Beating down the door…

or even haunting our dreams, the mascot of a particular app is often seen, at least in memes, …

If we miss a day, we’ll lose our streak!

This app, which shall remain nameless, is one I rather enjoy. Every day the number advances, showing that I have added a new number to my streak.

Ha, ha! The number is growing! I grow proud!

Meanwhile, I do practice.

There were, however, two occasions in which I lost that number. Each time it was somewhere in the hundreds. I found much opportunity to practice my glowering in those days.

The popular method for creating a habit at work here is called:


“Don’t Break the Chain”

In essence, it is about doing a thing every day and then adding a tally every time. As the number increases, you grow prouder of yourself, and along the way, build a habit. Many apps and admonitions for developing habit encourage this path.

However, the method is also one that subtly uses the fear of defeat, and consequently shame, as motivators. If you happen to miss a day, then the counter returns to zero.

The worry of impending failure is always there. While we haven’t failed yet, the voice that it is inevitable is always behind us. Since all things must pass, somewhere down the line, the chain will break.

Further, while we may grow proud of that number, there is something to consider in Goodhart’s comment:

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

What is important is the thing itself. Whatever it is that we are engaging—the task, the hobby, or the study—the measure that matters is our experience.


The Workflow Engine

We can see this at work in what, I call, the Workflow Engine. I describe it in a story around learning the piano in the PDF download available with newsletter signup.

At its broadest view, the workflow engine is:

  1. Deciding to be with something
  2. Being with it
  3. Doing so daily

These steps can seem quite obvious. However, by separating the components, we can now practice them. We can consider what helps with any of these steps.

Also, because there is no number, loss is not a given. Instead, you can reflect on the effect of missing a day. In that reflection, you can better decide whether it would be useful to gently return yourself to the habit.

The importance is the focus on the experience, not the number. Because of this difference, you are no longer beholden to a number, so much as a developing sense of whatever it is that you are building, both as a thing and in how you relate to it.