Workables #8: Sparking Your Practice with the Seinfeld Hack

Keep track of your streaks and provide your own positive reinforcement.

Workables #8: Sparking Your Practice with the Seinfeld Hack
Photo by Jisun Han / Unsplash

Everyone needs positive reinforcement. But as an artist, we aren't always in a place where we can receive validation from external sources. In fact, external validation can be detrimental to our art. Positive reinforcement can be even harder to come by when we are working on a long piece, a novel, for example, because so much of the process is not ready for anyone, even trusted friends, to see.

So, we need a way to track our progress. We want to know that we're moving forward, but we can't yet share our work with the world.

When he was an up-and-coming comedian, Jerry Seinfeld developed a very simple way of doing this. As a comedian, his aim was to write jokes. Therefore, he set himself a very achievable goal: write a joke every day. I like to think of this as the Ray Bradbury method. Bradbury famously advised writing a short story every week:

...[I]t doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Heh! Can’t be done...
Listening to Ray Bradbury carry on about writing is, well, a pretty darn pleasurable experience! I've skipped ahead for you here to the relevant spot, though. He gets to the heart of things just three minutes into a 54-minute speech. Way to go, Ray!

As Emily Temple put it over at LitHub: "Quantity creates quality."

In effect, this is what Seinfeld was doing. If he wrote a joke every day, that would be 365 jokes in a year. While he'd certainly have some real stinkers in there, he'd also probably have some comedy gold.

Since he couldn't always try these out on stage immediately, and since comedians are often the recipients of so much negative reinforcement, Seinfeld created a private way to track his joke-a-day progress:

  1. Get a standard wall calendar.
  2. Put an X over each day on which he wrote a joke.

That's it.

Tracking streaks is a great way to develop a habit and provide yourself with positive reinforcement, a little concrete indicator that you're getting somewhere.

Let's say, for example, you wanted to write for 30 minutes every day. Great! Easily tracked. Just put an X on the calendar for every day that you practiced for 30 minutes. Done!

If you're the type that prefers to do this electronically, I highly recommend Streaks. With Streaks, you can track any kind of streak and receive positive (digital) reinforcement that you're heading in the right direction.

Streaks is super handy. I used it to track all sorts of things: writing, exercise, how many days I can go without recommending various apps to friends. Streaks did not pay me for this endorsement, but I would happily accept whatever contribution they'd like to make. :)

If you'd like another take on Habits, Tasks, and Goals, check out Mike Schmitz's article over at The Sweet Setup:

Habits vs. Tasks – The Sweet Setup
We all want to get things done. We all wish we could be just a little more productive. Our specific reasons may vary, but we are all motivated to solve a common problem: We never seem to have enough time for the things that are truly important. Today we’re going to look at two very […]

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