Don’t Break the Chain: Keep Moving

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Posted June 6, 2014 by Lindsay Bosch in Life After Five
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We all learned Newton’s first rule of physics in grade school: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. But at the time we didn’t give much thought about how this played out in our own lives. As we attack our goals (be they large or small) forward progress is everything. Consistent daily action builds extraordinary outcomes.

A few years ago Jerry Seinfeld shared his productivity secret with a writer for the website Lifehacker.

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 next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain,” he said again.

Don’t break the chain is designed particularly to visualize your lack of inertia. The simple chain of XXXX’s provides a reward that makes it easier to accomplish daily work toward your goal.  I love this tool because it is both simple and effective.  Anyone who has added something to a list that is already done, just for the pleasure of crossing it out (you know who you are) understands the efficacy of this visual approach.  Don’t Break the Chain has become so popular as a motivating idea that it has spawned numerous, websites, apps and printed calendars.

I was recently reminded of Don’t Break the Chain, when I encountered the popular new website Giveit100. The simple site invites you to choose what you want to get better at and share a video of your progress every day. User videos include practices as diverse as learning push ups playing cello, perfecting English accents, practicing Russian, and mastering card shuffling. Daily videos from users function as a  visual tool, perhaps a contemporary version of Seinfeld’s chain for the selfie-set . The site was founded by Karen X. Cheng, who went viral with her video “Girl Learns to Dance in a Year” which captures her day to day practice, and quickly marks her improvement

Cheng got thousands of emails from people who wanted to learn how to dance, but quickly realized that the power of her project  went beyond dancing. ” A child doesn’t notice when she’s growing taller. It’s the same way when you’re learning something. It happens so gradually, you hardly notice you’re getting better. We made Giveit100 for you to capture the moment you start out, and every moment after that. One day you may look back and cringe. But that will be the same moment you realize: Woah. I’ve come a long way.”

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Give it 100 provides a personal archive of practice, and delivers inspiration from others who are tackling their goals one day at time. As we consider our career goals, and insurmountable to-do lists we can look to these tools for ideas about how to measure and reach our success. Our goals are daily, incremental projects rather then something achievable in one fell swoop. Don’t Break the Chain and Give it 100 reward the regular effort rather then the  final accomplishment itself, and give us license to do the same.


About the Author

Lindsay Bosch

Lindsay Bosch is an arts and nonprofit manager who has worked in cultural institutions for over decade including the American Library Association, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Film Festival. Lindsay is interested in the self-driven (and often self taught) trajectory of women’s careers in nonprofits and writes about issues related to leadership, branding and work culture. Lindsay holds a Bachelors degree in Film and Media from Northwestern Univ. and a Masters in Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the coauthor of the art history textbook Icons of Beauty: Art, Culture and the Image of Women.

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