Seinfeld Method

It seems apt to start my new one-a-day blogging by discussing the Seinfeld Method which has stood me in good stead for a number of different habits. But I’m getting ahead of myself; I should explain.

Motivation

The idea is that you can wrest control of your habits away from your subconscious - instead of being controlled by them. This means both creating new habits and breaking those undesirable bits and pieces you have lodged in your mind that you do without conscious thought.

Habits

So what is a habit anyway? Wikipedia says “A habit (or wont) is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur unconsciously.” I think this is a helpful definition; it shows off the strength that we can harness by taking control and using this artefact of human psyche for our own, initially conscious, benefit.

The Gist

So Seinfeld felt that just by doing something each day: making sure you really do it, you make it easier to keep doing it. He was applying it to writing comedy, but I’m applying it in a few different areas: I used it to break my habit of biting my nails, for example!

So how does it work? It’s pretty simple: you use a big, real life, highly-visible calendar and mark off the days where you did, or didn’t do, the thing you said you were going to do, or stop doing. Simple, right? The “chain” part of it comes in where you don’t like to leave holes in your calendar - it looks untidy - so you have this extra bit of motivation to execute the action and cross off a day.

Gotchas

So I’ve used this method for a year or so and applied it in a number of ways and found that you need to use a few guidelines in order to use it effectively.

  1. Use vague objectives; don’t say “I want to go to the gym every day”, instead say “I want to do exercise every day” – this allows you to have a lazy day now and then, or to do alternative exercise when you’re on holiday, i.e. make sure that the goal is achievable each day.

  2. Some goals require detail and that detail stops you doing them each day if something comes up; e.g. I have some objectives around coding on a specific project, where just doing miscellaneous coding wouldn’t do (because I like neglecting projects…) So you need to allow yourself planned days off where you know you won’t be able to do this activity.

I would say that needing to do this is a hint that you’re going too specific and should really be trying to back off and make the goal more manageable and flexible. So your preference should be to ease the goal instead of adding in a level of paperwork like this that could spell the failure of your objective.

  1. Real-life, month-sized, single objective calendars are the way to go: you might think that this will make managing many objectives difficult, and you’d be right. Think of it as a hint that you shouldn’t push yourself so hard! Physical calendars are really a must as they’re much harder to ignore than some ephemeral digital version.

When am I done?

As with many things this is a judgement call: you’re done when you no longer feel that executing your desired action takes any effort; you do that thing naturally, without needing to make space for it in your schedule – it’s now a core part of your day. You can throw the calendar out and consider building or breaking a new one.

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