on streaking

screenshot of 367 day streak
On December 28, 2018, I completed the New York Times Crossword Puzzle and then every day since then, I've completed each day's puzzle before midnight the day it was published. Around July 2019, I realized I hadn't missed a day for over 6 months. I wondered how I had done that. It was simple. After a few months, I really didn't want to start the streak over again from 1 day.

Then I thought of other habits I'd like to have happen daily. I could definitely stand to walk more than I had been. I really wanted a creative "pipeline" with ideas turning to items I could clean up, then eventually publish or share on stage. I looked around the internet and app stores and found several habit tracking and streak tracking systems. None of them exactly fit what I was looking for, but they all had bits and pieces. I ended up cobbling together a spreadsheet on Google Docs that I could access from laptop or my phone. I added shortcuts to the spreadsheet and started tracking some health and creative tasks that I thought I could do daily.

I immediately started cheating. I kept exaggerating the "active minutes" my phone didn't count because I was "doing something" while it wasn't in my pocket. One day, I was frustrated with all the "cheating" I was doing to make it look like I had long streaks on all the tasks. I realized the whole system was pointless if I was just going to mark things done all the time. I let all the items go for a day except the crossword puzzle.

The next day, I woke up and started writing as I had for 89 days prior. What I wrote about that day was writing. I realized I had not cheated on the specific goal of writing 750 words a day. I had added a habit without thinking about it much because I was so disheartened by not accomplishing the others. Even on the day I let all the goals slip, I still wrote a journal entry, it just wasn't near my 750 word goal.

I realized I had let myself have all day to accomplish 5 goals. The result.. I took all day, often finishing just before midnight. That missed day had been hectic and I just kept putting them off until I had no time to do any of them. So in the three pages that day, I reframed the challenge. I called the habits challenges. I also called the system a morning routine.. morning challenges. I often get time for an afternoon nap, but I told myself I wouldn't do that until all the challenges are done.

I reminded myself they were meant to be simple "starter" activities. I would write three pages, sure, but often ideas would come up in those pages that kept me writing more that day. I would start walking or biking 20 minutes, but then I was somewhere and it would easily be another 20 minutes to get home.

 I made some of the challenges easier, as well. I realized I had no problem keeping writing and getting the crossword puzzle done each day. I had worked hard adding the morning writing to the crossword challenge. I had cheated on the other items. In the months that followed, I kept those two easily and added a stretching routine my physical therapist and I had developed years ago. I didn't cheat. If I missed a day or goal, I let it go until that goal was also a habit.

This new system is working for me. It's clunky and easy to change. I'm good with that. I need that. I'm getting better with it.

Jack's Turkey

Jack heard from his friends that fresh, home-grown turkey was better than any store-bought frozen turkey he would ever find. He had a bit of land and decided that this year, he’d grow his own turkey. How hard could it be?

After some research, he bought a turkey chick about six months before Thanksgiving. He brought it home and showed it into its home. He was amazed how small it started, but he diligently fed and cared for his turkey and sure enough, right around Thanksgiving, the turkey was plenty big to butcher.

The problem was that Jack had fallen in love with that little turkey. He would check on it every time he left the house each morning. The turkey would wait patiently and was always excited when Jack came home. Jack just couldn’t bear to kill his new friend.

An idea struck him. This turkey didn’t look like those naked ones he’d cooked in all his past Thanksgiving meals, so he thought maybe he could pluck it first, then he’d be able to kill it. The turkey was not amused. Jack finally decided he’d have to put that turkey to sleep somehow, then pluck it. So he poured some ether on a cloth and held it over the turkey’s head. Soon enough, the turkey was out.

Jack started plucking away as fast as he could. He didn’t know how long the ether would last. It lasted longer that he expected! He was almost done and he was right, the bald turkey didn’t look like his friend. Jack could muster up the heart to kill this strange looking bird.

But then, as he plucked that last tail feather off the turkey, it woke up. Oh boy, did it wake up! That turkey was MAD! It started chasing Jack all around the kitchen. Those two made such a ruckus that neighbors from blocks away came to see what was going on. Finally, Jack and a couple of his friends got that turkey butchered.

At Thanksgiving dinner, Jack realized his friends were right. Home grown turkey tasted a whole lot better than frozen turkey. Jack just wasn’t sure if it was really that way, or if he was just extra satisfied eating the troublesome bird after all the embarrassment.

Either way, though, Jack quietly went back to buying frozen turkeys.