I Give You Permission to Take the Mulligan

A golfer lines up his shot with his club, his brown shoes and fashionable pink socks visible under the hem of his white and black plaid shorts. His golf buddy in the background is wearing neon green socks, white loafers, with khaki cargo shorts.
Photo by Morgan David de Lossy on Unsplash

mul·li·gan| ˈməliɡən | noun informal, mainly North American 1 (also mulligan stew) a stew made from odds and ends of food. 2 (in informal golf) an extra stroke allowed after a poor shot, not counted on the scorecard.

Today Duolingo told me I had a 30-Day Spanish Learning Streak. That means hitting my goal of 15 minutes of Spanish lessons every day for a whole month.

However, I missed a lesson on day two or three. I didn’t even realize it until I checked my notifications the next day.

Here is where Duolingo got smart. The notification told me that Duolingo had activated a streak freeze. I had 48 hours from my previous lesson to complete another or break my streak.

Sure enough, less than 48 hours after the previous lesson, I got another 15 minutes in and saved my streak. And I have not broken it since.

When you start a new habit or skill, especially a daily practice, you will probably miss a day. It’s something new; the groove hasn’t been greased yet. When that happens, you’ll have two choices:

Because Duolingo relies on people consistently showing up, it gives people who are new to the habit of learning a language a mulligan. If you miss a day but get back to the practice within two days, that one day you missed doesn’t count. As your streak grows, the habit forms, and your motivation to learn increases. Duolingo proves effective, and that’s how they are one of the best language learning apps in the world.

You can apply this concept to starting anything new. Be honest with yourself. If you miss, give yourself 48 hours from when you last practiced the habit to get back into it. If you do, call it a mulligan/pause/time out/whatever language suits you best. Then look at what happened that caused you to miss.

Did an alarm not go off? Was the order to your day disrupted? Did things that were entirely out of your control happen, and you became entangled in the chaos that ensued?

If you know what caused the upset, you can plan better for the next time. For example, you can set an additional alarm or block out a time of day when nothing else needs your attention. You can also break down your habit into smaller chunks sprinkled throughout the day.

Here is the key: the mulligan is a one-time deal. Duolingo lets you activate a streak freeze once a month if you need it. You can not use these pauses as excuses. You must give yourself grace and get back to the habit as quickly as possible.

You must give yourself grace and get back to the habit as quickly as possible.

So next time you want to give up because you messed up, take a breath, take a mulligan, and try again. Small, consistent changes take time, but they are so much more rewarding when you stick with them.

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Stephanie Cansian

Author, email coach, and creative mind behind Say It Simply Productions. Rebelliously positive, probably caffeinated. Central Jersey citizen.