Why is it so difficult to maintain good habits? We work hard to acquire them, but they often slither into oblivion after a few days or months. Is it possible that habit-tracking is the key to their longevity and success?
Many of our habits were ingrained during childhood. Our parents repeatedly prompted us to brush our teeth after meals and leave our dirty shoes at the front door so that we could perform them without thinking. It is the maintenance of new habits that we struggle with.
Motivation for change triggers the birth of a new habit, such as running a marathon. First, we chose the behavior to run five miles daily. Then we set our alarm as a stimulus to take action. Finally, we reward ourselves with a piece of chocolate after we complete our daily run. With repetition, the action becomes a habit; it takes about 66 days.
New habits fail about 80% of the time, which leaves most of us wondering where we went wrong. However, not to fear. Most of today’s habit gurus advocate using a habit tracker to achieve long-term success.
Benefits of Tracking Habits
After suffering a significant baseball injury as a teenager, James Clear discovered the benefits of embracing habits during his difficult recovery. He challenges the readers of his book Atomic Habits to make small daily behavioral changes. He advocates that a change of merely 1% per day translates into a cumulative change of 37% over an entire year. According to him, you need to use a habit tracker if you want the habit to stick.
Research shows that tracking habits produces tangible benefits. Participants who recorded their food intake and attendance at support meetings doubled their weight loss over those who didn’t. In another study, young adults who digitally tracked taking their scheduled asthma medication reported increased motivation and compliance.
Tracking habits also provides the following:
- Increased awareness. Habit tracking increases your awareness of patterns and routines. It provides a visual reminder of which days you completed the action and which days you missed. Noting patterns can offer insight into the underlying reasons for your failure or success.
- Motivation. It is exciting to see a row of checkmarks in your habit tracker. Sometimes that is all the motivation you need to keep the trend going.
- Record of Progress. A habit tracker marks your progress toward achieving your goals. It reminds you how far you’ve come and encourages you to keep moving forward.
- Visual Reminder. Many trackers let you see a week or a month at a time. This option gives an overall view of your progress but still allows you to focus on a specific time or event. Just opening your journal or app is a visual reminder to persevere.
- Satisfaction. There is a certain satisfaction in placing an ‘X’ or checkmark in your habit tracker each time you perform the target action.
Specific Habits That You Should Track
The habit you should track is the one that motivates you to make a change in the first place. These are the habits that will make the most difference in your life. If you are not motivated, it is doubtful that you will be successful. However, here are some other specific habits that are important to track:
- Medical Habits. Habit trackers help remind people to take scheduled medications and perform medical procedures, such as daily glucose or blood pressure measurements. Although not an app or a journal, pre-packaged medications for seniors provide both a cue and a habit tracker. The package cues seniors to take their pills, and families can keep track of missed meds from unopened bubbles.
- Self-Improvement Habits. Most of the habits we choose are for our own self-improvement. The most popular ones are exercise and healthy eating. You can also track habits of omission, marking off each day you didn’t smoke or drink alcohol.
- Work and Recreation Habits. Another category of habit-tracking behaviors is your work and play habits. Making your bed in the morning sets a daily pattern of organization and will increase your productivity. A recreational habit might be to hang your golf clubs back on a wall hook after a game.
How Can Tracking Habits Help Me Improve My Skills?
James Clear begins his book Atomic Habits with the definition of ‘atomic.’ Like the atomic bomb, an atom is tiny, but it is “the source of immense energy or power.” Increasing your skills and achieving your goals is earned by building upon your successful habits, of which habit tracking is an essential ingredient.
Tracking habits help improve your skills by providing a framework for setting goals and tracking progress, consistency, and evaluation.
- Framework. Habit tracking provides a framework to measure your skills and track your progress. Your factual observations can help you change direction or tweak your goals.
- Consistency. Habit tracking keeps you honest about how often you have followed through on a behavior. Being consistent is what will improve your skills, one small step at a time.
- Evaluation. Habit tracking provides a method of evaluating your performance. Your success will motivate you to continue.
Are you still struggling with the concept of habit tracking? Did you know that you can learn habit tracking while having fun? Habit gamification digitally gamifies your habits, helps you to set goals, tracks your behaviors, and motivates you to succeed through social interaction.
Most Effective Ways to Track Habits
There are a multitude of resources for habit trackers on the internet. You get to choose what works best for you. Some people like to hold a physical journal in their hands, while others are comfortable keeping track of their phones.
Here are a few of the options:
- Buy a monthly calendar and mark a large ‘X’ on each square after you’ve completed your habit action for the day. An Excel spreadsheet is another option.
- Take an online habit-building course offered by James Clear. He also provides a free habit tracker pdf and other resources. In addition, he sells a habit tracker journal called The Clear Habit Journal, along with writing pens.
- Search the internet for a habit tracker app that fits your habit tracker needs.
- Habit guru Gretchen Rubin offers a journal called Don’t Break the Chain. This visually pleasing journal comes with stickers.
- There are many other habit tracker journals available on the internet. Look inside to ensure that there are adequate pages and charts for your tracking needs.
Habit trackers help maintain the new habits that took so much effort to develop. They keep you motivated, record your progress, and are the secret to a healthy lifestyle. Why not buy a calendar or a habit tracker journal today and get started?
Clear, J. (n.d.). 5 Common Mistakes That Cause New Habits to Fail.
Clear, J. (n.d.). The Ultimate Habit Tracker Guide: Why and How to Track Your Habits.
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits. Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, NY.
ISBN 9780735211292. https://jamesclear.com/books
Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. British Journal of General Practice, 62(605), 664–666. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3505409/
Habitica. (2023). Motivate yourself to achieve your goals.
Kaiser Permanente. (2008, July 8). Keeping A Food Diary Doubles Diet Weight Loss, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080708080738.htm
Murphy, J., Molloy, G. J., Hynes, L., & McSharry, J. (2022). Young adult preferences for digital health interventions to support adherence to inhaled corticosteroids in asthma: a qualitative study. Health Psychology & Behavioral Medicine, 10(1), 557–578. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9225781/
Rubin, G. (2021, October 26).The Best Way to Track Habits. Gretchen Rubin.
Alice Blackmore, MN, RN, Content Writer
Alice Blackmore is a freelance writer, registered nurse, and owner of Insightfulnursing.com. She has expertise in pediatrics, maternal health, critical care, and long-term care. She now shares her years of experience through writing.
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