My son told me he wanted to learn Japanese. I told him to check out our portfolio company Duolingo‘s awesome language learning product of the same name.

He told me that he has used Duolingo and likes it, particularly the ability to generate streaks. He told me that once you have a streak going, you really want to keep it going and that keeps you at the language learning exercises that are the heart of Duolingo.

Yesterday, I kicked off my weekly game of Swarm (from our portfolio company Foursquare) with some big point generating check-ins. My daughter, who I play the game each week with (among others) also had a quick start.

I texted her and she texted me back:

Streaks are a terrific game mechanic and can be used to motivate user behavior.

But streaks are also powerful in real life.

This blog is a good example. When you have posted every day for fifteen years (that anniversary is coming up this fall), you have quite an incentive to keep it going.

And the same is true in the VC business.

When you have had a big win every year for the last eight years, you want to keep that going.

When you have had four highly successful VC funds, you want to make the fifth work.

Keeping something going is a powerful motivator.

So when you have that day or week you really don’t want to get up for, think about your streak, get up for it, and do it.

#life lessons

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    I love this Fred!Not dissimilar from creating our own luck by showing up.Thanks for a bit of motivation this morning. Always a great thing to share!

  2. JimHirshfield

    Daughter-to-Dad reply time: 43 minutesDad-to-Daughter reply time: 9 minutesNot bad. Not bad at all.

    1. Pointsandfigures

      Dad-to-Daughter is always fast. At least, that’s my experience. : )

    2. evidence smart

      Yeah not bad

  3. William Mougayar

    But sometimes, you need to know when to quit something. I get worried when too many things go too well for too long, despite being generally an optimist.

    1. jason wright

      yes, if things go too well for too long then perhaps the terms are not challenging enough, that we are not challenging ourselves, that we fear failure and we eliminate the factors that might lead to failure.

    2. Lawrence Brass

      why bother? that is what asteroids are for, ending things.. 🙂

      1. sigmaalgebra

        There are lots of sources for asteroids. So, from each source we get arrivals. Ruling out some pathological periodicity, the renewal theorem (W. Feller, volume II) says that for us the arrivals will be approximately a Poisson process, that is, where the times between arrivals are independent (cute result) and identically distributed with exponential distribution where the parameter is the arrival rate. We can get a good (IIRC unbiased) estimate of the arrival rate just by taking the empirical arrival rate of the history. Doing that we get an arrival rate of serious asteroids somewhere less than one per 10,000 years, likely way less than that, maybe less than one per million years.So, unless you have a plan to live 100,000+ years, for the danger from asteroids, you can relax!! Feel better now?Of course the assumed arrival processes are stationary in time, and for the longer time intervals we might question that assumption.Besides, maybe as the galaxy ages we will get more super nova explosions that put out gamma ray bursts, and IIRC one of those puppies would blow the atmosphere off the earth. And since the gamma rays are just energetic photons and travel at the speed of light, we’d get essentially no warning.So, net, f’get about asteroids and worry about gamma ray bursts!!

  4. LIAD

    Don’t break the chain.Seinfeld explained his method for success: each January, he hangs a large year-at-a-glance calendar on his wall and, for every day he wrote new material, he had the exquisite pleasure that can only come from drawing a big red “X” over that day.Drawing those Xs got to be pretty fun and rewarding, so he kept doing it. Eventually, he began to create a chain of red Xs.The idea was to never break that chain.Not only does this approach program the body and mind to sit down and write daily – it also motivates you to continue that beautiful string of big, red Xs. https://uploads.disquscdn.c

    1. Richard

      His new episodes of comedians in cars was brutal.

    2. LE

      I don’t buy that at all. That is survivor-ship bias. Seinfeld is successful for a host of reasons. And I don’t think I am unique to say that to be creative you have to have some kind of inspiration, event or emotion that moves you. I don’t think you can simply act as if it’s some kind of rote job you have to do. Creativity that is. I don’t think I am unique in this respect. There are things you can do that way of course. But I don’t think comedy falls into that category.I don’t think with writing you get good material (comedy or otherwise) by any act of force of habit.I took the picture below last weekend. I didn’t set out to walk around and take pictures at all. I saw something and my brain automatically wanted to photograph it.So that is what I did. (Taken with a Samsung Galaxy s8+). After I took the photo I walked up to the Dad and his kids (complete strangers) and texted it to him. He was very excited (that part didn’t matter to me that much at all).Was in a restaurant some time ago and David Spade was sitting by himself and taking notes. I found out that he sits in the same table every day so I wanted to return the next day to the restaurant to pitch him. My wife refused to go. She was embarrassed. I said why? He will like it. He probably will use that type of encounter in a comedy routine. How do you think he gets ideas? By seeing, hearing and getting inspired by others… https://uploads.disquscdn.c

  5. rich caccappolo

    It’s true. Keeping streaks going and winning / defending mayorships in Swarm influence my decisions on which establishments to frequent.

