Moving Towards a Goal: How Jerry Seinfeld Gamified His Path Towards Success

Make Them Laugh

“Here is a young comedian who works frequently at the Improvisation Los Angeles, and he’s been working on the road with Andy Williams. Would you welcome, Jerry Seinfeld,” announced Johnny Carson.

As the white curtain opens, a young Jerry Seinfeld takes center stage. Dressed in a cream colored suit with a blue tie and a head full of hair, he walks onto the stage, arms wide open as if he were welcoming the crowd. Music plays in the background as the crowd claps. The music begins to fade, and Jerry starts his act.

“Thank you, thank you very much! I am just happy to be here; I am just happy to be anywhere!” The crowd laughs.

This was the beginning of what would turn out to be a long and prosperous career for Jerry Seinfeld; it was his first appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. He would go on to develop the sitcom Seinfeld with Larry David, which ended up running for nine seasons and was the highest rated show in the US when the final episode aired in 1998.

Born in Brooklyn, New York City to Kalman and Betty Seinfeld, Jerry had an early start in comedy. By age eight, Jerry was putting himself through rigorous comic training, watching television day and night to study the techniques of other comedians. Seinfeld managed to make it in a field that is littered with failed comics who would never even come close to performing in front of a live studio audience.

To be a great stand-up comedian takes much more than talent, it takes a consistent dedication to your craft that few of us can maintain. As a comedian, coming up with material, let alone funny material is an arduous and daunting task. The end goal of doing a sixty-minute stand-up routine in front of thousands of people can feel so unattainable that it becomes quite easy to give up.

Jerry’s Trick

Jerry had an interesting technique to ensure he was consistently making progress toward his larger goals. It’s a trick that seems simple but is quite powerful and plays right into the way that humans are wired. Throughout his career, as he worked continuously toward perfecting his craft, he made a commitment to write one joke per day. Every day, one joke. Not an entire routine, not an entire monologue, but simply one joke, every single day.

To keep himself honest, he would place a large calendar on his wall in his apartment. For each day that he wrote a joke, he placed a large ‘X’ on that date. The chain continued to grow and he found that the more Xs he accumulated, the harder it became to break the streak.

The calendar served as a visual reminder of the hard work he had put in and how far he had come. Breaking the streak wouldn’t just mean one missed joke, it would mean losing the streak that he had worked so hard to build.

A Sense of Movement

This strategy provided Jerry with a sense of movement toward a large, distant goal. Without this kind of visual reminder, it would be easy to feel as though he wasn’t progressing toward that goal at all. But it did something even greater, whether he realized it or not, it tapped into the core of human behavior. Jerry’s technique was one that would eventually inform the success of one of the most widely used online learning platforms Duolingo.

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