Dealing with broken streaks

February 5, 2020

As of today, I have a 2200 day streak on Duolingo. For over six years, I have spent a few minutes every day learning languages. I don’t speak them fluently, but I could survive a vacation or two with what I learned.

Maintaining that streak feels important. If I missed a single day, my streak would reset to zero. It would take another six years to get it back to where it is now. That sounds hard, and I might not even try and give up on learning languages if I lost my streak.

That sentiment of stopping as soon as you skipped something once is silly. Even if I miss a few days, I am still learning languages. What I know now and what I knew six years ago are vastly different. As motivating as a streak can be, it limits us to short-term thinking. Short-lived rushes of dopamine are not what we are doing this for. The real progress is in the long-term effects, the ones we can only see in retrospect.

If you set a resolution of exercising every week or reading every day, you might have missed a few at this point. Do not let that bother you. Think about where you will be in six years if you start over today, with or without a perfect streak.

– Dom

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