Motivation and Paper Clips

Erin’s Just One Week is my favorite blog for consistent practical nudges to build better habits. What I love most about it is the way that Erin approaches the topic: instead of stuffy self-help advice, Erin writes about her own goals and struggles. And that leaves me constantly thinking “oh, I should do that too!”

Last month Erin posted about her effort to post daily. She wrote that she posted every day because she did not want to break the chain of daily posts that she had completed. I did not care about that particular goal for myself, but then I read that Erin had “heard of people striving to lose weight who string together paperclips for each day they work out, and they have to start all over if they ‘break the chain’” and something clicked. I have been doing fairly well with getting enough exercise over the course of a week, but while there are days that I go for ten mile run/walks, there are also days that I do almost nothing physical. And when I say nothing, I mean that it is a good thing that my bedroom and the bathroom are upstairs from the kitchen and computer, or I would not move at all.

So I bought paper clips and asked my husband if he would like to join me. Of course we made certain to specify that there would be no sense of competition or gloating if the other broke his/her chain first. Or not.

Anyway, our rules are simple. Each day that we run, walk, or crawl three miles we get a paper clip to add to our chain. Additional paper clips may be added in increments of three miles as well as various numbers of repetitions of lifting weights etc. We must add at least one paper clip to the chain every day or else we have to start over.

And somehow, this works. In the past four weeks I have broken my chain three times. That may not sound too impressive, but it is a tremendous improvement over the frequency of entirely sedentary days in the past several months. I have asked Josh several times how it is that paper clips are suddenly so important to us. He says that it is simply the way humans work. And suddenly I find myself wondering what other simple tricks I need to make myself actually do the things that I must do to achieve my goals.

If you have any paper clip style suggestions, please share!

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10 thoughts on “Motivation and Paper Clips

  1. Dawn Farias

    I make sure to have a cup of coffee when I wake up for morning praying/reading and then again in the afternoon when I sit down to do school with my kids. Some days I’m not sure I’d do either if it weren’t for my creamy and sweet cup of coffee.

    1. Rae Post author

      Our typical routes are either on side roads or the sidewalk by roads, so we just use the car and Google maps to figure out distance. Probably not exact, but close enough for us.

  2. Erin

    Rae – you’ve made my day! Thank you for the kind compliment – and I’m holding you responsible for calling me out if I ever get smug or stuffy!

    Paperclips really resonate with me. Or even x’s on a calendar. Anything that is visual. So much of what we work for and strive for in our lives is intangible. It really helps to have a visual reinforcement for what we are doing. I’ve noticed with my blogging habit that once I break the chain, I’m slow to start building it again. But it only takes 3 paperclips (or gold stars!) to bring forth a surge of motivation. Humans like habits – good or bad, we like routine.

    Thank you again for being so supportive! xoxo!

  3. kacie

    Indeed, both of us were quite opinionated about relationships – I wouldn’t date in high school because I thought it was sort of a temporal thing – the relationships wouldn’t last so why invest in them? yeah, I definitely saw dating as meaning to lead to marriage. I think you are right, I probably got the “I love you” thing from reading Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot, but I’m not sure where Isaac got it from. We didn’t even discover that similar opinion about saying “I love you” until we were already dating a while.

    1. Rae Post author

      I think that it is great when a couple’s views line up so perfectly. Thankfully Josh and I had equally strong opinions (though in our case it was that one shouldn’t be especially physically affectionate with someone whom one was not close enough to say “I love you”).

  4. Angie

    What a fabulous visual reminder! I may have to try that out for exercise as well. We were doing really well to exercise every day, and then I went out of town for a few days and we just haven’t been doing it every day (or almost any day, once I got sick about a week ago). Thanks for passing along the idea!

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