(This article previously appeared on Jamesclear.com.)
By almost any measure of wealth, popularity and acclaim, Jerry Seinfeld is among the most successful comedians of his generation.
However, what’s most impressive about Seinfeld’s career isn’t the awards, the earnings or the special moments — it’s his remarkable consistency. Show after show, year after year, he performs, creates and entertains at an incredibly high standard. Jerry Seinfeld produces with a level of consistency that most of us wish we could bring to our daily work.
Compare his results to where you and I often find ourselves. We want to create, but struggle to do so. We want to exercise, but fail to find motivation. Wanting to achieve our goals, but — for some reason or another — we still procrastinate on them.
(MORE: Confessions of a Procrastinator)
What’s the difference between Jerry and the rest of us? I’m not sure about all of his strategies, but I recently discovered a story that revealed one of the secrets behind Seinfeld’s incredible productivity, performance and consistency.
Let me tell you what he does and how you can use the “Seinfeld Strategy” to eliminate procrastination and achieve your goals.
The “Seinfeld Strategy”
To explain the Seinfeld Strategy, it helps to know the following story: Some years back, Brad Isaac was a young comedian starting out on the comedy circuit. One night, he found himself in a club where Seinfeld was performing. In an interview on Lifehacker, Isaac shared what happened when he caught the comedy legend backstage and asked if he had “any tips for a young comic.”
Seinfeld told Isaac that the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. “He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red Magic Marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day,” Isaac recalled.
Seinfeld continued: “After a few days, you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”
You’ll notice that Seinfeld didn’t say a single thing about results.
It didn’t matter if he was motivated or not. It didn’t matter if he was writing great jokes or not. It didn’t matter if what he was working on would ever make it into a show. All that mattered was “not breaking the chain.”
And that’s one of the simple secrets behind Seinfeld’s remarkable productivity and consistency. For years, the comedian simply focused on “not breaking the chain.”
How to Stop Procrastinating
Top performers in every field — athletes, musicians, CEOs, artists —are all more consistent than their peers. They show up and deliver day after day while everyone else gets bogged down with the urgencies of daily life and fights a constant battle between procrastination and motivation.
While most people get demotivated and go off–track after a bad performance, bad workout or simply a bad day at work, top performers settle right back into their pattern the next day.
The Seinfeld Strategy works because it helps to take the focus off of each individual performance and puts the emphasis on the process instead. It’s not about how you feel, how inspired you are or how brilliant your work is that day. Instead, it’s just about “not breaking the chain.”
All you have to do to apply this strategy to your own life is pick up a 2015 wall calendar (here’s an inexpensive one) and start your chain.
A Word of Warning
There is one caveat with the Seinfeld Strategy: You need to pick a task that is meaningful enough to make a difference, but simple enough that you can get it done.
It would be wonderful if you could write 10 pages a day for a book you’re working on, but that’s not a sustainable chain to build. Similarly, it sounds great in theory to be able to deadlift like a maniac every day, but in practice you’ll probably be overtrained and burnt out.
So, choose a task that is simple enough to be sustainable and make sure that your actions are meaningful enough to matter. Doing 10 pushups per day could be simple and meaningful depending on your level of fitness and it will make you stronger. But reading a fitness book each day, while simple, t won’t get you in better shape.
Another way of saying this is to focus on actions and not motions, a concept I explained in this article: The Mistake That Smart People Make.
Mastery Follows Consistency
The central question that I try to write about regularly is “How do you live a healthy life?” This includes not merely nutrition and exercise, but also exploration and adventure, art and creativity, and connection and community. All of those require consistency and no matter what your definition is of a “healthy life,” you’ll have to battle procrastination to make it a reality. Hopefully, the Seinfeld Strategy helps to put that battle in perspective.
Don’t break the chain on your workouts and you’ll find that you get fit rather quickly. Don’t break the chain in your business and you’ll find that results come much faster. Don’t break the chain in your artistic pursuits and you’ll find that you will produce creative work on a regular basis.
So often, we assume that excellence requires a monumental effort and that our lofty goals demand incredible doses of willpower and motivation. But really, all we need is dedication to small, manageable tasks. Mastery follows consistency.
By the way, for nearly two years, I’ve written a new article every Monday and Thursday without missing a beat. Simply setting a schedule has helped me keep that pace and I plan to keep it up.
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