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« Website changes | Main | Top 10 Tips on How to Delegate »
Monday
Jul212008

Chaining: A Way to Keep Going

Most of us have some goals which we would like to keep going on a daily basis - it may be going for a run, or doing our piano practice, or tidying the office, or any of thousands of possible actions which we feel will leave us better off physically, mentally or financially.

Some of these may be negative goals, in that we want not to do something on a daily basis, like smoke cigarettes, eat chocolate or drink coffee.

So we are either trying to establish a new habit or break an existing one.

The trouble with these types of goals is that they often are very difficult to keep going. We usually start off with the best of intentions, keep going for a week or two and then miss a day. Then it’s a shorter period until we miss another day and that turns into two days, and before we know it we have given up the goal altogether. All we have achieved is to make ourselves feel guilty!

How can you motivate yourself to do better than this?

There is a simple method called “Chaining” which can greatly increase your chances of success. It takes the form of competing against yourself to produce the longest chain of days in which you succeeded with your goal. 

For example, if your goal is to practise the piano daily you manage to carry this out for two weeks and then miss a day. You have made a chain of fourteen days. Now your aim is to beat your record of fourteen days.

The great advantage of chaining is that it recognises that we are almost certain to fail sometimes, but this a positive as it allows us to compete with ourselves to get better and better.

So why not give it a try? Select one goal (positive or negative) which you would like to establish in your life and see how long a chain you can make. There’s even a website to help you do this:

www.joesgoals.com

Get your first goal well established before taking on another. Having too many goals going at once will dilute the effect.

Let me know how you get on!

Reader Comments (12)

I love chaining and find it very helpful in creating new habits. Another great website to help with chaining is http://www.dontbreakthechain.com.
July 21, 2008 at 19:20 | Unregistered CommenterJanine Adams
Another tool would be http://www.gtdagenda.com

It has three types of chains, per day-based, per-week based, and per-month based.
July 22, 2008 at 5:15 | Unregistered CommenterDan
Mark, 'competing against yourself' is a nice variation of 'chaining'.
I already knew the core concept as 'Seinfeld's Chain' (although it's probably much older than Jerry Seinfeld), but it didn't come to my mind that one could put a failure to good use.
Thanks for the tip!
July 22, 2008 at 18:16 | Unregistered CommenterAlex W.
I've been wanting to try this forever. Now I think I have the right project: I'm limiting myself to just six To Do items per day (3 each, work and household) and I'm not adding anything new until I finish all 6. Tomorrow I start with a new list, and I'll start the chain too.
July 23, 2008 at 5:59 | Unregistered CommenterAnn/One Bag Nation
Excellent. Many thanks for this. The psychology of game playing is becoming quite a fascination - here is a link to a few of my different posts that might be of interest: http://justseventhings.com/category/game-playing/

I'd love to know your (and your readers') thoughts on why game playing is so effective in creating change when all supposedly 'sophisticated' conscious attempts tend to fail?
July 24, 2008 at 20:19 | Unregistered CommenterSi Conroy
Thanks for the tip and link Mark. I really like this idea, and feel it could offer simple but effective self feedback. I intend to use it to 'chain' runs of daily timed 30 minutes (minimum) bursts with project work as I feel this will help me build momentum with my 5 or 6 key projects.
July 25, 2008 at 10:16 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
17 days chaining and counting for good food habits - lost 6lbs. Combined it with a food diary ;-)

Writing some more on the psychology of game playing here if you or your readers have any thoughts/ comments: http://justseventhings.com/2008/08/11/the-psychology-of-game-playing-creating-good-habits-having-great-thoughts/

Cheers

Si
August 11, 2008 at 21:08 | Unregistered CommenterSi Conroy
Si Conroy wrote: "I'd love to know your (and your readers') thoughts on why game playing is so effective in creating change when all supposedly 'sophisticated' conscious attempts tend to fail? " I think we do have something that has changed. Cal it a generation gap, or something, but baby boomers like to PLAY. Maybe it's because we spent our summer vacations playing-- really playing-- instead of working on a farm like our forebears.

our predecessors were much better than we are at working hard for the sake of working hard and not wondering why it isn't more fun. Maybe they just made it fun, I don't know. Are we spoiled compared to them? Maybe. But if they needed games, they had simpler omes, I think. Games of heart or the head rather than of the eyes and hands.
August 12, 2008 at 20:48 | Unregistered CommenterHRW
HRW:

Interesting question. Of course if your choice is "work or starve" that does concentrate the mind wonderfully!

But I think our ancestors often had equivalent methods of making it easier to keep going. Things like communal work songs for instance. Remember the final scene of "Seven Samurai" where the peasants are singing while they work in the field, and the surviving samurai realise that life goes on and that they are now just spectators.
August 13, 2008 at 0:49 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark, I've recently been reading around establishing and breaking habits and one view is that people tend to keep doing what they focus on. So, if I have a negative goal of 'not drinking coffee', for example, this may be counter-productive because it may draw attention to 'coffee' and possibly re-enforce it. What are your view on this in relation to the Chaining concept?
December 11, 2008 at 8:28 | Unregistered CommenterLeon
Leon:

Yes, I've heard this theory before, and I wonder if it's just someone's speculation or whether there is any research to support it. Personally I'd love to know how one is supposed to not focus on the subject when one is giving up highly addictive substances like caffeine and nicotine. My experience of doing both is that my every thought was directed there whether I liked it or not!

P.S. I succeeded in giving up smoking - I haven't smoked since 1973 - but caffeine defeated me, though I drink tea rather than coffee these days.
December 11, 2008 at 11:42 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark, I read about this in a NLP based text, although there was no direct reference to any scientific research. I guess it is very difficult to *not* focus on the bad habit one is trying to give up as withdrawal symptoms surface. I suppose from a practical point of view less harmful / more positive behaviours may be substituted (tea for coffee!).

Maybe it is neccessary to think deeply and close in on on a 'bad' habit if one is to have any chance of dealing with it... I do think the Chaining method is a good, visual, feedback tool for tracking one's progress though.
December 11, 2008 at 13:46 | Unregistered CommenterLeon

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