Changing personal habits and behaviors is really difficult. We may know in our heads what we should do, but training ourselves to make that change is elusive. Here is a tried and true approach from one of the most successful entertainers of our time.
Brad Isaac was a young comedian starting out on the comedy circuit. One night, he found himself in a club where Jerry Seinfeld was performing. Isaac shared what happened when he caught Seinfeld backstage and asked if he had “any tips for a young comic?”
He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.
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.”
Seinfeld’s approach to getting results is elegant precisely because it’s simple and because it works if it is followed.
It didn’t matter if he was motivated or not. It didn’t matter if he was writing great jokes or not. It didn't matter if what he was working on would ever make it into a show. All that mattered was “not breaking the chain.”
Here’s how to get started —first pick something meaningful enough to make a difference, but simple enough that you can get it done.
This man hasn’t broken his chain in over 42 years!
Then, for example, instead of “write a book,” set a goal of “writing 500 words every day” to make it easier to measure and, ultimately, accomplish. When you have a small action to complete every day that works toward a larger project, you’ll get more done and continually move toward your final goal, eventually accomplishing it — especially when you see those red x’s growing across your calendar. (Not unlike those successive star stickers you gave your child when he slept through the night.)
Use our template calendar:
Download our template here (3 yr habit calendar)
The Seinfeld Strategy works because it helps to take the focus off individual performance and put the emphasis on the process. It’s not about how you feel, how inspired you are, or how brilliant your work is that day. Instead, it’s simply about “not breaking the chain.” All you have to do? Pick up a calendar and get started.
Creating a goal that's measured by 'actions' (i.e. read 500 words a day) and then sticking to that action is a much more effective way to achieve a goal.
Key take away:
It doesn't matter if some days you're not doing your best or things aren't working well. Instead, focus on consistency (and don't break the chain)!
About the author(s):
Tom Willis is a Co-Founder and Partner with Phoenix Performance Partners. He had the great honor of serving as CEO for Cornerstone; a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers; and an engineer with the Intel Corporation. His life is all about helping others uncover their talents so they can reach their unlimited potential and their organization can thrive.
| Linkedin: Tom
Brad Zimmerman is a Co-Founder and Partner with Phoenix Performance Partners. Zimmerman turned to organizational coaching more than 26 years ago following a successful career in sales and operations. Today, he helps businesses, nonprofits and other organizations develop cultures that transform work environments so people grow and the organizations thrive.
| Linkedin: Brad