365 Days of Courage #19: What Jerry Seinfeld and an Italian language app taught me ...

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This week on 365 Days of Courage, I'm talking about the importance of actually taking action on the things that you want to do. Going from dreaming to doing.

In my own life, I've noticed that it's the things that I really, really, really want to do that I, in fact, don't do or don't stay committed to doing.  There are SO many reasons, often deep-rooted reasons, why that's so but as I got closer and closer to my 50th birthday last March, the deep-rooted reasons started to matter less and less and the pursuit of the things that I really want to do started to matter more and more.

One of the things that I've wanted to do for years is learn Italian.  Not surprisingly, I've never got round to it.  There always seems to be something more pressing in every day life than learning Italian. 

As I thought about where I wanted to spend my 50th birthday, the answer that kept coming up was "Rome".  Which made me think "how cool would it be if I could actually speak enough Italian by March to get by in Rome?"

So on January 12, 2018, I downloaded the DuoLingo app and committed to spending 20 minutes per day learning Italian.

I was shocked when, on January 31st, I was on day 19 of a 19 day streak of actually doing what I said I would do.

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Why?  Because each and every day, I would get an email or pop-up message on my phone from the DuoLingo app saying "hey, you're on a streak!  You've completed 18 days, don't break the streak!"  Or words to that effect.

I don't know what the psychology is behind my response to this but damn, there wass no way that I was going to break that streak.  There were a couple of nights when I did my 20 minutes of Italian in bed on my cellphone before going to sleep but the point is that the streak continued unbroken!

Which brings me to Jerry Seinfeld.

Last year I read an email from Vincent Carlos with the heading "The simple method Jerry Seinfeld used to become a successful comedian".

In that email, Vincent talks about the productivity advice that Jerry Seinfeld gave to software developer, Brad Isaac.

It was during the early days of Seinfeld when Jerry Seinfeld still regularly did stand-up gigs.  Isaac bumped into Seinfeld at an open mic comedy club and asked him if he had any advice for aspiring comedians.

Vincent Carlos wrote:

"Seinfeld told Isaac that the secret to becoming a successful comedian was to write great jokes. And the way to write great jokes, Seinfeld explained, was to write every day.

Seinfeld then told Isaac the simple method he used in order to help himself maintain the discipline needed to write jokes every day.

What was the method Seinfeld used?

He kept a calendar on his wall.

Every day that Seinfeld worked on his craft as a comedian, he would cross out the date on the calendar with a big red X.

"After a few days, you’ll have a chain,” Seinfeld said. “Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing the chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.”

This simple method that Jerry Seinfeld explained to Brad Isaac that day has become a method that many aspiring writers, entrepreneurs and creators now use today as a way to build new habits into their life. 

This method works because it breaks down your biggest goals into small goals you can achieve today.

All you have to do is focus on making the next X."

Here's what I've learned from my experience learning Italian and Jerry Seinfeld's advice:

1.  You need to set a clear goal - for me the goal was spending 20 minutes a day learning Italian on the Duolingo app from January 12th until March 14th when I would be in Rome.  For Seinfeld, it was becoming the best comedian he can be.

2.  You need to break it down into small steps - spend 20 minutes on a language app each day or write for a certain number of minutes or number of words each day.

3.  Don't break the chain.  Put a system in place which can be as simple as marking an X on the calendar each day that you complete the day's step.

It's the combination of making the daily actions do-able and being consistent in doing what is so do-able that makes this system so powerful.

By the time I went to Rome, the Duolingo app told me that I was 43% fluent in Italian.  I think it was being very generous in that percentage. But it was a start and it created a foundation that I can build upon moving forward.

I'm applying this method to drinking more water daily, to eating more brain-healthy foods (I've eaten more spinach in the past year than in the past two decades!) and will be applying it next to writing my first book which will happen this year. I'm on a 19 day streak of writing every day which is about 16 days longer than I've managed in the past!

So what things do you want to do this?  What long-held dreams do you want to take off hold? It could be writing a book. Or starting your own business. Or taking better physical care of yourself. Or starting to meditate. What actions could you take on a daily basis to bring this dream to life? 

Start small and then as your commitment muscles get stronger, add more habits and more goals. 

For this week, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What one goal can I set myself?

  2. How can I break it down into daily steps?

  3. What system will I put in place to do those steps day in and day out?

I would love to hear what goal you set and how many days you can consistently take the steps you have decided to take.

I've set myself the goal of writing about courage and my journey in living more courageously every day this year - the project is 365 Days of Courage.


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