The Jerry Seinfeld Method
One of the best productivity “hacks” I’ve discovered in the past several years is the Jerry Seinfeld Method.
In short, it came about as a way Jerry Seinfeld used to motivate himself. He believed that writing every day was the way to create better jokes. Writing every day somehow exercises a muscle in our brain that makes us better at it over time. My goal isn’t to write better jokes. But I do want to improve over time, and as Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
So how do we get ourselves to be excellent as a habit? Hence Jerry Seinfeld’s solution. He wanted to write jokes every day. To motivate himself to do so, he acquired a wall calendar. Every day that he wrote a joke he put a big “X” on that day on the wall calendar. After several days, you’ll have a chain of “X”s. When you look at that chain, and realize today is the next day on the chain, you’ll write a joke just to keep it going.
This can be applied to many things in life. For me, I’ve applied it to fitness. I’ve seen for myself the mental, social, and personal benefits of exercise and fitness. Fitness, I’ve learned, is important. And the Jerry Seinfeld method has proven extremely effective in helping me achieve that goal.
To keep myself in shape, physically and mentally, I started playing competitive tennis again 2 years ago. Tennis helped, but I also started doing Crossfit 8 months ago, as I 1) wanted to become better at tennis by becoming more fit, and 2) realized that tennis alone wasn’t going to help me achieve my fitness goals.
But crossfit is grueling. It takes an hour total of my time, 10 minutes of which is warming up & 15 minutes of which is doing strength exercises with another ~20 minutes devoted to the actual workout. I love its brevity. But I dread its intensity. I often say that the best part of Crossfit is leaving the gym. I love it but I hate it. And the “hate” part is what requires a way to keep motivated.
Enter the Jerry Seinfeld Method. My ultimate goal requires something that I often don’t want to do. But by tracking my attendance/pain/progress on a calendar, I build up a pattern of things I “want to do” but don’t want to do, but force myself to do because I don’t want to break the pattern. It’s proven extremely effective for me.
Having seen how useful the method is for me, below are my tips for employing it effectively:
1) Adjust if for your goals
You can set your goals for whatever you’d like: fitness, diet, sales, etc. And adjust your expectations for that goal. For instance, if I did Crossfit every day I’d either kill or injure myself within 2 weeks. I’m just trying to do it 3x per week. So I don’t look at the calendar as a daily item, I look at is a week. But I also want to encourage and reward myself for other fitness-related activities, so I give myself a “\” for Crossfit and a “|” for tennis or soccer. Adjust as needed.
2) Put the calendar in a place you’ll see often.
I pinned my calendar to my bathroom wall and tied a pen to the towel hanger. That way every time I go to the bathroom I see it, and am reminded of my goal. It keeps me honest, especially when I’ve been slacking.
3) Make the calendar itself interesting.
I bought this awesome calendar from Amazon, which has a different constellation each month. Over the course of the year I expect to learn a lot about astronomy, besides keeping myself motivated. Having an aesthetic calendar also makes it easier to justify hanging it in the bathroom to my girlfriend.
4) Hold yourself accountable to your future self
At the end of the day, if you don’t want to do something you won’t. I find it helpful to keep my future self in mind- that guy is going to be pissed if I skip a workout today because I’m “tired”. Interestingly enough, when I follow my goals/calendar my future self is uniformly happy with my past self. I’d like to keep it that way.
P.S. Below are some pictures of my actual progress over the last 3 months. Without doing some math, its pretty easy to see a correlation between me doing something one day and doing it again within a day or two. I will note that due to Snowpocalpyse 1 and Snowpocalpyse 2 my gym was closed for several days in February. But when I’m on a roll, I’m much more likely to keep on that roll…