As a young comedian, Jerry Seinfeld hung a big calendar on his wall. He began writing jokes every day. After he wrote, he put a big red X over that day.
According to Seinfeld: “After a few days you’ll have a chain… Your only job is to not break the chain.”
Seinfeld didn’t resolve to become a great comedian. He challenged himself to write every day.
See the difference? It’s not just semantics.
Challenges are action oriented, whereas resolutions are outcome oriented. With a resolution, you think about who you want to become. With a challenge, you become that person through the consistent action you take.
If you challenge yourself to write, or paint, or work out every day, you need to write, paint, or work out. The action is clear, specific, and deadline driven.
On the other hand, if you resolve to “become a better writer,” there’s less urgency to get moving. What does “better” even mean?
Resolutions can also be limiting—we’re poor judges of our potential. Why set an arbitrary aspirational outcome for yourself when you can’t possibly know how much farther your daily action can take you?
Don’t Fixate on Outcomes
Consider the example of John Grisham.
Approaching the age of 30, Grisham was busy with his legal career, working 60 to 70 hours a week at a law firm in Mississippi.
Grisham wanted to write a novel but couldn’t afford to stop practicing law to pursue his dream.
He created a challenge for himself. Every day, Grisham would wake up at 5 a.m. sharp and hustle to his office. He would be at his desk, coffee, pen, and legal pad in hand, by 5:30 a.m.
He challenged himself to write at least one page per day. Sometimes he wrote more. Three years later, by sticking to his rigorous daily writing routine, Grisham finished writing and editing his first novel, “A Time to Kill.”
Twenty-eight publishers rejected “A Time to Kill.” Eventually, a small publisher agreed to print 5,000 copies. While “A Time to Kill” was a bit of a dud when it launched, Grisham kept writing, and his second book, “The Firm,” achieved massive success. He has since gone on to sell more than 300 million books.
Focus on a Better Future Self
The real benefit of challenges is that they lead to sustainable behavior change.
If you write for 30 days straight, it will become habitual. The action will become ingrained. You’ll start seeing benefits from your work, and you’ll want to engage in more of the behavior that created the results.
The thing that stops people from becoming a better version of themselves is themselves. We harbor limiting beliefs about what we’re capable of.
According to Harvard psychologist Dr. Daniel Gilbert, most people assume that their current self is their forever self.
“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they are finished,” he says.
The best way to overcome this limiting belief is to envision a better version of you—and start taking action to become your chosen future self.
What do you want to achieve? What actions will lead to the result?
Research shows that more than 80 percent of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions by the second week of February.
Buck the odds. Take action every day. Don’t break the chain.
Jay Harrington is an author, lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, and runs a northern Michigan-inspired lifestyle brand called Life and Whim. He lives with his wife and three young girls in a small town and writes about living a purposeful, outdoor-oriented life.