“Don’t break the chain.”

These four simple words helped Jerry Seinfeld become one of the world’s most successful comedians.

Seinfeld’s mantra pushed him to write new jokes every single day.

Using a wall calendar, he drew an “X” through each day on which he wrote. Once the Xs started forming a chain, his motivation grew.

“You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain,” Seinfeld told a young comedian, who had asked for success tips.

Seinfeld’s technique, which ultimately led to him landing a hit television show, is a perfect example of how success doesn’t always begin with extraordinary motivation.

Like a snowball gathering speed, sometimes the motivation builds after you get started.

By nature, I’m not a highly motivated person. I’m not an early riser, I don’t particularly love the gym and I don’t read two new books each week.

But somehow I still managed to launch JotForm, and slowly grow a network of over 4.2 million users over the last twelve years. And I squeeze in a workout many mornings, too.

Getting stuff done doesn’t always depend on motivation. We can accomplish great things, even when we just don’t feel like it.

Procrastination can be a vicious cycle

The more we avoid something, the higher our anxiety, and so we put it off further.

To stop the procrastination cycle, we need to first identify the reason why we’re avoiding a task. Usually, it’s about prevention or promotion.

  • A prevention focus is when we avoid doing something to prevent a loss. For example, you have to create a presentation for work, but are afraid it won’t be engaging. Worried about embarrassing yourself in front of colleagues, you postpone getting started on the presentation.
  • A promotion focus is when we see a task as a way to end up better off than we are now — like training for a marathon — but can’t summon the motivation to get started. For example, the running club you joined meets at 6:00 am, but the snooze button triumphs every time.

Emotions play a key role both in promotion and prevention focus.