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Streak Vs Consistency: The Power of The Daily Average

When starting a habit that requires focus, it’s good to keep it up daily. This helps you cement the habit into your routine. Most importantly, it helps you show up and put your time in even on days you don’t feel like it.

In the article about why count-up timers are better than count-down we saw how, if you only think you have to show up for 1 minute, you’ll most likely keep your habit up on these more difficult days. It’s not hard to keep up a daily streak when you have this count-up mentality.

However, habits that require focus can sometimes gain momentum, as we also saw in the previous article.

Even though you set your bar at 1 minute, your week for a particular habit might look like this:

Monday: 12 minutes
Tuesday: 57 minutes
Wednesday: 8 minutes
Thursday: 125 minutes
Friday: 70 minutes
Saturday: 10 minutes
Sunday: 2 minutes

Some days, once you get started, you just keep going. I find this with piano practice. Often I only plan to practice about an hour, but I end up practicing two or even three.

If you try to sustain this day after day, week after week, with no permission to skip a day, it can lead to burnout.

What’s important in the above example is to look at your daily average. The total minutes add up to 284. Divided by the 7 days of the week, that works out to 41 minutes / day.

Let’s imagine in this example we skipped Sunday.

That’s just 2 minutes removed. The average now is 40 minutes.

There’s not much difference between 40 minutes and 41 minutes — especially given that you’ve set your bottom bar for your habit at 1 minute each day, and here you are putting in about 40 times that.

What we are seeing with this daily average measure is consistency. Consistency is a better habit perspective than a streak. Yes, a streak is great to get you going, and generally, to keep you consistent. But in the long run, taking a day off here or there, or even planning a few days off to recharge, is important to keep you balanced.

If you’re taking the Multihabit course on Highbrow, you’ll have access to the spreadsheets that let you track first one habit, then two, then three or more. Over the period of several weeks, you can see how many daily minutes you put in on your habits, and then the average time per day.

This consistency mindset is an important counterbalance. We tend to gain momentum when immersed in a single-focused habit like writing, reading, practicing an instrument, working out, a project, etc. Thinking we only have to show up to put in 1 minute will keep us showing up more often.

But over time an invisible problem comes in: we end up overworking without realizing it.

Eventually it starts to feel hard to keep up our habit, even though each day we know we only need to put in 1 minute.

In the example I just gave of piano practice, because I use the Multihabit system to track my daily time on piano, when I have one of those marathon 3-hour sessions, I can see how my daily average went up as a result. If I have to balance my week and take some time off piano, I don’t worry because I can always keep an eye on my consistency.

When I looked at my piano practice over the whole of 2021, I saw many “missed” days, but an overall average of about 95 minutes every day over the 365 days of the year. The same applied to my other important habits like writing and reading.

Streaks get you started, but consistency is what keeps you going.

Stay tuned for next Tuesday, when we will explore more Multihabit principles.