No, not like Will Ferrel! Learn how starting a streak can help you adopt healthier habits in food and fitness
Lately, the idea of streaking—committing to doing something healthy, like running a mile or eating only whole foods, every day for a set period of time—has been gaining a lot of steam. On its face, streaking seems like a great way to build a good-for-you habit. But according to organizational psychologist Amy Bucher, Ph.D., the strategy has its downsides too. In certain cases, it can be a fast-track to burnout. And a streak isn’t something to be taken lightly. Without the proper prep work, you could be setting yourself up to fail, which will make you feel disheartened and discouraged. Before you decide to start a streak, here's what to know.
It Will Make You Feel Good
“Human beings share a fundamental need to learn and grow. Tracking the number of days you’ve stuck to a healthy behavior offers constantly updated feedback on your progress,” says Bucher. In other words, you know how sometimes you can feel discouraged on a diet when the scale fails to budge for days at a time? You won’t run into that problem with streaking, because every day you’ll get a bump simply from following through on your promised behavior. And all that positive feedback encourages you to continue to stick with it. (Check out 25 Inspirational Fitness Quotes to Motivate Every Aspect of Your Workout.)
It Can Help You Form a Healthy Habit
“Not only does streaking teach you how to fit a behavior into your schedule and lifestyle, but the more you do something, the more natural it feels,” explains Bucher. So if you commit to a month-long running streak, your daily run will start to feel like part of your personality. And if you eventually skip a day, you’ll feel off—encouraging you to get right back on the road the following day.
But It’s Not For Everybody
Some personality types simply aren’t suited for streaking, says Bucher. “Some people do very well with extreme commitments, and other people abandon ship as soon as they miss a day or two,” she notes. You know yourself best. “If streaking sounds motivating, give it a try! If it sounds unappealing, there are lots of other ways to build a good habit.”
And It Might Cause Burnout
Both physically and psychologically, we grow when we experience healthy stress, then recover from it. "If you are streaking with an intense activity—like running every day—you might not be allowing your body the time it needs to recover,” says Bucher. Even non-physical goals can require a break. Say you’ve committed to a social streak, like seeing or calling at least one friend every day. You might find that you need some solo time, or you’ll wind up feeling tense, preoccupied, and resentful. Listen to your body and your mind. If you’re screaming for a rest, take it. Or Bucher suggests this trick: “Instead of saying you’ll walk every single day for 30 minutes, make your goal to walk five days every week. Your streak looks at weeks instead of days.”
It Could Lead to Unhealthy Binges
When you accidentally or purposefully break a streak, it can be tempting to go whole hog. Couldn’t run a day? Might as well just start over on Monday. Grabbed a donut from the break room without thinking? The day’s shot anyway—why not hit up that burger place for lunch? “Research shows that another good way to build a habit is to have a contingency plan for if your original plan won’t work,” Bucher says. “When I travel, I always look for outside running paths. But if my hotel is on a highway, that might not be safe. In those cases, my plan B is to find a treadmill. And my plan C is to work out in my hotel room using YouTube videos or an app.” (See more 16 Diet Plan Pitfalls That Can Be Easily Prevented.) If you have a back-up plan in place, you won't feel discouraged if something disrupts your streak.