  6. Tom Labus

    56 game hitting streak by Joe DiMaggio. Still standing from 1941!!

    1. Pointsandfigures

      That’s an incredible record. Did it against good pitching too since the war didn’t start until December of that year. Teddy Ballgame hit .406 that year. Again, incredible.

    2. Girish Mehta

      Mauboussin has a point about the paradox of skill based on Stephen Jay Gould’s point about Ted Williams ((Teddy Ballgame) being the last guy to hit over 400 in a season, in the same 1941 season. Applies to investing as well (activities that involve both skill and luck).”…I learned about it from Stephen Jay Gould, the very eminent biologist at Harvard. He talked about it in the context of Ted Williams, the last player to hit over 400 in major league baseball, which he did in 1941. Gould was wondering why no one has been able to achieve over 400 since that time. He looked at [variables such as] maybe because the guys play at night, or they travel too much. Really, none of those things checked out. Then he said, maybe Williams is just this amazing player — an immortal among mortals…. But if you look at every other sport, for example, things measured against the clock — there has been absolute performance everywhere you look, so that doesn’t seem to be the case. Then he thought about it more carefully, and he realized the actual result is because everyone’s gotten better, and as a result, the standard deviation of skill has actually narrowed. If you think about batting average for your season and your player, some level of skill plus some level of luck gives you your outcome. What’s happened generally is that the standard deviation of skill has gone down. Why? Because you’re recruiting players from the world now, versus from just parts of the United States. You’re training better. You’re coaching better — all those kinds of things….”

      1. Richard

        If there is one variable that makes hitting 400 so difficult today it is the demise of pitching a complete game (win or loose). Seeing a pitcher for the 4th or 5th time in a game increases the mental aspect of the game over the purely physical.

      2. Tom Labus

        In baseball you can go into the zone both on offense and defense. It happens but don’t know why it does

      3. PhilipSugar

        Everyone was getting drafted for WWII. My wife’s 98 year old grandmother died last year. Ted Willams might have handled this better than most. Not taking away his skill or eyesightBut you sit and talk to those people. Your husband leaves you….to maybe never comeBack

  7. curtissumpter

    Great post. It made me immediately think what I wanted to create a streak in. Really good.

  8. jason wright

    streak / addiction. what’s the difference?’via negativa’ – subtraction stimulates a positive reaction. i wonder what the reaction would be if you stopped blogging for a week/ month? what would it stimulate in you and in others?it could be an interesting experiment after fifteen years.p.s. Japanese is easy. it’s so regular, unlike English. same for the two peoples.

    1. Girish Mehta

      “Via Negativa” is highly under-rated in today’s world.

      1. jason wright

        agreed. more is more… apparently.

  9. Girish Mehta

    There is no question that doing things consistently delivers results that compound over time in most aspects of life. Most importantly – in Learning. Also in Health/Fitness, Material success, etc.But I am not sure streaks is a good way to frame this. I have observed it creates both (1) – An unhealthy reason for continuing to do something, and (b)- an unhealthy reaction when the streak is broken.I see people dragging themselves into the gym not to break their streak of working out everyday when unquestionably the best thing for them would be take a couple of days off and just rest. They are attached to simply keeping the streak going than to the benefit of the workout.Similarly with eating healthy. The people whose “cheat meal” (not my favorite term) becomes a “cheat day” and then a “cheat week” are the ones who were on a long streak of “clean eating” (again, not my favorite term) before that. I intermittent fast most days, but not all days and I don’t have a planned day when I don’t IF…I just let the streak be broken after roughly 7-10 days have gone by…Life pretty much picks a day to break the streak.We benefit from small, periodic disorder in our lives. Disorder typically tends to break the streak in what we are doing. I would take the disorder rather than try to keep a streak going.Nothing escapes entropy in the universe, not even the universe itself.

