A habit tracker is a helpful and wonderful organizational tool to use on your self-improvement journey.
So I’m guessing you’ve decided to kick your self-improvement game up a notch and get laser-focused on your goals. You’ve been at this self-improvement game a while but haven’t gotten serious enough to track your habits.
And now you’re curious about habit tracking. It’s time you give this habit tracking thing a try, once and for all.
Well, my friend, I hate to break it to you…
But you’ve graduated! You’ve officially transitioned.
You’ve transitioned from hazily meandering through your habit goals to becoming single-mindedly sharp and determined.
Long gone are those days of you flirting with self-improvement. Now you are 100% committed.
Let’s begin with patting yourself on the back.
And welcome to the world of habit tracking. It will change your life.
What is Habit Tracking?
Habit tracking dates back to the 1700s with one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. The self-improvement community reveres Franklin for his dedication to productivity and his crazy-disciplined work schedule that starts right at 5 a.m. with prayers.
Franklin put a habit tracking system in place to develop his character. On the left-hand column of a sheet of paper, he wrote his 13 virtues going down the page. At the top, going horizontally of the page, he wrote out the seven days.
He evaluated his virtues at the end of each day and marked a dot in each square where he was unsuccessful. He tracked his thirteen virtues quarterly in thirteen-week cycles. (OMG! People were hard-core back then; I have already failed after seeing his first virtue.)
This same method is now hugely popularized by our modern self-development heroes. I couldn’t find who resurrected habit tracking, but James Clear, Gretchin Rubin, and Michael Hyatt all use habit tracking as a self-improvement strategy.
Another similar legendary story in the self-improvement community is Jerry Seinfeld’s story.
If you don’t know who Jerry Seinfeld is, he is the most successful American comedian of all time, labeled the King of Comedy. He started as a stand-up comedian and transitioned into his eponymous ’90s hit television show, Seinfeld. His more recent series is Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, but aside from his achievements, we want to zero in on the strategy that led to his incredible work ethic.
In a Lifehacker article Bradd Issac, a current motivational blogger, recounts an interaction he had with Seinfeld when Seinfeld was a touring stand-up comedian and Issac an aspiring young comic.
Issac asked Seinfeld for his advice and on how to become a better comic.
In Issac’s words:
“He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.”
Seinfeld continues, “After a few days, you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it, and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is not to break the chain. Don’t Break the Chain.”
The strategies above by two great men are quite simple yet sometimes harder to carry out. Without a full understanding of why it works, you won’t find it appealing.
Let me attempt to persuade you, may I?
3 Reasons Why a Habit Tracker is Useful
My first encounter with marking things off a calendar was when I reached out to the NYC Quits, a hotline that helps people quit smoking cigarettes. You get two free boxes of smoke patches, nicotine gum, and support phone calls. They send materials to help you understand habits and give you various smoking and recovery statistics. This program was my introduction to habit tracking.
At this point in my life, I would consider myself to be a person of low will-power. I devoured these pamphlets, and once I became aware of how habits worked, I was empowered. So I followed the instructions: set your quit date in advance and mark an X on the calendar each day you don’t smoke.
One day went by. Wow, a full day of not smoking. Then three days went by. Three days was a victory. Then one week flew by. Then shit, two weeks. Then one month. A full thirty days? What?! This was bananas!
Years of struggling to quit, and I finally quit! The only difference from previous attempts was a lesson on human behavior, a marker, and a calendar. At that point, I could barely remember what it felt like to be a smoker.
I wouldn’t dare “break that chain” after thirty days.
Something about checking these little tiny boxes off that is super gratifying. The satisfaction feeds your motivation to push yourself and keep going. The longer the chain, the longer the hard work, the more you would not want to squander your efforts by breaking the chain.
Then one day, you find yourself in a place where you have reached a point of stability. Your once “new” habit is now ingrained and automatic.
2. Aids Your Review Process
You can’t pat yourself on the back if you aren’t sure you’ve succeeded at something. To know if you are successful at any given attempt, you have to have a way to measure it.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle to remember what I ate yesterday. I write everything down obsessively. It takes two minutes out of your day, but it will save the trouble of feeling lost with your habit goals.
When it’s time to review your habits, you’ll be able to see a fuller picture. You’ll see patterns emerge, foresee obstacles, and you’ll intuitively know how to adjust. Without a habit tracking system, your habit goals can be elusive. This way, you are prepared to set boundaries and systems in place when moving forward.
And for people who tend to sway towards being emotional (me!), you’ll be able to analyze your habits objectively.
3. It’s interactive
The process of habit tracking is a hands-on activity.
Setting a habit goal is a vague idea in your head until you bring it to the physical world. Especially if you are tracking character traits like Benjamin Franklin, it’s hard to conclude if you are failing or succeeding.
When you check off the boxes, you feel like you are playing a game. For most of us, we want to win when we are playing a game. The day-to-day interaction fuels your motivation and brings your competitive side out.
Different Ways to Track Habits
You can track your habits by buying a journal, using an excel spreadsheet, a habit tracking app, or use my habit tracker. You can print out my habit tracker and track your habits by hand if you are a more tactile person, or you can leave it on your computer and tick the boxes from your computer.
I recommend experimenting with them all and see what fits your lifestyle.
Sometimes people do a combination of technology and by hand. I recommend starting by hand before moving to an app. You can even come up with your style! I hope you have fun exploring all the different ways to track your habit.
Questions to Ask During Your Habit Tracking Review
Reviewing your habits monthly or quarterly is just as important as checking the boxes daily. The review process arms you with the ability to think through and analyze your efforts critically.
In this phase, you can choose to recommit to the goal, raise the bar, lower to a more attainable standard, continue to stabilize the habit, or downright ditch the darn habit.
You get to decide. There won’t be a habit tracker police interrogating you, only you, the habit tracker, and the divine.
For instance, you set out to read one book a week because every self-improvement junkie and Bill Gates is doing it, so why not you. You realize you don’t like reading all that much. You find that audiobooks work better for you, and now you’ll start with one book a month. Four books a month is way too aggressive. You eventually get to a stable place and find yourself automatically listening to one book a month. You then decide to up your efforts and listen to two books a month.
It will look something like that. Your habit journey will be an ever-winding road.
Four questions to ask yourself during your weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly.
- What went well?
- What did not go so well?
- What were my obstacles?
- What can I do to improve?
What are Good Habit Ideas to Track?
Check out my article on habits that improved my life the most if you are looking for daily habit examples.
- Discipline sleep
- Sleep Quality
- Wake up at a specific time every day
- Floss every night
- Stretching after a workout
- Take daily vitamins
- Practice an instrument
- Stop dwelling
- Quit smoking
- No caffeine
- No sugar
- Limit fried food
- Limit social media
- Write for one hour a day
- Making the bed every morning
- Limit alcohol intake or quit
If you have ever tried to change, break, or build a new habit, you understand the amount of effort it takes—especially stubborn habits.
There are days when you feel like quitting. There are days when you say the hell with this and abandon your efforts. Then there are those days when you reignite the flame because you realize the habit matters to you. It’s a tortuous road to ultimate victory.
Now that you know how habit tracking works, not only are you smarter, you are one step closer to victory. Watch out, everybody, get out of your way.
Good luck, and have fun!