, you will have a heartfelt desire not to break it.
Remember the golden rule: Keep the chain growing and don’t break it!
Enhance your chain
Right now, your calendar has one rule: When you execute the daily action, put a cross on the date.
We are going to add a few more rules to make it even better.
Rule #1: Add in cheat day
In the health world, they have cheat day. What is a cheat day? Basically, it’s a day when they are free of their diet and can eat anything they want.
“Psychologists and nutritionists often believe allowing a cheat meal or cheat day to satisfy a craving allows people to stick to otherwise restrictive diets.” – Kalman
I don’t know much about the physical effect of a cheat day. But I know the psychological effect of a cheat day.
A cheat day allows me to stick to my diet. Whenever I feel like breaking my diet and indulging in a craving, I will write down what to eat and tell myself to eat it on the cheat day.
In short, we are going to have cheat day for our goal too!
And just like how we deliberately plan for our cheat day in dieting, we are going to plan for days when we do not have to do our daily action.
As a start, choose one day in the week as your cheat day. In other words, you’re going to have one day in a week where you don’t have to contribute to your goal.
For the day you assigned as the cheat day, let’s indicate it by drawing a square around the date.
Let’s treat the square as a form of cross and continue the chain.
As you get used to the daily action, you might want to decrease the number of cheat days. So instead of having one cheat day every seven days, you can decrease it to one cheat day every ten days or one cheat day every two weeks.
Similarly, if you find it hard to adapt to something, you might want to increase the number of cheat day. For example, have one cheat day every three days.
Rule #2: Add in an unexpected event
In life, things happen.
There will be days when you fall sick or something unexpected happens and you can’t complete the task. That’s life.
And it can get pretty frustrating to break the chain if that’s the case.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
- My task is to jog every morning at seven. If I wake up and it’s raining, do I go out and jog in the rain?
- My task is to write daily. If I am sick on that day, do I force myself to get up and write regardless?
There will definitely be days when you can’t execute the daily action and it’s out of your control. If that’s the case, instead of breaking the chain, draw a circle on it.
Just like the square, let’s treat the circle as a form of cross and continue the chain.
Rule #3: Grow it in another direction
Earlier, I recommended using the calendar from Karen Kavett. There is a reason I suggested that particular calendar.
It’s because it gives me a clear view of the day of the week and I can grow the chain in a different direction.
Instead of dedicating yourself to doing the action every day, you can dedicate yourself to doing the action every week.
And this helps because there are some tasks that require you to do them weekly instead of daily.
What to do when the chain breaks
It’s OK. It’s not good to break the chain, but it’s also not the worst thing. What I mean is, it’s not the end of the world. We are humans, not robots.
“But small hiccups don’t make you a failure, they make you human. The most successful people in the world slip up on their habits too. What separates them isn’t their ability to avoid mistakes, it’s their ability to get back on track quickly.” – James Clear, Transform Your Habit
It’s more important to find out what’s wrong and to regrow the chain.
Here’s what to do when your chain breaks
- Lower your minimum effort
- The higher the minimum effort, the more likely we are not to do it.
- Have an alternative daily action
- If you don’t feel like jogging for 10 minutes today (main daily action), try doing 10 push-ups (secondary daily action)
- Make sure that the calendar is readily visible to you.
- Try setting an alarm to remind yourself to do the action
I have shown you how to implement the Don’t Break the Chain method.
Here’s how to do it:
- Choose a task
- Decide on a goal that you want to achieve
- Convert it to a daily task
- Specify the minimum effort of the task
- Get a calendar and a marker
- Print out a calendar.
- Plan out your cheat day – optional
- Mark your cheat day with a square
- For each day:
- If you perform the daily action, put a cross on it
- If you did not perform the daily action and it’s out of your control, put a circle on it.
- If it’s cheat day, you can choose to do the daily action. If you do it, put a cross on the square. If you decide not to do it, leave the square as it’s.
- Other than that, leave it blank.
- Keep the chain growing and don’t break it
- In other words, there should not be any blanks in the chain.
- Here’s what it might look like.
I have shown how to use the productivity method Don’t break the chain to achieve your goal.
“Inch by inch, life’s a cinch. Yard by yard, life’s hard.” – John Bytheway
Grow the chain towards your goal
To achieve your goal, we know we need to put in daily action that moves us towards our goal. You have chosen a goal to work towards and broken it down into executable steps.
You have set up a system to make sure that you contribute to your goal daily. You have prepared a calendar that ensures that you keep moving towards your goal.
Keep the chain growing and don’t break it.
What do you think of Don’t Break the Chain? What goal is your chain moving towards?
P.S. Here’s a little fun fact: the Don’t Break the Chain method was rumoured to be created by Jerry Seinfeld, and it was known to the rest of the world as Seinfeld’s Don’t Break the Chain. However, Seinfeld denied any involvement with the method. So I guess… the method just magically appeared?