Don’t Break the Chain

I make no secret that I am huge Seinfeld fan.

During the nineties, Seinfeld was not just must-see television but a cultural phenomenon as well. So much so that we still see echoes of it today as it still permeates our shared understandings and vernacular—from its phrases (“yada yada yada”), common experiences (Jerry as Everyman), and focus on minutiae (close-talkers), much of the show is still relevant today. That it still holds up well is a testament to Jerry Seinfeld’s (and co-creator Larry David) wit and sharp insight into human nature and society, and one can only wonder what the comic genius would have done with such rich material all around him today.

Actually, you don’t need to wonder too hard as you can get a glimpse from either Curb Your Enthusiasm (George investing in an iToilet app, before losing his earnings to Bernie Madoff, and now there is a real-life AirPNP app) or the Modern Seinfeld twitter (modern plot points like a barista writing evil things on George’s coffee cup), or some fan-favorite full-length scripts that were penned (Seinfeld in the 9/11 era).

Anyway, because I am such a fan, I have Seinfeld as an interest on my Flipboard and I came across an article (“How to Stop Procrastinating on Your Goals by Using the ‘Seinfeld Strategy’”) again that I had read a few years ago and shared with my department chairs. Rereading it, I thought it was timely to share now.

The gist of the article is how Seinfeld maintained such consistency and has such a quality product over the years (both as a standup, then as a showrunner, and probably even now with his most current vehicle, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee). James Clear zeroes in on a piece of advice Seinfeld gave to a young comedian. We all want to create or succeed, but for some reason we fall prey to procrastination or laziness. His advice to this budding comic was very simple: “Don’t break the chain.”

Basically, what he is advocating is not to focus on results, but on the task. In this instance, it was to write jokes everyday. It didn’t matter if they were good or not—the act of writing them was what was important. For so many of us, we might get disheartened if the jokes weren’t good enough which would cause us to maybe not write one day or another and then we are no longer productive or effective. For Seinfeld, that was irrelevant, you continue to write jokes until you have done so for a few weeks. After that time, you have a catalog to pull from and evaluate their efficacy. What was important was maintaining the practice. In this, not breaking the chain.

What he is saying, which is so relevant on the heels of New Year’s and all the accompanying resolutions that people make, is that it is easy to get discouraged and stop, especially if we don’t see immediate results. We need to look past that and settle into a routine. Once a routine is established, it is harder to break it—even if we don’t see the results at that time. If we maintain and nurture this habit, we are less inclined to end it and we will ultimately see those results.

And so if you are like me or most others, you might have made a resolution about exercising or working out. It’s easy to skip a day/night, but once that happens, it’s a slippery slope. And it’s even easier when we have sub-zero temperatures to contend with! But if we establish manageable tasks and commit to them or adjust them as needed (like getting steps indoors/going up and down stairs if it is too cold outside), then we have a better chance at not breaking the chain. The point is that the longer we are able to establish patterns, habits, or routines, the less likely we are to break them. This is just as applicable and important to students as well as we near the midpoint for the school year. It is easy to change bad habits and cultivate new ones, good ones, if we focus on developing and maintaining small and sustainable ones.

And so as the semester starts to wind down, I wish you the best with your New Year’s resolution and hope that you had a Happy Festivus!