Daily habit streaks without the stress

I’m so stressed out today. It’s a holiday, so I should be relaxed, right?

But see, it’s also Monday, and Monday through Friday I do a set of five core habits:

  • Workout for 60 minutes
  • Read for 60 minutes
  • Write for 60 minutes
  • Do 4 hours of deep work
  • Turn all devices off at 830p

These habits aren’t easy to hit every day; I’ve had to build up to them over time. But the power of daily habits is in the streak, where you build up a chain of consistent days that you’ve hit these targets. If you miss even a single day then you’ve broken the chain and you have to start all over. It’s a simple but powerful method of getting yourself to stick to a daily commitment.

And therein lies the problem.

See, my daughter is out of school today, so Alexis and I split the day up so each of us have a chance to get some things done. I was about 2/3rds of the way through my part of the day to work and I was feeling incredibly stressed out and overwhelmed.

When I stopped to ask myself why, I realized it’s because I had put myself in a situation where I couldn’t keep these commitments to myself. In particular, there was no way I was going to get 4 hours of deep work in today. There’s literally just not enough time in the day for me to do that.

And this is the problem with streaks of habits. The reason you want to keep them going is a trick of psychology: we don’t want to “lose” the chain that we’ve got going. That’s ultimately meaningless, but it still works.

But the method by which it works is actually stress. After all, if the construct of streaks isn’t sometimes making you a little uncomfortable and pushing you to do your habits when you otherwise might not, then what job is it actually doing? Granted, this is a fairly positive form of stress most of the time, but stress nonetheless.

The problem arises on days like today, when I’m technically supposed to do my habits, but I don’t have the ability to actually get them done, at least not without breaking some other commitment somewhere.

I’ve always done my habits Monday through Friday and taken the weekend off because it feels like I need a break and to have days to just recharge and not be “on”. But I think perhaps I need a little more wiggle-room than that, because trying (and often failing) to get my habits done on days like today just isn’t worth any marginal improvement from doing those habits, say, 20 days per month instead of 19.

So the solution is pretty simple:

Daily habits are Monday through Friday, unless I need to take the day off. Taking the day off can be because I’m sick, it’s a holiday, I have to watch my kid, I’m on vacation, etc.

But I can’t take the day off for just any reason. I can’t just decide that today is too busy, or I’m not going to hit my habits, and thus I’m going to take the day off.

This approach still provides me with enough forward momentum and incentive to keep going with my key daily habits. Unless I’m on vacation, that means I’ll still do 18-20 days of daily habits, which is still really good.

And hopefully it’ll get rid of some of the negative stress of doing habit streaks, where I feel like I’m failing and letting myself down for not doing my habits on day where they’re in conflict with my other commitments.

Since today is a holiday, I will not be doing all my habits today. I’ll hit tomorrow at 100% and keep the chain going from there.

I feel better already.