Joshua Keel

My First Week With Habit Tracking

January 19, 2020

Going into this year, I knew I wanted to improve some aspects of my life and habits. I’m not one of those who make New Year’s resolutions per se, but I do use the turn of the year to think strategically about what’s working well in my life, and what’s not.

Things that haven’t been working include my habits around eating and physical activity. Last May when I went to Utah, I was hardcore about my gym habit—I planned ahead, found a gym, then walked at least 20 minutes there and back for my three workouts of the week.

Things changed as we prepared to move to a new house in July, and the most I’ve done since then is half-heartedly play around in my garage gym, and sometimes take a 30-minute walk.

I had been thinking about how to change this, so when I made my Christmas wish list last year, James Clear’s Clear Habit Journal was on it. My incredibly generous in-laws were kind enough to give it to me.

Photo of me holding my James Clear habit journal

The habit tracker was the feature I was most looking forward to. I could, of course, have used Excel, or an iPhone app, but I thought a physical journal might make it easier for me to stick with, and give me one less reason to pick up my phone.

My habit tracker sits on my bedside table. It’s one of the first things I see when I wake up and when I get ready for bed.

Journal page showing habit tracker, with checkboxes for each day the habit is completed

Placing my tracker in a highly visible location helps remind me of my commitments. Sometimes I even check off habits as I do them, visiting the sheet for the satisfaction of placing an X in the box for each successful completion.

I always knew I should track my habits. It’s a practice that has probably been recommended to me tens of times. Yet I remained resistant for a long time, not seeing the value.

My hero Georgie Fear strongly recommends habit tracking in her Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss book. She has this to say:

Tracking habits works. Saying “I’ll just do it in my head” or “I’ll just try and cut back” rarely works, if ever. When you’re practicing a new behavior, black-and-white evidence goes a long way.

She also touts the benefits of the tiny psychological reward of checking your habit off a list. And I can say that I definitely experience those benefits. Checking off a habit after I’ve completed it helps reinforce that yes, I’m on the right track. I’m going where I want to be going. I’m sticking with my commitments.

During this week of habit tracking, I have felt more accountable to myself, and more focused on follow-through than I have in a long time. I think this works. This seems to have been a missing piece for me that I vaguely knew I should do, but never took action on.

I have found through hard experience that without frequent check-ins to see how habits and personal commitments are going, they are simply forgotten, or guiltily ignored, until weeks later when I am surprised to find that I’m right back where I started.

Increasingly I see that the experts in this field are actually right—who would’ve thought?. Tiny, manageable habits, preceded by triggers, and placed in the right space in your day are the best way to make a new behavior stick. Getting the habit right, then regularly checking in to make sure progress is being made, allows you to see dramatic results over time.

Crossing a habit off a tracker sheet is just a daily way to check in, to be mindful, and to make sure the needs of the day are met, so that weeks, months and years down the line, you get where you want to go. You become the person you want to be.

It’s not a destination, but a never-ending path to greater alignment of your desires and intentions with your behavior. In the end, this leads to peace, happiness and the confidence of knowing that you can trust yourself. That’s a reward well worth a little effort and planning.

I will check in here regularly with my habit progress this year. I may even start a weekly series to publicly discuss what’s working and what needs to change, as I make my way toward better habits and a more sustainable lifestyle. I hope you’ll join me.