The Danger of Daily Streaks
Updated: Mar 11, 2020
Are you unaffected by the lure of keeping up a daily streak?
I am very prone to falling prey to daily streaks, being a very task oriented person who wants to get things done and check things off my list in order to feel accomplished. It sucks me in very quickly.
The best solution for me was to break the streaks.
A lot of games or apps will have daily streaks to say you've been doing this for 93 consecutive days. It helps you keep track of how long you've been doing it, and it helps motivate you to keep coming back, so that you can keep up that daily streak. That can be a good drive to do a good thing, but it is very easy to fall into doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
The problem is that oftentimes we center more focus and energy towards that thing that is giving us that daily streak than we necessarily should. A perfect example is that, as I’m writing this (November 13th), I broke my 710 day streak on Duolingo.
I thought I equipped a streak freeze, but apparently it didn’t work yesterday. However, this morning, I was honestly relieved when I saw it reset to 0. I haven’t been enjoying Duolingo as much lately and I was spending around 15 minutes every day on it, simply to keep that number up.
The streak is what motivated me to keep going back, which is both a good and a bad thing. Language study is good, but the amount of time I have spent playing on Duolingo while my husband wanted to talk to me or the time I could have been doing more productive things might not have been the most effective thing I could be doing, especially since I wasn’t enjoying it half the time.
I’ve had mixed feelings about keeping up my Duolingo streak, but I never felt like breaking it, so I kept it up with the use of streak freezes. Now I’ve lost my streak, so I don’t need to feel obligated to keep it up and I can use Duolingo when I feel like it.
I have a meditation app that has daily streaks as well. I was keeping that up too. Then on day 190, I looked at my streak, and I saw that it hadn't registered that I had done it the day before, so it said I was back to a one day streak.
I was mad at first, because all of that time and work landed me back on square one. Then I started asking myself, why do I care? Where is this need to fulfill this daily streak goal coming from? Honestly, I just wanted to get the sticker that says I meditated for 365 days in a row. Again I thought, why do I care if I get that sticker? The sticker only exists to motivate me, so if I am using meditation and getting the benefits from it, then I am accomplishing my purpose.
While it's a good thing to do daily meditation and I highly advise it, I was getting swallowed up in the wrong thing. It doesn't matter if I use that app, every single day. What’s important is developing the habit of meditation. I was losing proper focus and only trying to get my streak in. Thus, a lot of the times, I did a quick one-minute breathing exercise, just to get through it so I could say I did it for the day and check it off the list, but it didn't really add much value to my life when I did that.
Breaking that streak was exactly what I needed. I needed to stop caring about that streak, so I stopped looking at the daily streak count. Fortunately, that was an option; it's a different window that shows me my daily streak, so I simply stopped looking at it. Now I don't care if I have like a 2 day streak, or a 45 day streak, I just do it when I want to.
The funny thing about that is recently, I've been doing a lot more meditation. I have longer sessions, and even though they don’t necessarily happen every single day on that particular app, I've been able to fulfill my deeper purpose: being able to meditate more fully and focus on my creative abilities, rather than getting a sticker.
I knew today was the day I needed to work on this post, because yesterday I also discovered that my 100+ day streak on Clozemaster reset, which I’m also grateful for. I love Clozemaster, but in the past few weeks, it has become a lot less fun, so now I don’t have to feel obligated to do it; I can do it because I want to.
It's very important to not get too attached to streaks and be willing to break them (I’ll admit, I didn’t do the ones in the last two days willingly). In the end, your daily streak often doesn't matter.
Missing a class
Similarly, in college, I almost never missed a single class. Even if I was really sick, I would be in class. Once in my sophomore or junior year though, I had a dance competition that conflicted with my classes. So I had to miss class. Even though it really hurt to initially miss that one class, it helped me relax. I was no longer a 100% attendance college student, which was a bummer because I like to be on the ball, but it took that pressure off of me that I absolutely had to be a 100 percenter.
When I got surgery in my senior year, at first I wanted to come to class the next day, but then I realized that I shouldn’t push myself that hard and I didn't go to class. I made sure to make up for the classes I missed, of course. In no way am I telling you to slack off. I talked to the professors, worked with them, and went to their office hours, so I got what was really important.
However, I didn't have the “daily streak”, so to speak (except in grad school, where I did have 100% attendance). That's what I want you to focus on: focus on the principle, rather than a ticky mark indicator that you're doing something "correctly". You don’t have to break your streak (though breaking your streak can be a good way to get out of your rigid need to keep your structure, and maybe branch out a little bit). Whatever your daily streak is, think about why you do it. Focus on the principal.
Technology free day
A year into our marriage, my husband and I decided to take a technology free day. We didn't use our Amazon Alexa, our phones, the computer, and we don't even have a TV, so we didn't use that. We went a full day with no technology. That was a fun experience!
It’s also a similar principle. I’m sure you have a multi-hundred daily streak with technology. Besides this one day, I probably haven’t missed a day in years. But technology serves us, we don’t need to serve it. Make sure that you are working towards your goals rather than doing something out of habit.
My challenge for you is to identify something that you have a daily streak with, so to speak. What is something that you do every single day, that you haven't missed in a long time, for any reason? I want you to identify why it is you haven't missed a day. (It can be a good or bad habit.)
Determine whether that is a good reason to do this daily task. If it's a good habit, like reading scriptures daily, keep doing it every single day, but focus on the why, rather than the what. If it's a bad habit, like playing games on your phone, break it early. Try going one day without it and see what happens. You probably won't explode!