Failure-proofing a 225-day streak

In a year when my running plans have been derailed by persistent injury, a ridiculously tiny fitness goal has taken on outsized importance.

In fact, I’m not even going to tell you what it is just yet, it’s so humiliatingly insignificant.

The point is not the project itself so much as the methodology involved in keeping the streak alive. Succeed at the small stuff, study the keys to your success, and maybe you can replicate your “win” on something larger. That’s my take on it, anyway.

Now, here’s where I admit that it doesn’t really matter very much on any given day whether I walk to the mailbox or stop the car at the end of the driveway and grab it on my way to or from some other errand.

On the 225th day of 2017, though, those 200 steps add up to 22.5 miles. More importantly, in a quality of life sense, that’s a lot less junk collecting in my car if I’m on my way somewhere else and don’t immediately bring the mail and newspapers into the house. Most importantly, this tiny task has become my version of Tim Ferriss’ “win the day” routine – goals so small and doable that you actually do them (and then benefit from feeling successful, on however small a scale).

But the key to making even a small goal happen is having an out – a safe way to fail without derailing the project.

In this case, that meant if something prevented me from fetching the mail, it was OK – so long as I didn’t use the car to retrieve it. In other words, it was fine to simply skip a day. (Believe me, there are plenty of times over the years when that’s happened.) I’d just get a double dose of mail and papers the next day instead.

One close call came this spring, when an impending storm jeopardized a paycheck I desperately hoped was waiting inside our leaky mailbox. I was leaving Ossian, on my way to a middle school soccer game due to start in less than five minutes, and my route took me right past our house. Tempting as it was to stop at the mailbox, I forced myself to drive around to the back door like I usually would and ran out to the road. I grabbed the mail and raced back to the car as lightning flashed and the monsoon began. By the time I got to the school approximately two minutes later, the game had been canceled. But my check was (mostly) dry, and my streak was intact.

The most recent would-be streak buster came last week, when Colleen begged me to stop the car so she could check if a package was in the mailbox.

“What about my streak?” I said.

(Insert 14-year-old’s whine here.)

I thought about making her run up to the house and back first, but we were in a hurry. In the end, I gave in. But here’s how I preserved my streak:

I refused to look at either the mail or the newspapers until the next morning, AFTER I went out to fetch the morning paper – at which point, under normal circumstances, I’d have been fetching the previous day’s mail as well.

I’m calling that a win. More importantly, the streak goes on: 140 days to go.



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2 Responses to Failure-proofing a 225-day streak

  1. bgddyjim says:

    You know I like the streaks! Whatever puts a smile on your face!

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