Lessons Learnt

Don’t Break the Chain: Enjoying the Process with Jerry Seinfeld

Before we get into the next Lessons Learnt profile, let’s just get it out of the way: I’m a die-hard Seinfeld fan, I think it’s the greatest TV show of all time and I can have all 9 seasons looping in the background for the rest of my life.

Now that we’ve established that, just bear in mind that what I’ve written might be tinged with some bias, as expected.

As the creator of the one of the most successful TV shows of all time and one of the most successful comedians ever, Jerry Seinfeld is famous for his daily writing routine and obsession over every little detail of his jokes. There have been plenty of valuable lessons I’ve learnt watching Seinfeld and reading his interviews, such as: you need to enjoy the process of what you do, practicing deliberately and of course, don’t break the chain!

Lessons Learnt is a series by Balance the Grind profiling individuals, brands or companies that inspire us. For more profiles, check them out here.

Lesson 1: Fall in love with the process

There’s only way that somene can reach the level of sustained success of Seinfeld and continue to work, and that’s by falling in love with the process.

By season nine of the show, Seinfeld was making $1 million for each episode. He also reportedly turned down over $100 million to produce one more season of the hit sitcom. Needless to say, it stopped being about the money for Seinfeld, but about the love for the process.

At 66-years old, Seinfeld release his first original standup special in 22 years titled, 23 Hours to Kill, on Netflix, in addition to his show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Seinfeld is clearly still in love with being a comedian, working on the craft of comedy, the process of writing jokes, the tinkering of certain phrases and lines to maximise their effect on the audience.

All the success that he has achieved in the past 40 years of his career has been incredible, something other comedians can only dream of, but it seems like to Seinfeld, the end result was always a bonus for him, and enjoying the process was always much more important.

If I don’t do a set in two weeks, I feel it. I read an article a few years ago that said when you practice a sport a lot, you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down. Reading that changed my life. I used to wonder, Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don’t I know how to do this already? The answer is no. You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop.

Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up | The New York Times

Learning to enjoy the process, instead of waiting for the result is something that has helped me maintain consistency and frequency in everything I do; from my career to the gym to Balance the Grind. It feels amazing when I receive emails from people talking about how much they enjoy reading these conversations, or when the website gets a huge spike in traffic, but even without those things, I would be fine because I genuinely love the process of interviewing, research, writing and publishing content.

Lesson 2: Deliberate practice is what matters

The 10,000hr rule is a definite key in success.

Malcolm Gladwell | Outliers: The Story of Success

Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule for success is widely known and has been circulated in types of contexts and settings. But what’s often left out is that, it’s not just 10,000 hours of practice on your craft, it’s 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.

Deliberate Practice: What It Is and How to Use It | James Clear

In a 2012 New York Times profile by Jonah Weiner, the writer observes Seinfeld working on a single joke for years, until it’s perfect. Yes, in 2012, 14 years after his sitcom (one of the biggest TV shows in history) ended, Seinfeld was still practicing and tinkering with his craft like a day-one comedian. This deliberate practice is directly linked to being in love with the process — you simply can’t maintain this intense obsession with your craft if you don’t love the process.

I like money, but it’s never been about the money. It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai. I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.


Lesson 3: Don’t break the chain

One of the most famous productivity hacks attributed to Seinfeld is the “Don’t break the chain” technique. As an up-and-coming comedian, Seinfeld only had one goal: to write one joke a day. Nothing more, nothing less.

He had a big calendar of the whole year on a wall in his apartment. Every time he wrote a joke, he put a red X on that date. Before long he had a growing chain of red X’s on the calendar — a visual reminder of the consistent work he put in.

Seinfeld would later give this advice to a young comedian, Brad Isaac, who was just starting out on the comedy circuit.

He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. ‘After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.’

How to Stop Procrastinating on Your Goals by Using the “Seinfeld Strategy” | James Clear

It’s simple. If you want to get better at something, you need to work on it consistently and frequently. Ideally you would be doing it every day.

For creatives, it’s sometimes easy to fall in the trap that all you need is a flash of inspiration and everything will make sense. We like to think of creativity or success as this romantic notion, where an individual will have flashes of brilliant inspiration — Picasso splashing paint on the canvas or Mozart composing the Requiem in a delirious state (as populared in Amadeus) or an apple falling on Isaac Newton’s head.

But the realities of creative work is actually far simpler, and maybe even boring to some people. You show up, you put in the reps, you do your work, you think about what you did, you finish for the day, go to sleep, then do it again the next day.

Even in a 2020 New York Times profile, Jerry talks about still writing every day:

I still have a writing session every day. It’s another thing that organizes your mind. The coffee goes here. The pad goes here. The notes go here. My writing technique is just: You can’t do anything else. You don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else. The writing is such an ordeal. That sustains me.

Jerry Seinfeld Is Making Peace With Nothing: He’s ‘Post-Show Business’ | The New York Times

Some final thoughts: Seinfeld was recently interviewed on The Howard Stern Show, and the topic about hard work and will came up:

Howard Stern: I thought (to myself), you know, it is possible to will yourself, maybe not to be the greatest in the world but to certainly get what you want.”

Jerry Seinfeld:I’m going to adjust your perspective a little bit. That was no will. What you were using, what Michael Jordan uses and what I use, is not will. It’s love. When you love something, it’s a bottomless pool of energy. That’s where the energy comes from. But you have to love it sincerely. Not because you’re going to make money from it, be famous, or get whatever you want to get. When you do it because you love it, then you can find yourself moving up and getting really good at something you wanted to be really good at. Will is like not eating dessert or something that’s just forcing yourself. You can’t force yourself to be what you have made yourself into. You can love it. Love is endless. Will is finite.”

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This conversation is brought to you by Workflow, an interview series about people’s working styles and workspaces.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.