Skip sugar for a month.
Walk 30 minutes every day for 30 days.
Be vegetarian for a year.
All of these are streaks. You are attempting to do something every day for an uncomfortably long duration. Streaks are good for you. They teach you patience, resilience, and consistency. They help you break out of dysfunctional patterns that are detrimental to you.
If you are in the habit of hankering for something sugary daily, then going 30 days without sugar is a great learning experience. And a freeing one as well. If you have been busy with life and want to start being active, resolving to walk daily for a month is a brilliant goal.
Streaks are a powerful tool in your toolbox. When you are starting off something new or needing a jolt or a slap, you do a streak. While you might not nail a new habit, you will recognise a lot of your in-built patterns. You will realise that you can keep your cravings under control, you will realise you can say 'no', and that you are the boss of you after all.
80% of the benefits of elimination diets happen in the first 4 weeks. So, that's definitely a good target to aim for. Beyond that, it is useful to challenge yourself but your sanity is more important than a number that no one cares about. But you be you! If you have a clear reason, aim for a longer streak.
The learnings will compound.
The problem is streaks are not sustainable. It is not their job to be sustainable. Their job is to shake you up, to get you out of your rut, to get you way past your comfort zone and then some.
Enter cycles. Instead of skipping sugar for a month, you stay on the straight and narrow during the weekdays and you have your sugary fix over the weekend. Call that the old 5-2 i.e. 5 days of no sugar followed by 2 days of no rules. This becomes rather sustainable, as you have a release point every weekend.
You can and should find your own cycle. Some people do better on the 6-1 i.e. having sugar only on a Sunday. Or maybe you wanna have sugar on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Everything goes.
If you are allergic to something or doing an intense form of restricted eating, going for a streak, especially the first time you want to try something out is a good idea. If it works, you make it a sustainable part of your life via cycles.
Or of course, you are starting off with this fitness habit - time to shelve all the excuses and aim for a streak.
Remember, streaks are you going into overdrive. But it would be best if you learned to shift into sustainability or risk losing your sanity.
Streaks are useful when:
- you had way too much fun during a vacation. And want to get back on track, and then some.
- you need to get rid of a crutch.
- you need a jolt out of your current patterns.
- you wanna jump into the deep end.
Streaks AND Cycles
The point is not one or the other. It is not either-or. It is AND.
They are two tools in your toolbox, and you should use both.
You do streaks when the situation mandates it. You do cycles the rest of the year.
Cycles need not align with each other. That is, your sugar cycle might be a 5-2, while your activity cycle might be a 1-1 (work-rest-work-rest ...). And you can do both of them at the same time. Cycles allow you to figure out all aspects of your routine and slot them in as you need them.
Based on the outcomes, how hard the effort is, and how sustainable it is, you tweak your cycles.
It is never either or. Both are useful. Both are mandatory. Use wisely.