    1. Doug Calahan

      Disagree with this. Many of us very average people need something like this to continue a good habit. The problem with exercise in general is that we get so gung ho, bust our ass for a while, get burned out, skip a day, then a week, and regress. But if you give yourself a very low bar to continue and keep your streak alive (The Fitness Streak minimum is walk 1 mile), you (a) can still rest your body, (b) not regress to your old, bad, inconsistent habits.This certainly isn’t needed for consistently highly motivated athletes. But the majority of us very average people can use streaks to change our lives.

      1. Girish Mehta

        Appreciate your disagreement. Like I said at the top of my comment, I do believe that Health/Fitness is one of the prime examples where doing things consistently delivers compounded benefits over time.I simply don’t buy into the framework of a streak in life, not just health/fitness. I am saying having good habits is different from a streak, and disagree with the idea that a streak is necessary to create good habits.A streak, if it happens, can be an unplanned outcome but keeping a streak going is not a good reason to do something. Separately – human nature being what it is, we run the risk of gaming the activity (lower the bar) to keep the streak going.p.s. To use your words, I am a “very average” guy speaking for n=1 sample…you might know more about this given your focus on this space with a startup.

        1. LE

          and disagree with the idea that a streak is necessary to create good habitsAgree. It ties (per my other comment) the motivation and drive to something that is easy to miss for a host of reasons that are legitimate and unavoidable. What you need to tie to is the positive results. Those are analog not digital. (With digital being the streak a phony number that you want to increase). The actual results (analog) are clearly able to be missed here and there for a legitimate reason if needed.

      2. LE

        The problem with exercise in general is that we get so gung ho, bust our ass for a while, get burned out, skip a day, then a week, and regress.Because most ‘average’ people want immediate results with the least effort. This is true for a host of things in life.The only thing they understand is to overdo or do nothing. . So instead of just eating a bit less of something they enjoy (they lack willpower) they will just avoid it entirely until they go bust and cave in and maybe binge on it.Better to simply try to learn how to have a little bit and enjoy and not cut back entirely. Which typically (I have seen with people dieting as an example) almost always ends in failure because it can’t be kept up over time.I think though that the idea of tying it to a streak doesn’t make sense. In other words the reward should not be that you keep up doing it everyday. Because then you aren’t tied to the right reward. The reward should be the results which then allows you to miss a day if you have to and then resume.

    2. Vasudev Ram

      >But I am not sure streaks is a good way to frame this. I have observed it creates both (1) – An unhealthy reason for continuing to do something, and (b)- an unhealthy reaction when the streak is broken.I agree both with the above excerpt and with your whole comment. Re. the excerpt:Another way of putting it (almost the same as what you said, really) is that it (the streak) is a bad reason for doing a good thing (the work, the hobby, whatever). A better reason is to just do it regularly because you know it is good for you, and to accept that now and then you may have to miss one repetition or so, for whatever reason.In yoga they have a rule (in a yoga book I read, by Shri Yogendra, founder of the Yoga Institute [1] of Santa Cruz, Mumbai), that if you miss your yoga exercises one day, do double the number of rounds of each exercise the next day. That both helps with the health benefits and with building the discipline to keep doing it regularly.[1] affiliated with it, just know some people who took courses there, and had visited there as a kid.

    3. Richard

      Necessity is the mother of invention

  10. Doug Calahan

    Love it! I’m building a startup (The Fitness Streak) solely on that premise (was building just for myself but others seem to really like it). My first little test group just passed 100 consecutive days of doing at lleast a little bit of exercise (minimum = walk 1 mile). You’re 100% correct, my users absolutely do not want to break their streaks. If they forget to log them email or text begging me to put in their exercise from the day before. V2 our in a week or two. I post progress in this thread after we see how the next cohort performs.

  11. Pointsandfigures

    Hopefully the Cubs will go on a tear. 7-2 in their last nine. One of the interesting things about streaks though is they take a lot of discipline to execute. The “hot hand” is a myth.

    1. falicon

      Yeah…I know.

