Stop taking zeros: A lesson from Snapchat streaks on being healthier and happier
Written: 09-18-2017

There is something about getting your work done every single day. There is a satisfaction to know that you have been consistent. There is a sense of accomplishment when you look at your data and see a regular pattern of behavior. The reality that you are becoming a new person. The development of a desired pattern of living.

One of the new additions to my life recently was Snapchat. I was very reluctant to add a new social media to my life, however at my brother’s wedding, I witnessed that nearly all of his wife’s friends were using the app. I tried to understand the application last year because I was intrigued with the constant use of filters by several of my friends. However, I found discovery of friends to be a little challenging and intimidating, so I gave up. The one features I find most interesting, is the Snapchat streak. It’s interesting to hear people talk about the length of streaks they have with various friends. It used to amaze me to hear the length of those streaks, but not anymore. The motivational energy that streaks create is impressive and hard to deny.

The question to ask ourselves is how can we use this principle to improve our health and happiness?

A classic example of this in human behavior is with Alcoholics Anonymous. Sharing the number of days being sober is a large part of developing a new identity within the program. In terms of exercise, Gordo Byrn was one of the first individuals that I remember using the term ‘taking zeros’. It was a very useful paradigm for me to understand when I heard him talking about limiting the days he took a zero. When trying to achieve specific performance goals, it is easy to calculate training loads in a lot of complicated ways. Those methods can be useful, however for the majority of individuals that I have helped over the years, including myself, the most important metric for the long term optimization of health and happiness is limiting the days where you take a zero.

What exactly does a ‘zero’ mean?

That is an individualized answer. My answer changes often and depends on what I am currently trying to accomplish. I have had periods where taking a zero meant:

  • Not getting at least 30 minutes of running
  • Not getting outside for a walk or exercise (of any duration greater than 1 minute)
  • Not getting in a workout of any type

The key feature of your definition is to make it something where you can be successful. You want to set yourself up for long streaks. In the third example, “Not getting in a workout of any type” I allowed myself to count a set of pushups or a set of pullups. This meant that I had zero excuses for keeping the streak alive. It takes no equipment, very little time and not a lot of energy to get down and do a set up pushups.

What happens when you set your definition of ‘zero’ to something that requires skill, motivation and time is that you’ll end up breaking the streak often. Failure to keep a streak alive and developing a lack of confidence in your ability to succeed is one of the fastest ways to give up on your behavior change process. Keep it simple and succeed daily.

Here are ten streaks to consider, to help make you a happier and healthier person.

1. Start the meditation app, Calm

2. Put on your walking shoes and get outside

3. Eat a green vegetable

4. Drink 1 bottle of water

5. Lay down and close your eyes, in a room with no noise

6. Send a positive text to a friend

7. Give someone a hug

8. Do a set of body squats

9. Pick up a kettle bell

10. Write down one thing you are grateful for

By the way, I currently don’t have any streaks going on Snapchat. My username is gditsch, if you want to connect with me.