Habit Tracking

Incrementally improve your life.

It’s almost the end of the year, and you may be tempted to set some new year’s resolutions. Nothing wrong with that. But how are you going to avoid becoming that cliché someone who doesn’t follow through on their new commitments, and by February are pretending it all never happened?

The answer is habit tracking.

Building better habits is the magic ingredient to accomplishing everything you set out to do. One of my favourite books about habits is Atomic Habits, where James Clear says that habits are like compound interest. I really like this analogy, because it rings so true: just like growing your savings bit-by-bit results in a big pile of money when the magic of compound interest is applied, habits are the same bit-by-bit deposit towards your goals. With tiny bits of efforts every day and every week, you’ll end up with massive achievements over months and years.

So how does this actually work in real life? I recommend a super simple yet highly effective habit tracker called Loop Habit Tracker. It’s only available for Android, so if you have an iPhone you’ll have to find an alternative—feel free to reply to me with your recommendation.

In Loop, you enter the habits you want to track, and then each day there’s a check mark that you check off if you did it. Simple as that. You can set the frequency at which you want to do each habit (daily, 3x per week, etc.), and then Loop will auto-check an item if you’ve already completed it enough times that week. Here’s what part of mine looks like:

You’ll notice that the little circle beside each habit shows your overall progress. And don’t judge! The lockdown has cancelled all my exercise, so those are stagnant right now. You can see that I’m about halfway towards my goal of not drinking alcohol at least 4 days per week and practicing guitar every day, and I’m doing really well with sleeping and practicing French.

And you get stats! Stats are so good because they give you a sense of how you’re doing with each habit over time. This will tell you whether you might want to amp-up your efforts with a particular habit.

Let me give you some examples to show you how this works.

One of my habits is to sleep at least seven hours per night. Sleep is a topic I’ll write about in more detail, because sleep is so good and so important. But for now, let’s just look at my habit tracking for it.

The line graph shows you how I’m tracking over time, and the bar graph shows you how many days every month I’ve slept at least 7 hours. I’m doing pretty well at this one—pandemic lockdowns help me get to sleep on time most nights.

Another habit I’m tracking is not eating refined sugar. This is a tough one for me, because sugar is delicious.

You can see I’ve never achieved more than 60% of this habit goal, and I’ve been tailing off lately (yum). But that’s okay! Habit tracking is not to make you feel bad, it’s to know where you stand so you can decide if you want to change something.

At this point I should mention that one of the best things about having a habit tracker is that it prompts you to focus on what you’re tracking. You will find yourself opening your tracker quite often, and you’ll be very tempted to want to check off more items. That will drive you to change your behaviour so that you can check those satisfying checks! It’s a neat psychological trick you can play on yourself to nudge you in the right direction.

Also, when you have idle moments in your day, instead of opening social media, you can open your habit tracker and it will give you lots of ideas of things you can do instead. For example, since the pandemic started I’ve been going on walks since lockdown cancelled all my other exercise. Here’s my results.

So there you have it—habit tracking. I highly recommend you give it a spin. Start by adding one or two habits you want to add to your life, and build from there. As someone who’s been tracking his habits for a long time, I can tell you that progress ebbs and flows over time, and that if you have a lot of habits, it’s nearly impossible to achieve high ratings on all of them at once. The key is to play the long game, use it as a tool for progress rather than self-judgement, and enjoy the stats.

Now I’m off to practice guitar, journal, go for a walk, and check-off that I wrote this newsletter.