Jerry Seinfeld on How to Get a Little Bit Better Every Day

In my opinion, Jerry Seinfeld is one of the greatest comedians of the past 50 years.

And while I enjoy his sense of humor, I also like the commitment he seems to show to his craft and his willingness to try new outlets for his work. In these ways, he reminds me a lot of Bruce Springsteen.

As an example, Seinfeld created a very different type of show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, while Springsteen went to Broadway and put on a one-man act showcasing his stories and music.

In this week’s Pinkcast, Dan Pink shares one of the most valuable lessons he learned from reading Jerry’s book – Is This Anything, watching a documentary about his craft, and listening to this interview with Tim Ferriss.

The technique is known as “Don’t Break the Chain”.

Here’s the 99-second video that explains how it works; it’s actually quite simple, and I’m happy to say it’s something I practice every day as well:

The basic premise behind the idea arose from Jerry’s desire, when he was younger, to write better jokes. He knew the best way to write better jokes was to write a lot of jokes, and the only way to write a lot of jokes was to write every day.

So Jerry went out and got a large wall calendar, and when he wrote a joke the first day, he put an X on the date. When he wrote a joke the next day, he put an X on that date.  Before long he had a chain of X’s. His only job then was to not break the chain.

Research suggests that consistency beats intensity; doing something regularly is far more effective than doing it every once in a while like a maniac.

And that’s what Jerry was doing, focusing on being consistent with his joke writing.

Like many of you, I write a blog post every day (I know many of you reading this also write something every day).

I’m not sure it has made me any more effective as a blogger, but that streak, like Jerry Seinfeld’s, is what keeps me going, especially during those first three years when I would rarely get a single like or comment on any of my blog posts.

While Dan suggests going out and buying a wall calendar and a marker to keep track of your chain, I don’t see a need for such items.

WordPress makes it pretty easy to know if you’ve missed a day or two…

*image from Kelly Croy

P.S. I’m not sure who came up with the idea first, but while looking for an image to go with this post, I came across something referred to as the “Tom Hanks Trick for Productivity“, which sounds exactly the same as Jerry Seinfeld’s approach.  Allegedly, actor Tom Hanks likes to hold himself accountable for his writing by making an “X” on an old-school calendar each day that he writes. He likes to make as long a chain of connecting “Xs” as possible. Obviously, the longest chain produces the most writing, but more importantly, the longest chain also reinforces the positive habit he wants, writing.

If I were to give a name to my technique, I would call it the “Beat Cal Ripken Approach”. Now if only such an approach could make me be as financially successful as Seinfeld, Hanks, or Ripken…

 

107 thoughts on “Jerry Seinfeld on How to Get a Little Bit Better Every Day

  1. I found this method useful while awaiting the completion of my sentence. Each day I would scratch an X on the wall with a broken rat’s tooth. Then one day the door opened wide and I saw sunlight for the first time in 37 years. Soon I found myself being booted out into the world, wearing a brand new suit. Life has been great ever since.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with you, Robbie! As a teacher, a mother, and a grandmother, being consistent is very important. Children and adults alike feel secure around people who are consistent. We still can be creative within our consistency and routine. I was joking with one blogger that my husband is boring because he does the same things all the time. But I like it because I know what to expect of him.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. He is calm when he could keep his routine. He has to read the newspapers in the morning. Even when we travel, he had to go out to get newspapers from the hotel or store. My dad read newspapers every day also. When he came to visit us, I drove several towns away to buy Chinese newspapers for him. The stores keep the papers for several days. I bought them to him and he said they were not “new” 😄😂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I can remember as young as a first-grader of my reading reading habit. I read the entire newspaper early on, good news and some rated R news. 🙂 🙂 He inspired my love for reading and studying. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great advice from Jerry. Its why I write every day. Like you mentioned, I can’t say if its helped me improve, but I would like to think so! It at least hasn’t hurt.
    There is that saying “If you don’t use it , you lose it!” I don’t want to lose my imagination, so I will keep writing.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. and there seem to be a lot of them…

        but I do admire their courage in standing up in front of a crowd and trying to get them to laugh. It can’t be easy…

