Counting Up & Counting Down

Mar 16, 2023

Did you happen to have an advent calendar as a kid? The kind where you’d open one window each day, knowing that with each opening, you were getting that much closer to Christmas? From the moment the countdown started, I could feel the excitement escalating to the point of butterflies in my belly. 

Do you also remember the countdown to your family’s summer vacation? If you were really young, your parents may have told you each night how many more “sleeps” were left before the big trip. 

Or ask any child under age 10 how many days are left to their birthday: I’m certain they’ll know.

Let's face it, human beings love counting down to something fun!

But ask yourself this:

When was the last time— as a grown-up— you experienced the excitement of a countdown? Was it counting down to your baby’s due date? Or the 47 days left until you’ll officially be retired?

Regardless of the event or celebration you're counting down to, you know that feeling I’m referring to, right?

When there's something on your calendar to look forward to, it makes each day leading up to the big event more exciting.

When you have something you're counting down to, don't you find yourself going about your daily routine with a little extra pep in your step? We seem to have increased tolerance for stress because there's payoff coming: “I can deal with the stress of this work project because I know in 9 more days I’ll be sipping a Mai Tai at the swim-up bar in St. John.”

Sound familiar?

That feeling of excitement-- counting down to a prize or a payoff-- is something that makes our brains very happy, scientifically speaking. Studies show that increased endorphins get released when we know we have something to look forward to. Those endorphins make us feel positive, motivated, more creative and focused. There’s a lot of psychological studies on this topic. In the article Why Giving Yourself Something to Look Forward to Matters, the writer makes the point:

Unlike anxiety, which is the fear of what may happen, anticipation is a feeling of excitement about what might be coming. Instead of dreading something or worrying about how things are going to go wrong, anticipation lets you imagine what might happen if everything goes right.

Besides, who doesn’t want to have something to look forward to?

And did you know we get the same happy brain effect when we are counting up to an accomplishment?

Take the concept of streaks. How many of you have a streak you are tracking? I'm currently on Day #71 of 75 Hard. This is a mental toughness program that requires participants to commit daily to 45-minute workouts, drinking a gallon of water, reading non-fiction, taking a picture of yourself, following a strict diet, and consuming no alcohol-- all for 75 days in a row. Each day that I successfully follow the program, I add to my streak. And I'm so close to finishing now, I won't let anything get in the way of hitting that 75-day accomplishment. 

If you track streaks, you already know: There comes a point where you just keep going-- no matter how "hard" the 75 Hard program is-- because you're 100% committed to the streak.

I love streaks. They keep me on track and motivated, both personally and professionally. I  have a 166-week streak that ties to the consecutive weeks I have worked out on my Peloton. I will do everything in my power to keep this long-term streak going. Even when on vacation, I will seek out a hotel that offers Peloton bikes. Whatever it takes to not break the streak, I will do it.

Your kids may have streaks going on SnapChat that they’re 100% unwilling to break. You can’t get them to remember to brush their teeth at the end of the day, but they will never go to sleep without keeping their Snap streak alive. Streaks are powerful.

Scientifically, this makes sense: The dedication and determination that come with tracking streaks is something that helps our brains really light up. I have coaching clients who track their goal to "Book one new referral each day" or "Submit one new piece of business every week" streak. 

What about you? What are you tracking?

Did you know how powerful counting up and counting down are?

Our brains do not like ambiguity. We tend to do better and achieve more consistent results when choosing goals with specific numbers and deadlines. 

For example, you might have great intentions when you state, "I'd like to lose a few pounds before summer.” The problem with this statement is that your brain doesn’t really know what do do with this generic goal.

However, when you revise your statement to be more specific: “I will lose 12 lbs. before my high school reunion on June 15th!" this level of detail and specificity is something that lights our brains up and produces all kinds of positive chemicals.

Your brain will kick into gear with and have clear direction when you assign it a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goal. And if you write your goal down, review it often, and keep your streaks and countdowns tracked someplace you can physically see every day— you'll start to experience a higher level of success... and accomplish more in less time

Who wouldn't want that?

So here's your chance to check in with yourself and ask:

  • What's on my calendar that I'm looking forward to? (Got something? Start the countdown today...)
  • There's nothing on my calendar I'm excited about. (Pick something, get it booked, and start the countdown!)
  • What generic goal do I have that I can tweak to be a SMART goal? (Write it down, measure it, and create a streak connected to it.)

You could take this concept a step further by adding your community to it: create a streak with a friend and stay accountable to keep momentum going. Or you could book something special on the calendar for you and your family, then make a countdown clock so the kids can have a visual of how close they are to it.

Specifically define your goal. Put a date with it. Count up to track your streaks. Count down to the payoff. Then get ready to brag about all your amazing 2023 accomplishments! 

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