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Grace Goals: Tweaking the formula for habit change

The "Chain" method is a popular method for habit change. James Clear calls it the Seinfeld Strategy based on Jerry's method for churning out consistently perfect jokes. Gretchen Rubin calls it the "don't break the chain" strategy for habit change. The idea is that accomplishing our habits on a daily basis (and then marking it in a visible way, like with a red "X" on a wall calendar) will soon build a tangible chain of accomplishments. The desire to see the chain grow will motivate us to perform the habit consistently.

I'd heard about this strategy for habit change several times but filed it in the "that won't work for me" category. It just didn't seem all that inspiring or motivational, plus I always failed on the logistics. Where would I find space for a big wall calendar? Where would I hide the red marker so my kids wouldn't find it and build their own chains on the carpet and furniture?

Then I discovered the Done iPhone app and, like magic, the chain method of habit change suddenly started to work for me. The appealing graphs and satisfying sound effects set off all the reward triggers in my brain, and I started to delight in growing my chains (I started with walking 8,000 steps per day and meditating for 10 minutes daily). I can't tell you how many times I've attempted to build habits around these practices, but I somehow always... forgot... about my goals after a few days (Done comes with a helpful reminder feature). The motivation to grow my streak and not break the chain had me doing laps around my house at 10:00pm; a never-before-seen level of devotion.

But I've found that the real key to using this strategy consistently is coming up with a Grace Goal for those days when your goal is just not in reach. I broke out my Grace Goal when I had back-to-back bouts of strep throat. The Grace Goal is a modified version of the goal that I use on tough days when I need to show myself some grace. Instead of my usual 8,000 daily steps, my Grace Goal is 4,000-5,000 steps, and 2 minutes of meditation instead of 10.

Missing a day of the habit and breaking the chain can somehow be deflating enough to throw out the habit altogether instead of facing the prospect of starting at 0 again. Using a Grace Goal lets us keep the chain intact on those days when we've tried our best but are not operating at 100%. The key is to use it sparingly. My meditating and walking streaks are up to 250 days, thanks in part to the failsafe of Grace Goals. Have you tried the chain method for habit change? Does it work for you?

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