The Inaccuracy of Streaks

Whether you’re a New Years resolution kinda person or not, we all generally seek to make improvements in our lives from time to time. Often, it involves incorporating new habits: exercising X amount of times a week, reading the Bible consistently, spending more time with loved ones. 

When creating these habits, we often rely on a streak mentality: that is, “I need to keep this up for three months straight, no exceptions.” I’d be hard pressed to say this never works out, but I will say it’s often more harmful than helpful; at least for me and many people that I know. Allow me to explain.

I started using Scripture Typer to memorize Bible passages nearly ten years ago. Since then, I have gone months without touching the app; I’ve even “reset” the app where I essentially marked all of my verses as unmemorized just to start over. Furthermore, I started a Bible memorization group on WhatsApp that fizzled out unceremoniously (thanks for still posting, A!). Shouldn’t I get the hint? Bible memorization is not for me. I just can’t keep with it. I can’t maintain perfect consistency.

I strongly disagree. Right now, I can recite over 6 full chapters of Scripture, and nearly 200 other verses scattered throughout the Bible. If I had let my months of inactivity get to me, I could’ve just deleted the app and said memorization is not for me. A streak of progress (or lack thereof) does not define progress. It is one of countless ways to measure it; not the only one (or even the most accurate!) by a long shot.

I’ve started more exercise programs, promises, and goals than I can count. And I’ve given up on nearly all of them (except the current one, of course). Does that mean living a healthy life is not for me? What in the world. Of course not! Just because I don’t eat perfectly every day — just because I don’t have a consistent streak of perfection — doesn’t mean I’m not making progress. It doesn’t even mean I’m not living healthily. In fact, I’ve lost 15lbs while still “figuring out” how to be healthy. 

Photo by Thomas Willmott on Unsplash

All a streak measures is itself: this is how many days you did something perfectly. But real progress isn’t measured by days since your last mistakes or slip up. Because if you eat well for 50 days, then eat something not great on day 51, does that mean the previous 50 days were wasted? They didn’t count? Not at all. But when we become consumed with streaks instead of real progress, we can start to see things that way.

If measuring your habits by streaks works for you, go forth and enjoy them. If not, pay attention to real progress: are you exercising more consistently than you did last month? Are you enjoying the Bible more often than you did last year? Are you using your phone less in front of loved ones, and trading that time for meaningful conversation? Still measure progress, just do it in a way that measures it better.