“Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle
The practice of meditation has grown exponentially in recent years—particularly in the hard-driving, stress-inducing culture that dominates the industrialized world. Among the excuses we tell ourselves for not maintaining a meditation practice, a few familiar ones standout: “I don’t have enough time,” or “10 minutes wouldn’t make a difference anyway.”
But instead of letting these discouraging thoughts keep us from peace, we can implement a smart and simple method to keep the momentum going in our daily meditation practice. This method, called Don’t Break the Chain, is probably something you’ve heard of. However, you may not know the science behind why it works.
Don’t Break the Chain 101
Everyone’s favorite 90s comedian, Jerry Seinfeld first spoke of this productivity technique years ago when asked how he maintains success.
Essentially, Don’t Break the Chain involves two things: a big calendar and a red marker. For Jerry, the task was writing, but for you, it can be meditation or anything else with which you want to cultivate a daily habit.
Simply begin on day one with your first meditation, and keep crossing off each day on the calendar that you meditate. To understand why this is effective, we have to consider the natural tendencies of the human brain.
Why It Works
The human brain is designed to strive for order and categorization. Oftentimes, we categorize things in arbitrary ways just so that they are easier for us to comprehend. In the supermarket, items are grouped categorically in certain aisles so they are easier to find. We break the week up into seven days to manage and make sense of our time. Categories not only eliminate stress and chaos, they give us an odd feeling of satisfaction (think OCD!).
When using Don’t Break the Chain for meditation, there are just two categories glaring back from your calendar each day: red X and no red X. For especially conscientious people or those that love organization, breaking the chain can be comically bothersome to our structured minds.
Your meditation practice then acquires an additional motivator: you have your original reason for meditating, along with the desire to simply keep the chain going and maintain order. The longer the chain gets, the higher the stakes. Breaking it and having to start over after several weeks feels like a major setback. Similarly, with each day you fail to complete the task, it becomes easier to slack off.
A study by the University College London revealed that early repetition is of paramount importance when it comes to habit formation. Jerry Seinfeld, whether aware of it or not, used this critical repetition to perfect his craft of writing and earned millions of dollars. After roughly 66 days, the study showed that individuals no longer have to force themselves to complete the task. At that point, the habit is established and it requires less effort to keep the chain going.
It sounds simple…almost too simple to work. However, countless people have vouched for the effectiveness of Jerry’s habit-building system.
Best-selling author Gretchen Rubin used Don’t Break the Chain to complete daily exercises and heal herself from chronic pain. “Starting is hard, and starting again is harder,” she said, “so if there’s a habit we don’t want to break, we should try never to stop.”
For me personally, this technique has worked like a charm. I can honestly say I haven’t missed a day of meditation practice for the past three years. And, no, it hasn’t always been easy—like one night when I came home at 4:00 a.m. I was desperately tired, but the idea of breaking the chain after all that time was enough to keep me up and motivate me. I did my practice that early morning and still do to this day.
Remember: momentum is key.
Author: David deSouza
Apprentice Editor: Lois Person/Editor: Travis May