A streak, in the habit world, is doing something every single day. Run a mile a day, meditate for 10 minutes a day, read Hebrew for 30 minutes a day (that last one is my father’s streak — decades strong at this point!).
The DuoLingo language app encourages users to practice daily. It keeps track of how long you have maintained a streak. But! As we discovered when my daughter built up a 175-day Spanish language streak, there is an allowance for life happening. You can buy or earn a “streak freeze.” Do certain things, or pay a certain amount, and you can use a streak freeze to maintain your mounting day count. You don’t get credit for the day you don’t practice, but your streak does not start over at zero.
It’s an interesting idea (particularly for DuoLingo’s business model). I suppose people doing other sorts of streaks could consider how they might buy themselves streak freezes too. Maybe a runner could buy a streak freeze by running twice a day on some other day…or running a race…or doing a strength training for runners video workout or…you get the idea.
I see the appeal. But I also think that part of the allure of streaks is how challenging they are to maintain. You don’t just need willpower, and the ability to plan for contingencies, you need luck. Because life really does happen. I almost lost what became an 1100-day running streak early on when I got a wretched stomach bug. I just happened to have done my mile that day before it hit. There is zero way I could have run after it did. You also need to be the sort of crazy person who will run on a hotel treadmill at 3:30 a.m. before catching a 6 a.m. flight.
Or read War and Peace at 11 p.m. That’s what I wound up doing on Saturday.
This year, I’ve been doing a daily “ritual” of reading a chapter in War and Peace, writing at least 100 words in my free writing file and doing some strength training. I have in fact done this every single day since January 1st, and planned to on Saturday too.
But…it was a long day. I was on baby duty Friday night and while he has been doing a lot better, he did not do a lot better that night. He was up most of the time between 4:15 – 6:15 a.m., just randomly yelling so I only got 5 minutes of sleep at a time. I’d agreed to meet a friend to run at 7:15 a.m., so my alarm went off around 6:40 a.m. I ran 8 miles and came home, thinking I would do my rituals then, and that my husband was going to do much of the driving so we could go visit my brother in upstate New York. We were going up just for the day. It’s supposed to be about 3 hours there.
Then, when I came home, I found the dog was sick — another stomach ailment that was going to make taking him in the car a really risky proposition. We didn’t have a good back-up plan in place for him, so I wound up taking the kids myself, with my husband staying home with the dog. I used the hour before we planned to be in the car to take a nap, and then the process of getting ready had not advanced enough while I was in bed that I could read then.
So, I just got in the car and drove. It was great to see my brother and his wife and their beautiful new home. It was also a lot of driving. We hit rain. We hit traffic. We stayed at their house from about 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., and then I drove home, arriving around 10:30 p.m. We got the kids into bed and then I thought…hey! I can keep this streak going.
And I did. My rituals only take 15 minutes or so — and as I think about it, I could have made it work even if I’d wound up staying somewhere overnight unexpectedly. I can write on anything (a note in my phone) and I could have found the ebook of War and Peace (I think it’s also available online) so I would have just had to figure out what chapter I was on. So, no streak freeze needed.
Have you ever done a streak? (With a streak freeze or not!)
Photo: We’ve been planting lots of trees at the new house. Sometimes with help!