Can we talk about the pros of habit tracking?
I like checking things off my list. I’m that person that writes down something they have already done, just to check it off again. Remember that scene in Friends when Monica is packing to go to London? She lists things off as she packs, then says “Check!” after each item. That’s me. I do that.
I have always been motivated by gold stars and seeing progress mapped out in front of me. When I first started to lose weight, I was driven to keep going by seeing the number on the scale go down. I tracked my weekly weigh-in and found a lot of pride in watching that line trend downward. When I got into weightlifting, I was driven by watching the pounds on the barbell go up. On a day-to-day basis, the satisfying swish of my pen when I check off a task in my daily planner encourages me to keep working through my to-do list.
About a month ago, I was feeling down about how I let some of my healthy habits fall by the wayside during a busy period. School chewed me up and spit me out last semester and when I did have a few minutes of downtime, I wasn’t using it to go to the gym or meal prep. I was using it to sit on my couch and veg in front of the TV because I just could not anymore.
Those choices started to show up. Not just by a softer body and a few added pounds on the scale, but in how I felt on a day-to-day basis. I was tired, unmotivated, and struggling to make it through the day. I was exhausted, mentally, physically, and spiritually. I needed a break, but I also needed to find my motivation again.
Enter: Habit Tracking
When I was in first grade, we had a chart tracking how many teeth each of us lost in my classroom. I was a late bloomer in the tooth losing arena, so for months, my row remained without a sticker. I was devastated. It came down to me and a kid named Rowdy as the last two in the class that hadn’t lost a tooth and I was determined to lose one before he did.
Spoiler alert: I did.
In hindsight, that was probably not the best thing for the teacher to be keeping track of, but the nineties hit different, didn’t they?
All the same, seeing that tracker each day reminded me of my goal: lose a tooth. I worked for it. I ate a lot of apples and carrots, religiously checked for loose teeth every single night. I wanted a sticker next to my name and I had the motivation to ensure it happened.
It occurred to me that I could do this in my adult life too – but healthier. I could make a habit tracker to track my healthy habits. So I sat down, whipped one up, printed it out, and stuck it on my fridge. For the next thirty days, I kept myself honest by coloring in squares next to each habit I wanted to create.
My habits to track included:
- Drink 1 gallon of water daily
- 45 minutes of cardio daily
- 45 minutes of exercise daily
- Eat healthy
- Meditate 10 minutes
- Read 10 pages
- One self-care practice
- Progress photos
- Bed by 10pm
Looks lofty, doesn’t it?
It’s not. For me. That’s important – these habits worked for me. More on that later though.
I stuck with habits I either already did (you know, that whole “I did it, but I’m going to write it down and check it off” thing), or already had a good foundation in. I didn’t start anything new. I drink a gallon or more of water daily, something I’ve done most of my life due to being born with a urinary tract deformity that righted itself over time but still leads to increased occurrences of UTIs and worse, kidney stones. Water was first on my habit tracker because I knew it would be one I aced nearly daily.
45 minutes of cardio and 45 minutes of exercise seems excessive, doesn’t it? Except I went into it with the goal of not being perfect but being consistent. I counted my walks with the dogs and my “Jerico Walks” around the block towards my 45 minutes of daily cardio. The goal wasn’t to break a sweat each day. The goal was to move each day. Mission accomplished. And you know what? I used a lot of those walks to meditate. Two birds, one stone. Or in this case, two boxes colored in.
I had a similar approach in mind with my exercise goal. I knew I wasn’t going to fill in the habit tracker single day. That’s not healthy. I wanted to see a visual of how often I was working out which in turn motivated me to make the time to go to the gym or take a barre class. My goal was always to workout 4x a week. Seeing those little squares left unfilled for more than two days inspired me to get off the couch and into the gym. I’m pleased with my consistency over 30 days.
Same with eating healthy. I knew I wasn’t going to be perfect. Again, perfect isn’t healthy. I made good choices most of the time, which is what mattered. Consistency mattered. I also didn’t beat myself up for days when I picked up fast food or indulged while my family was in town. Like working out, seeing those squares colored in helped me make smart choices – they helped me turn away from a second serving of cookies or else eat the food I’d already meal prepped instead of spending money on convenient but perhaps not nutritionally dense takeout.
I already journal most days. I read far more than ten pages most days. Progress photos – how I actually track progress versus the scale – were only ever meant to be taken 1-2 times a week. The only two “new” habits for me were self-care and bed by 10pm.
I crushed the self-care goal. Sometimes it was another two birds, one stone (or two squares) situation. My act of self-care for the day might have been taking 30 minutes in the middle of the day to settle in my papasan chair with my book in an effort to step away from work for a few minutes. Sometimes it was taking a nap or driving down to the beach for a walk (cardio!) or even taking that barre class that I wanted to take but may have felt self-induced pressure to skip it and focus on a work project or an errand that didn’t have to be done right then.
Habit tracking showed me I struggled with going to bed by 10pm though. Confession? I’m finishing up this blog post after midnight on a Tuesday (technically Wednesday now…) because that’s a bad habit of mine – I get so into what I’m doing that the next thing I know, it’s midnight and I’m still wide awake. I went to bed by 10pm only 13 of the 30 days I tracked my habits. That’s less than half the time, and I’m always up before seven, without fail, resulting in very little sleep. It was good for me to see in black and white that I’m not getting nearly enough sleep.
Habit tracking can be eye-opening. I use it with clients to help them gain data about their routines and to create healthy habits. We start small, tracking one, two, no more than three habits, then build from there as habits become second nature. Because as mentioned above, starting small works. You don’t have to have a long list of habits to track like I did – I did what worked for me. Habit tracking isn’t about committing to all the new things all at once. It’s about building on what you already have and establishing new habits over time.
Want to join me in habit tracking?
I’ve made my habit tracker free for download. Just click here to get your copy. Print it out or use it digitally, whatever works best for you.
Let’s start building those bold, healthy habits.
Interested in working together to build healthy habits and create your bold life? Learn more about working with me.