      1. PhilipSugar

        I say this with all respect to JimOne of my earliest memories as a kid (I think it was still in the 1960’s) was in Baskin and Robbins when a streaker came in. They used to have a tradition at Penn where on Spring Fling you streaked through the Quad, they day you went from Junior to Senior.Needless to say times have changed a you would get a sex offender tag.

  12. Dorian Benkoil

    Streaks, yes. And a great app helps. Apps or no, it’s the human motivation, I find. To keep up my Japanese, I carry around a kanji drill book used by Japanese school kids, use it in tandem w/ some apps. (Happy to share, if son wants to know more, borrow my beginner level books, etc.)

  13. sigmaalgebra

    Okay, a post here mentions a Frank Sinatra recording of “Dancing Cheek to Cheek”.Yes, the song mentions a “streak”.Right, super easily, about the first hit on Google, on YouTube, the original Ginger Rodgers version, yes, with that skinny guy with the pasted on hair whatever his name was, at…To me, watching that now is a revelation: As a teenager at home, sure, I watched that movie on TV occasionally. Then I thought that the guy was a twit; I still do. Ain’t no John Wayne character. But I didn’t see much more that was notable, surprising, etc.But, since I’m a man, and as a teenager was plenty man enough, there was Ginger Rogers to notice! With the hair, costume, dancing, she was REALLY something!!!! Reason to get back to work, work on my second billion, setting aside my first billion for now!”Gorgeous” is small talk for Rogers in that movie — and some others.So, as a teenager I could start to appreciate Ginger Rogers. But now with the revelation, I can see a LOT more: The movie, especially that dance scene, is wildly beyond notable and surprising. It’s astounding. Hat’s off to the people who conceived that — music, dance steps, Ginger’s costume, the set, the photography, etc. Right including even a top hat off!Ginger’s dancing remains notable, astounding: It’s obvious that in the scene she was a darned good athlete. IIRC later she said that she “did everything [he] did and backwards and in high heels” and at times had her feet bleeding.It’s a FANTASY, nearly every piece and the whole thing, a fantasy. WAY beyond notable and surprising.And then there is a dark side to the fantasy!! No way, not a chance, did that couple look at all promising for a good relationship, not even in fantasy world!! First there’s the twit! Then there’s Ginger: She looks well beyond a partner in a boy-girl relationship. Unapproachable goddess figure.The people who put that together were darned smart and good at their crafts — astounding. Did I mention fantasy?The music is fully effective and VERY well performed, but it’s not music I would regard as concert music. For the singing and lyrics — just something to slightly obscure the astounding fantasy!When I was a teenager, after that dance scene on TV, maybe Dad could have asked me if I appreciated what a fantasy, just how far from anything real, that scene was and how amazing it was to get it on film? Or, I was willing just to assume that, sure, in reality at times people did dance like that — nope, not a chance!!!! And some twit definitely won’t be dancing with a Ginger Rogers!!! FANTASY!!So, the movie is from 1935 — they were DARNED good at what they were doing!

  14. Kaivon Talai

    Thanks Fred!

  15. Andrew Lee

    The synonym for streaks is habits

  16. Frank W. Miller

    The 8th and 9th wonders of the world, compound interest and dollar cost averaging

  17. Brett Bedevian is a great suoplemental japanese learning tool that helped / still helps me tremendously-

  18. george

    Lebron has won a Championship with Every Team he’s played on – Let’s keep that streak going in LA – Yeah Lakers!

  19. DANN

    Great content, Fred, keep the streak alive and keep it coming (please).

  20. Steve Brant

    Nice allegory. It’s mind hacking 101. We don’t like to think we are programmable (like animals) however we might be the most susceptible. I’m not keen on having an APP program my behavior, because it’s programming me to do what it wants me to do rather than something that is beneficial to myself.It did surprise me that you openly endorsed an App (portfolio or not) that basically got you and your daughter to make retail visits to enhance a streak, that seems more (personally) harmful than beneficial. On the converse I did like how you showed the “Streak” is what keeps you writing EVERYDAY, even when you don’t want to, demonstrating the power of the streak in conjunction with habit.

  21. Betty

    As a big proponent of discipline, I admire you for your insane level of discipline, especially keeping up this blog on a daily basis for the past 15 years! Kudos!

  22. Adam Parish

    Swarm/Forsquare is still the best gamification on the market today. I don’t Snapchat, but my wife will randomly snap to keep her snap streak alive.