The importance of consistent goals

Do you stuggle to build useful habits? If so, the don’t break the chain method might be worth a try. It is as simple as setting a goal you’d like to accomplish each day, and then recording your progress. There is a trick involved, however – the type of goals you set will have a huge impact on your success. My experience over the last month has shown me that not only are the size of the goals improtant, the consistency of them is arguably even more so.

For the past month, I’ve been using don’t break the chain for Japanese reading practice. Heeding the advice of Nick Winter’s Motivation Hacker, I made a small daily goal for myself – in my case, reading one page of a Japanese history comic aimed at primary school students. It actually went pretty well for most of the month – I managed to get the first of 20 books out of the way way ahead of schedule.

However, a problem appeared at the beginning of the second book. Each book is broken into two sections – a chapter of text aimed at the teacher, and a graphic novel section for the (young) students. Thinking myself above skipping the textual sections, I made myself read through the first couple of pages on their set days. However, the difference in difficulties was extreme, and in the end the sudden change in the time it took to complete my goals proved too much. I’ve failed to do more than one consecutive day since breaking the chain.

The interesting thing is that I originally decided on that goal while reading the teacher’s section of the first book, and had no trouble reading that book’s longer passages. In fact, the easy comic-style pages which followed the long-form part actually came as a bit of a surprise – and as such the “1 page a day” goal ended up taking much less effort than I expected. I doubt I’d have had a problem continuing the harder goal of reading one teacher-page a day if I’d never had been given the easier goal of reading a comic page a day in between.

This suggests that while easy goals are important, consistent goals are even more so. My next attempt at a reading chain will be with a goal of reading 5 minutes a day, as opposed to a goal of a single page.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any other tips on getting stuff done with don’t break the chain.