With all the fervent optimism in abundance on New Year’s Eve, I resolved to learn Japanese in 2019. My tool of choice was the app Duolingo and, even though the choice seems dubious and ill-advised in hindsight, I was ready to add Japanese to my language arsenal by the end of the year. The app drew me in with its bright graphics and preppy sound effects but what kept me going was the constant awareness of my ‘streak’.
Duolingo is one of the many apps, like Candy Crush Saga and Snapchat, with the ‘Streak’ feature that allows the user to track their repeated activity on the app. For instance, every day I would be reminded that I had been taking Japanese lessons for the past 256 days and I should log on to the app before the day ends to not break my incredible streak.
My mildly competitive nature found it simple enough to log into the app for 15 minutes every day to complete a level of Japanese lessons and get the satisfaction of seeing my steadily increasing streak. Even if Duolingo managed to teach me only a few phrases of Japanese (I can now roam around Japan and ask someone how much they would pay for their cow fluently), I realised that I had managed to stick by my resolution for the first time in decades.
Turns out, I’m not the only one who experiences this phenomenon. Danny Weathers, a professor of marketing at Clemson University, records in a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science that an activity streak has the power to compel your behaviour.
Weathers draws upon his research, and the works of marketeers like Jackie Silverman and Alixandra Barasch, to dive deep into how ‘streaks’ can help regulate habits and help us stick to our New Year’s resolutions.
According to Weathers, streaks are defined by “unchanging performance and temporal parameters”. The patterned behaviour that forms when we start tracking our streak, through an app or methods like bullet journaling, can help us develop habits in a structured manner.
I became used to switching from whatever app I was browsing to Duolingo at a particular time for my language lesson every day because I knew I wanted to preserve my streak.
Weathers also notes that keeping track of your streak can turn your activity into a game and help you stick to it by making it a challenge for yourself.
The way this works is by adding a higher-level goal (keeping the streak alive) to a lower-level goal (completing an individual activity). It adds structure to the activity, which makes it seem simpler. There’s also the rush from completing smaller goals every day and seeing a visible record of it that adds to the motivational factor.
Now, it’s important to note that streaks might not work for everyone. Some people do not like the constant reminder of their impending task and find it demotivating to continue after their streak is broken. My streak in Duolingo managed to last till 745 days before it broke, thanks to a trip to the mountains with zero network, and seeing the bleak ‘0’ on my streak counter made me quit the app for almost six months before I decided to learn Chinese on it.
But Danny Weathers’ conclusion of how keeping track of your streak can help you stick to resolutions holds a lot of merit. You can start maintaining a journal to keep a record of your streak or utilise apps like Habitica or Streaking to ensure youget a daily reminder to preserve your streak.
Would you try this trick in 2024?