This brain trick could be key to achieving your New Year’s fitness goals

Dick Coffey has attended 781 consecutive University of Alabama football games. Meg Roe has surfed through sickness, storms and nightfall to maintain a seven-year daily surfing streak. John Sutherland has been running at least 1 mile every day for over 52 years.

A series of activities has the power to compel behavior, and marketers have noticed. Marketing researchers Jackie Silverman and Alixandra Barash recently documented 101 unique cases, including Snapchat, Candy Crush Saga, Wordle, and the language learning platform Duolingo, of apps that have incorporated streaks into their architecture by tracking the number of consecutive days users complete a task . There are even apps dedicated solely to streak tracking.

What is it about stripes that makes them so captivating? I am interested in consumer behavior and decision making. To understand streaks and their motivational influence, I conducted research recently published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science on the phenomenon.

What is a series?

Since there is no generally accepted definition of what a streak is, I began by trying to define the phenomenon. Based on information from people who maintain stripes and how stripes are described in the popular media, I would suggest that they have four main characteristics.

First, streaks require consistent performance and timing parameters. In other words, the rules established by the streaker or others define what it means to successfully complete the activity and the timetable for doing so. For example, a streak might involve completing a session of 50 push-ups every calendar day.

Second, the streak owner largely attributes the completion of the activity to his or her determination.

Third, a streak is a sequence of the same completed activities that the person maintaining the streak considers continuous.

Fourth, the streaker quantifies the length of the streak. For example, a streak owner can tell you exactly how many consecutive workdays they cycled to the office, or they can tell you the exact date the streak started.

This definition distinguishes a series of activities from winning streaks and lucky streaks. Unlike activity streaks, winning streaks depend on the performance of others—the opponent—while lucky streaks involve outcomes that are beyond the control of the person performing the streak.

My definition also emphasizes that stripes are perceptual. Some people who have completed an objectively continuous series of activities may not think of it as a series. Others who haven’t completed the activity every time the opportunity presents itself may believe they have a streak.

Is it a streak, a habit, or a collection?

People often engage in patterns of behavior or a repetitive course of action in a given situation. A streak is a form of patterned behavior, but there are others. Most people have habits that are reflex-like and triggered by context. For example, many people mindlessly fasten their seat belts when they get into a car.

This automatic aspect distinguishes habit from habit. A sequence often requires the actor to have a strategy for completing the activity in different situations or contexts. For example, someone with a running streak of at least 1 mile each calendar day may need to carefully schedule a run when traveling across time zones.

While developing a habit can be appealing because it minimizes thinking, I’ve found that the challenge of finding a way to complete the behavior can motivate many streakers.

Failure to perform a habitual behavior occasionally will not have much effect on the likelihood that the person will perform the behavior in the future. Conversely, failure to perform a behavior that is part of a sequence ends the sequence.

For some people, ending a streak discourages future behavior: “The streak is over. Why bother?” For others, it hardened their resolve: “The streak is over. I need to start a new series as soon as possible.”

Creating a collection is another form of pattern behavior. Collections usually include various objects related to a common meaning. For example, Jay Leno is known for his collection of antique and exotic cars. But unlike a streak, a collection doesn’t end if someone fails to add to it every time the opportunity arises. I’ve found that a collection of experiences or stories is often a byproduct of maintaining a series.

Why do stripes motivate behavior?

By tapping into various psychological drivers of behavior, stripes can motivate people in several ways.

In general, a streak adds a higher-level goal (keeping the streak alive) to a lower-level goal (completing an individual activity). Stripes also add structure to an activity, and structure can simplify thinking and decision-making. The degree to which achieving goals or structure is important to you will affect your commitment to the series.

I’ve also found that the way a series is structured can affect stakeholder engagement with it. For example, a meditation sequence of at least 20 minutes each day may be more engaging and lead to more engagement than a meditation sequence of at least 140 minutes each week. Although the volume of meditation is the same in both cases, the daily sequence adds structure, thereby simplifying decision-making and encouraging the person to regularly engage in beneficial behaviors.

Sequences can serve to gamify the underlying activity by creating rules and quantifying the outcome, and many people enjoy the challenge of the game.

Finally, I’ve found that activities that are more relevant to one’s identity are more likely to generate commitment to a series. If one identifies as religious, a daily prayer sequence may be more appealing than a daily Wordle game sequence because the prayer sequence may provide a way to demonstrate one’s desired identity to others.

Although stripes can enforce behavior, they do not motivate all people in all situations. They can even backfire. Some people shy away from the prospect of a streak because they worry about being committed to it, as reflected in the comments of a former streak runner: “I realized that if I let it go, the streak could become something,” which controlled my life , my journey and the people around me.”

Stripes and New Year

As the calendar turns to a new year, many people resolve to engage in self-improvement behaviors that facilitate better mental or physical health. People often start streaks on January 1 or other important dates, such as holidays, birthdays, or anniversaries of notable events. Such temporal landmarks add meaning and structure to the series and create a “fresh start effect”.

While many people make New Year’s resolutions, only a small percentage of people keep them. My research shows that structuring a resolution as a series can be the incentive some people need to stick with it further into the new year—and perhaps well beyond.

This article was originally published on The conversation by Danny Weathers in Clemson University. Read the original article here.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *