A Fun & Unusual Strategy For Getting Stuff Done In 2014
Written by Rich Harshaw
Nothing beats an ice cold Dr. Pepper on a hot afternoon.
Or on a cold afternoon for that matter. Come to think of it, nothing beats an ice cold Dr. Pepper on just about any kind of afternoon. At least that’s what I used to think until my oldest son, Sam—just 4 years old at the time—came home from preschool one day where he’d apparently learned to “just say no” to drugs. The dialogue went something like this:
Sam: Do you know what’s in Dr. Pepper?
Me: No, Sam. What’s in Dr. Pepper?
Sam: Yea. And do you know what caffeine is?
Me: No, Sam. What is caffeine?
Sam: It’s a DRUG.
Me: Oh my.
Sam: Do you know what happens when you take drugs?
Me: No, what?
Sam: You DIE.
Me: (no comment)
Hardcore stuff for a preschooler. But I guess he had reason to be concerned. Follow the logic: Drugs will kill you; Dr. Pepper contains a drug called caffeine; dad drinks about seven Dr. Peppers a day; dad is going to die soon.
Those of you who have children will understand that any attempt to explain away the differences between Dr. Pepper and, say, heroin, would prove to be fruitless. So I did what any good dad would do—I quit.
May 31, 1997 was the official kick-off day. After a 44-ounce farewell, I went cold turkey. The first few days were excruciating. I had severe headaches for the better part of two weeks. I almost fell off the wagon several times, but I toughed it out, and before I knew it, a month had passed. Then came my first REAL test—the 4th of July barbeque. I figured I’d just take a quick break from my caffeine ban, and then get back to it the following week. But when I picked up that can of ice cold refreshment, something inside me fought against it. I’d already gone over a month, I rationalized, and something about having to start over again made all my previous efforts—and withdrawal symptoms—seem wasted.
That’s when I officially started streaking.
Before I knew it, two months had passed since I gave up the “nectar of the Gods.” Then six months; then, finally, an entire year. Every time I was faced with a Dr. Pepper decision, all I could think about was the time I had invested in this effort. Sometime between year 1 and year 2, it became more of a quest than a health matter. After all, who ever heard of anyone dying of a caffeine overdose? I sure hadn’t. But the streak kept me going anyway.
Two years stretched into three. Then five. Then on May 31, 2007, I celebrated a caffeine-free DECADE. Now I’m headed toward 20 years, caffeine-free, and going strong.
Behold, the power of the streak.
Look, I know that giving up caffeine isn’t that big of a deal. I know plenty of people who have given up much worse vices and kept track of their own streaks. But my story isn’t about caffeine—or bad habits for that matter. It’s about the power of streaking as you attempt to accomplish something—anything—in your life.
Where Are You The Mostest Behindest?
The best place to start a streak is where you’re the “mostest behindest.” or in other words, where you’re messing up the worst. If you weigh 300 pounds, it’s probably your weight. If you can’t pay your bills, it’s probably your finances. If you’re a jerk to your spouse, it’s probably your relationships. You decide where it is, then put a goal in place to streak toward.
When Sam was 9 years old, I explained to him the concept of “mostest behindest” and gently suggested he might have a little room for improvement in the area of being nice to his brothers and sisters. We discussed some ways he might improve, and charted a few goals in that area that would earn him rewards if he successfully completed them on a daily basis.
For a nine-year-old kid, he was pretty bright. He immediately turned the tables on me: “Dad, where are YOU the mostest behindest?” I thought about it for a minute and confessed that the book I was writing (topic: marketing) had been delayed at least 17 times for a total of at least four years. Other things that were more important just kept popping up and getting in the way. Truth be told, my total progress on the “book” amounted to a huge jumble of notes and a 15,000 word script for an introductory audio CD. I hadn’t really even started.
So Sam committed me to getting the project DONE. I decided that instead of actually writing a book, I would take a different approach—I would take the introductory audio CD script I had already written and expand it to be a comprehensive audiobook that could then be converted into regular book when complete.
The advantage to this was I could inject some accountability—I would commit myself to writing enough each week that I could go into the recording studio every Monday afternoon and record at least one hour worth of material. I booked the recording studio for 1 to 2 pm each Monday and told the guy to bill my credit card for whether or not I showed up.
One hour of recording might not seem like much, but trust me, it required a Herculean effort. To record an hour’s worth of material, I had to write and edit and re-edit and re-edit again for at least 5 to 6 hours—sometimes much more. But every Monday for 4 ½ months I faithfully went to that recording studio and laid down at least an hour of voice tracks. The first few weeks, predictably, were the toughest, but I never missed a single Monday. My streak wouldn’t allow me to quit. And besides, I didn’t want to have to face that nine-year-old and confess that I couldn’t walk the talk.
So start your own streak. Don’t worry; there’s no iron-clad streaking rule that says something has to be done every single day to count it as a streak. My audio recording streak was weekly; I’ve had other streaks that I measured on a “certain number of days per week” basis. It’s your streak—you make up the rules.
Here are a few streaking suggestions to spark your brain. Think about different areas of your life:
- Get in at least 4 days a week running (or at the gym)—every week—regardless of how you feel.
- Compliment your spouse on the way he/she looks every day. Yes, EVERY day.
- Finish one unpleasant task each day BEFORE you check your email.
- Keep your calorie intake to less than 2,000 (or whatever appropriate number) six days a week.
- Pick up your guitar for at least 15 minutes a day, 4 days a week.
- Volunteer for something worthwhile one time per month—every month—for a year.
- Write somebody a letter (yes, a real letter with a pen and a stamp) every week this coming year.
- Throw out your cigarettes—a day at a time, until you’ve gone a week. Then two.
- Cut French fries completely out of your diet. Or potato chips. Or chocolate.
- Play 2 hands of Uno with your kids every day. Or 1 game of H-O-R-S-E. Or whatever.
- Read a chapter (or verse) of scripture a day. Or make a point to say a daily prayer. Or both.
It all comes down to the principle of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The key is to eat the apple every single day. You can’t wait until the last day of the month, and then gorge yourself with 30 apples in a single sitting. It just doesn’t work that way. The small, daily disciplines are the key to success. So here’s your quick plan of action:
- Mostest Behindest: Decide what you’re the mostest behindest in and set up a specific daily (or weekly or monthly, per the list above) discipline that you can follow.
- Concentrated Effort: Don’t try to do more than 1 or 2 things at a time or you’ll be overwhelmed and quit altogether. Remember step 1—begin where you’re mostest behindest.
- Accountability Buddy: Find somebody that you can report to for accountability—you’re more likely to follow through if somebody knows what you’re SUPPOSED to be doing. Try a 4-year-old. Or a 9-year-old. Or maybe a spouse or friend.
- Mini-Streak: Get at least 4 or 5 days of successes under your belt.
- Momentum: Let the momentum of the streak carry you one more day. Then one more day after that.
Before you know it, you’ll be streaking like a hippie across a college campus in 1974. Get your streak up to a month, and you’ll be nearly unstoppable. Soon you’ll find that the thing you’re streaking becomes a habit; then you can move on to other areas and start new streaks.
I know it sounds simple, but give it a try. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish while streaking—fully clothed!
© 2014 – 2016, Rich Harshaw. All rights reserved.