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Why Streaks Help You To Stay Motivated

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Nothing feels better than a winning streak. A new study in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science is shedding some much-needed light on why streaks – performing a specific activity consecutively – have such a positive impact on our lives, from hitting the gym to making your bed.

First, let’s define terms. A streak includes four key elements: unchanging performance and temporal parameters, the attribution of success to the streak-holder’s resolve, a perception of an uninterrupted series of the same completed activity, and quantification of the streak’s duration. This isn’t the same thing as a “winning streak” or a “lucky streak. Rather, activity streaks depend solely on the individual’s performance and perception.

The study distinguishes streaks from habits and collections, emphasizing that streaks involve planned, structured, and strategic behavior that requires ongoing commitment. While habits are reflex-like and triggered by context, streaks often demand a strategy for consistent performance in various situations.

The challenge of maintaining a streak, even in challenging circumstances, motivates many streak-holders. Unlike habits, the failure to perform a streak-ending behavior impacts the likelihood of future engagement. Some individuals find that ending a streak discourages the behavior, while others see it as an opportunity to start a new streak promptly.

Streaks tap into psychological drivers of behavior, adding a higher-level goal (keeping the streak alive) to lower-level goals (completing individual activities). They provide structure, simplify decision-making, and serve as a gamified challenge with rules and quantified outcomes. The way a streak is structured influences the commitment of the streak-holder, and activities relevant to one’s identity are more likely to generate commitment.

As the new year approaches, people often set resolutions for self-improvement. Streaks, often initiated on significant dates like January 1, can serve as a powerful motivator and nudge individuals to stick with their resolutions. The fresh start effect associated with temporal landmarks enhances the meaning and structure of streaks, potentially aiding individuals in achieving their goals throughout the year.

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