Here’s a common reaction people have to my social experiment.
You’ve been wearing a nametag every day for twenty years? I don’t think I’ve done anything for twenty years.
It always gives me a good laugh, since it’s patently absurd that over half of my life has been lived as a labeled man.
But you have to admit, that’s one hell of a run. And in fact, streak psychology is a topic that fascinates me.
Why are people so compelled by this streaks, both as participants and observers?
Maybe it’s the raw pavlovian thrill of task completion.
Maybe it’s the human need to stay consistent with past behavior.
Maybe it’s the ownership part, as streaks are hard won, and anything in our possession is psychologically felt as worth more than it actually is.
Maybe it’s brain chemistry, where the higher our streak number gets, the more valuable it becomes, and the greater our dopamine reward, so the streak is in itself an intensifier.
The thing about streaks is, they can have a downside.
Alter’s popular book on addictive technology reminds us that streaks are insidious by nature. What may start as a genuine desire becomes more valuable over time, such that you have more and more to lose as you’re ostensibly making gains. And when you become more concerned with a perceived loss than the streak’s benefits, that’s when you run into problems.
The issue is that they tip into negative territory when they inspire obsessions.
Working out every day is good for you, until you get a stress injury. Been there before many times.
Wearing a nametag hasn’t led to injuries, but over exercising certainly has.
It all goes back to the type of streak you’re going for. Because there are different categories. There’s the acute streak, born out of impeccable timing and focused performance, which can’t last forever, but boy is it exciting when it’s happening.
Like the basketball team that wins eighteen games in a row. Or the guy sitting next to you at the blackjack table who beats the dealer on ten straight hands. Or when your teenage daughter posts a video of herself on social media every morning for two years straight because it elevates her social status among her friends.
Those acute streaks are admirable, inspiring and worth celebrating.
But let’s not overlook the ever inspiring prolonged streak. When you stick with something for years or decades or entire lifetimes.
Recovering addicts are big on this, who will not only keep, but also share the tally of of the number of days of their sobriety. Every day that number goes up by one, they can feel proud, empowered and motivated to continue their journey.
That’s how it feels wearing a nametag everyday. It’s been 8,000 days, and watching that number increase is a source of satisfaction for me.
Funny, thing is, I don’t anything remarkable. It’s just a sticker. But as my mentor likes to remind me, it’s not that I put the nametag on, it’s that I never took it off.
The higher that number get, the final score matters less than the streak itself. Because the whole of the long tail is mine. Forever.
Godin’s blog, which has inspired my work for years, summarizes the issue perfectly:
Streaks are their own reward. Streaks create internal pressure that keeps streaks going. They require commitment at first, but then the commitment turns into a practice, and the practice into a habit. Habits are much easier to maintain than commitments.
Remember, the word streak derives from the term strica, which means, line of motion.
If you can find a healthy way keep that line going, your journey will be remarkable no matter what the path is.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What personal streak are you proud of?