Habit Tracking: A Simple Way to Change Your Life
February 2, 2020
The calendar just flipped over into the month of February, and that marks 21 days that I have been tracking specific habits I want to build this year.
The start of a new month is always a good time to consider your habits. Are your habits serving you well? If the behaviors you regularly engage in were continued for the next year, where would they lead? If it’s not a place you want to go, no worries. A gentle course correction is all that’s needed.
I recommend starting small. Small habits are easier to stick to, and don’t overwhelm our capacity for change. In the beginning it can actually be good to intentionally hold yourself back from doing what you think you can handle, and instead build up a pattern of proven success first before launching into harder habits.
In that spirit, I have set myself some simple, relatively easy to follow (for me) habits. They are:
- Eat 3-4 meals a day with no snacking. This is the first habit from Lean Habits, a weight loss approach I am in love with, and have written about before.
- Shower before work. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but it can be easy to neglect personal hygiene when working from home.
- Work out in my garage gym three days a week (my current schedule is Monday/Wednesday/Friday).
- Take a 30-minute walk on the days I don’t strength train. I also count other physical activity, like raking leaves or mowing the lawn.
By themselves, these habits are nice, but the beauty of the system I have set up is that I track these habits daily.
I know, for instance, that in the last 20 days, I was successful with my 3-4 meals habit on 17 days, showered before work on all but one weekday, went on 11 walks, and did 5 strength training workouts.
If I wasn’t tracking these habits, it would be hard to know how I was doing. I would just guess, and call it good. I guess I’m doing OK with 3-4 meals (even though I have no accountability and don’t regularly check in with myself).
For so long I have tried to change habits without tracking, and I think that’s far from the most efficient way to go about it. We all need to be confronted with the reality of how we actually live, not an idealized version of ourselves.
It doesn’t really matter how you track your habits, but one of the simplest ways is just on paper. Print off one of the many habit tracker sheets you can find online, or create your own from a spreadsheet, or just draw your tracker on a sheet of grid paper.
The important thing is to have a daily tracking check-in. You want to ensure that you are having to engage with your stated goals—and your actual behavior—every day.
Every night before bed, I tick off the habits I did that day. If for some reason I wasn’t able to complete one of my habits, I compassionately check in with myself about why that was, and how I could make completing the habit easier tomorrow.
Maybe more planning is required, or maybe my environment (travel, stress) is making the habit harder at the moment. In any case, I’m creating a process whereby I hold myself accountable for what I say I want, vs. what I do.
If I need to change a habit to be smaller, or make it more flexible, I will. Other times I simply recommit and acknowledge that yes, this is important to me. I will find the time to do it tomorrow.
I am finding this habit tracking process transformative, and I think you will too. It’s one of those things that sounds kind of annoying, like you could probably just skip it. I did that for too long. I encourage you to try it and find out for yourself just how powerful it can be.