        Like

  3. I agree with the philosophy, though I don’t think we need a calendar with X’s on it. I see it as developing any good habit. Once we start doing something regularly, it becomes routine. You do planks, and I do pushups. Writing is a perfect example. I used to write when I felt like it. That could be every two weeks at times. No, I write something each day because it’s become a good habit that makes me feel like I’m working on a skill while keeping my mind sharp.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I don’t need a calendar either to keep track of things, but I do like having a record of what I’ve done. Scrolling through all my blog posts or my workouts on my fitness app to see what I’ve done each day is a good motivator to keep on going…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. it reminds me of the ‘you have to do something 10,000 times to master it’ school of thought, and I think consistency is the key to getter better at anything, though his theory takes it a bit further, as in you have to do this thing on a daily basis. I know that writing daily has become a habit for me, even when I have not much to say, as you may have experienced as a consistent reader of mine. I do feel aware enough to know when I haven’t done my daily writing without the extra task of the calendar checking, or that might just be laziness.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree that this is just another reminder about the importance of consistency. I always find a hidden gem in each of your daily postings. And like you, I don’t need a calendar, although WP does provide one 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I must be one of the few people in the western world who has never watched a single episode of Seinfeld! I’m starting to understand why that is🤣 But, after a mention on your blog a few days back I have just discovered Grace and Frankie …… watching a couple of episodes each evening from season 1, hilarious!! 🙏🙏🕉

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Comedy, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in old age told by their respective husbands, Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen that they want divorces because they are homosexual and love each other🤣🤣

        Liked by 2 people

  6. For me, there would be nothing worse than feeling I had to do something every day just so I could put a big X on a wall calendar. I’ve never watched Seinfeld either: maybe I should get one of those calendars and mark a big X every day I don’t watch Seinfeld, just for the sense of achievement…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. hopefully the X doesn’t become the reason why people are doing things, but merely a little reward. It took Seinfeld a while to get going here; I don’t think I started watching his show until the second or third season. Now I’ve seen most episodes at least twice.

      You could also use a calendar to mark every day you don’t listen to rap… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not sure I’d want a nagging reminder to do something – if I enjoyed it, the reminder would be unnecessary.

        Seinfeld is one of many American series I’ve never got into – a lot of your comedy doesn’t do much for me. Classics like Cheers, Soap, Frasier and MASH set the rest a high standard to match.

        That would be a waste of a calendar – too easy!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Those two were both required viewing for me. I used to watch MASH with my Mum, in schooldays. She loved it too. Cheers was later, but just as good. Both were ensemble comedies, which I think was the secret to their success. We have lots of comedy shows that probably wouldn’t work well over there. And then there are the ones that get remade for an American audience, and to our eyes are destroyed in the process 😂

        Like

  7. I can definitely see how the chain of Xs would motivate me not to break it. But, I like to cross days just because they are over so that it’s easier for me to see what today’s date is. Towards the end of last year, I started writing my goals for the day on flashcards and then either putting a checkmark next to a done task or a minus next to one I did not complete. When I put a minus, I also had to put an explanation. “I was lazy” or “I didn’t feel like it” would make me feel weird, so I did what I could to complete as many as I could.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Being consistent and persistent is the key. Not to knock doing something everyday but it is not necessary to do something everyday to be persistent in improvement or achieving a goal. Athletes generally don’t play their sport everyday.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Yes!!! This is actually in my draft folder for a future post (same pic and Seinfeld and everything LOL)… so fascinating to discuss habits and what makes a successful habit.. when I worked out hard I did that, I put a smiley face sticker on every day that I worked out and soon the satisfaction of keeping that chain going was thrilling.. and that’s sort of where I am with my weekly blog too… admittedly I thought after one successful year I could purposely “break” the chain so that I could cut the pressure and just say that I did it (took a break) on purpose and that the chain therefore was never “actually” broken so then when indeed I needed a break it wouldn’t be seen as a break in the chain lol (oh dear I’m too deep in my head now) lol but anyway, if this makes any sense at all… I ultimately decided to just “KEEP GOING, who cares – do your best every week” is what I now tell myself!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. it is amazing what power keeping a streak going has on us. I had originally started this blog with the goal of blogging for 31 days straight (a January blogging challenge). That then turned into 100 straight days, then a year, and now it’s been seven.

      I look orward to reading your post on the blog, I am sure it will be much more thoughtful…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I agree with the need for consistency and write most days. I don’t blog every day though. That would be too much for me. I have other things I want to write as well.

    Like

  11. I like that calendar method Jim. When I first got into Seinfeld, I felt like he was one of those ‘realist’ comedians like George Carlin. They both took everyday regular situations and made them funny. There are so many ‘Seinfeld-isms’ that live on from that show. A classic – “No soup for you!” LOL Remember the soup nazi? 🙂

    Like

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