Yesterday on the language learning app I use, I lost a streak of some 70-odd days, because I forgot to open the app. I was busy and simply forgot. And now, what was once a motivating game– to keep the number of consecutive days I’ve reviewed cards on the app– has the opposite effect. I don’t want to start all over again.
Seeing your streak is good… while the streak lasts. That’s why, whether you like it or not, so many apps these days show it. If you’re on a 70-day streak, you could stop but your loss-aversion tells you that you don’t want to lose that streak. The problem is that inevitably you do lose your streak. You’ll have to deal with some emergency, you’ll get sick. Or maybe you just forget. And when that happens, you face the dreary prospect of “starting over again”.
Except, you’re not really starting over again. Missing a day doesn’t mean that the cards you reviewed, or the exercise you did, or whatever the streak was tracking just evaporated into nothingness. The gains you made are still there.
Instead of streaks, what’s much more motivational to see is the cumulative number of days you’ve successfully engaged in a habit that you want to build up. This is still a number that you’re motivated to keep pushing up, but if you miss a day for whatever reason, you don’t feel like you’re starting over again.