Dick Coffee attended 781 consecutive University of Alabama football games. Meg Roh surfed through illness, storms and nightfall to maintain a seven-year daily surfing streak. Jon Sutherland ran at least 1 mile every day for over 52 years. Needless to say, an activity streak has the power to compel behavior.
People often engage in behavior patterns, or a recurring way of acting in a given situation. A streak is a form of patterned behavior, which often requires the actor to have a strategy for completing the activity in various situations or contexts.
By tapping into various psychological drivers of behavior, streaks can motivate people in several ways. In general, a streak adds a higher-level goal (keeping the streak alive) to a lower-level goal (completing an individual activity). Streaks also add structure to an activity, and structure can simplify thinking and decision making. The extent to which goal achievement or structure is important to you would influence your commitment to a streak.
As the calendar turns to a new year, many people resolve to engage in self-improving behaviors that facilitate better mental or physical health. People often begin streaks on January 1 or other important dates, such as holidays, birthdays or anniversaries of noteworthy events. Such temporal landmarks add meaning and structure to the streak and create a “fresh start effect.”
While many people make New Year’s resolutions, only a small percentage of people complete them. Structuring a resolution as a streak may be the nudge that some people need to stick with it further into the new year—and maybe far beyond.