We’ve tried lots of techniques over the years to solidify a new habit. Tying up your ego in a daily streak is just one of those, and it’s not for everybody. And yet it seems every app wants you to care deeply about keeping up a consistent streak. Screw that. It’s OK to break your streak.
When I started wearing the Apple Watch, I was in the habit of taking two full rest days every week. I’d work out hard every weekday, and take the weekends off. But when I got a five-day streak of “closing my rings,” I didn’t want to break it. I opened up a yoga app on my phone for a 30-minute “workout” of lazy stretching. This is probably a good thing, I thought at first.
But over time my half-assed “yoga” sessions got even more half-assed. I’d keep an eye on my watch as bedtime was approaching, to see if I’d gotten enough exercise by walking around that day or if I would need to pretend to do yoga before midnight hit. I missed the days of forgetting about exercise on my rest days and letting myself actually relax.
Streaks don’t measure what matters
There are two reasons every app from Calm to Duolingo wants you to keep up a streak. One is that streaks keep you using the app every day, and as we know, companies make more money the more they can keep you using their app.
How much do you think Apple cares about making sure you’re standing up 12 times a day, versus making sure that you’re wearing their watch for at least 12 hours?
The other is that it’s an easy thing for an app developer to program, and doesn’t require any data beyond whether you’ve used the app. Most apps can’t tell the difference between you being lazy and blowing off your workout, versus taking a hard-earned rest day to let your mind and muscles recover.
So if you find your streak to be satisfying, you have to ask yourself a few questions:
How important is my streak to what I’m trying to accomplish?
Rest days are important. In fact, few things in life are so fragile that missing a day is a real setback. If you missed a day of exercise, you’ll still be fit tomorrow.
If you’re running, try adding up the number of kilometres or minutes you run each week. If you’re lifting, figure out how many days per week are appropriate for your goals, and check off whether you did the appropriate workouts.
How will I feel when I slip up and break my streak?
It will happen, eventually. Will you be able to say “Oh well, had a good run” or will you feel bad about it? Feeling bad is supposed to be your motivation — keep up the streak or else you’ll feel bad — but it may be more mentally healthy not to set yourself up for feeling like a failure.
It’s OK to take breaks. It’s OK to miss a day because you were sick, or because you had a chaotic day at work and you need a day off from other obligations.
It’s even OK to program in breaks that you take on purpose. Remember how rest days are important? If every time you break your streak you feel guilty about hurting some app’s feelings, that streak isn’t helping you. You should be able to take a day off and enjoy it.