If you’re looking to instal a new habit, then habit tracking is where it’s at.
There’s a long preamble until I get to the habit tracking part of the post, so if you’re chomping at the bit just use the TOC to skip ahead.
If you’re not in that much of a hurry, grab a coffee (or wine or whatever) and start at the top.
It’s a super interesting read with lots of useful nuggets of information on the benefits of habits, how to make your willpower work for you, the smart way to create new habits and much more.
You can always come back later and read the beginning of the post.
Habits. They’re great when they serve us (brushing teeth, meditating, exercising), but not so great when they don’t (smoking, eating badly, watching too much TV). Most people think you need willpower to let go of old habits or build new ones. But there’s more to it than that.
A Quick Primer on How Willpower Works
First, let’s look at how willpower works. It turns out willpower isn’t an infinite resource that some people have and others don’t. (There’s no willpower lottery.) According to habit maestro James Clear, your willpower rises and falls.
This is why, when you’ve had a decision-heavy day at the office, you invariably end up on the couch after work instead of going to the gym like you planned. When your brain is tired of making decisions it will always opt for the path of least resistance.
James has a neat trick for sidestepping the poor choices that result from decision fatigue. He recommends planning your daily decisions the night before to avoid making the kind of mundane decisions that drain your willpower.
Decide what you’re going to wear, what you’ll eat for breakfast, whether you’ll buy lunch or pack your own and so on. As he says, there will always be things that you can’t plan for, but try as far as possible to make as many decisions as possible ahead of time.
By doing this, you’ll have plenty of willpower in the tank for the decisions that count, like going to the gym when you said you would or cooking a healthy meal at home instead of stopping for take-out after work.
Read: Atomic Habits by James Clear
Plus One, Minus One: Creating Habits That Can Change Your Life
We humans are famous for our all or nothing approach to life. We party like crazy until December 31st and then decide we’re going to stop smoking, quit eating junk food and give up sugar the very next day.
Not surprisingly, we’re usually back to our old ways before the week or even the day (depending how hard we partied the night before) is out.
Brian Johnson —Philosopher and CEO of Optimize.me— has some great advice when it comes to building new habits and letting go of the ones that no longer serve you.
Rather than the above ‘recipe for failure’ approach, Brian recommends picking one keystone habit you’d like to adopt and one you’d like to let go of. What one thing, when you master it, will have the greatest positive effect on your life?
If health is an issue, for example, it could be committing to a daily yoga practice or quitting smoking. If it’s your relationship, maybe it’s not checking your smartphone in bed or actually cooking when it’s your turn to make dinner instead of ordering in.
Once you’ve identified the habits you plan to work on, take a look at Brian Johnson’s Top 10 big ideas for creating habits that can change your life.
From using your willpower wisely and focusing on the fundamentals to knowing your why and making it really, really easy, he has some excellent advice on how to ace your habit goals.
My personal fave is to go all in. Make a 100% commitment to your goal, because as Brian says, 99% is a bitch, but 100% is a breeze.
What Habits Make People Successful?
We’ve all heard that making the bed in the morning is something that successful people do, but is there any truth to that? According to one recent study, there is.
Researchers surveyed over 1,000 people to find out which daily habits are more likely to lead to success than others. What they discovered is that successful people wash their car, make the bed, clean their kitchen and do laundry more often than those who identified as unsuccessful.
When it comes to self-care, successful people floss, take vitamins, exercise, meditate and read more often than unsuccessful people. They’re also more likely to eat breakfast.
I LOVE breakfast, so clearly I must be uber successful, right?
What Exactly Defines Success?
Before we delve any further into the habits of successful people, it might be helpful to look at how people define success. We’re all different, so it follows that my idea of success will be different from yours.
That said, there are some things we can almost all agree on. For example, more than 80 percent of the study’s participants identified happiness as the number one indicator of success. Freedom placed second, and a fulfilling family life and good physical and mental health weren’t far behind.
Some interesting differences crept in between the genders, however.
While both men and women agreed that happiness should be at the top of the list, men rated mental health above freedom and physical health in determining their success. For women, freedom and a good family life meant they were successful.
The discrepancies between generations proved equally fascinating.
A whopping 92 percent of Baby Boomers identified family as integral to their success, whereas only 75 percent of Gen Xers were inclined to agree with that. For millennials, family life didn’t even feature in their top five.
Success Starts With Good Habits
However you choose to define success, you won’t achieve it without good habits. It’s no coincidence that the world’s most successful people share the same habits. They make their beds, exercise regularly, read, wake up early, have good etiquette and so on.
Annie Dillard summed it up perfectly when she said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Will Durant echoes this wisdom, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Side note: This quote is usually attributed to Aristotle, but Check Your Fact claims that it was in fact the aforementioned Mr Durant who said it.
Consistency on the Fundamentals
Robin Sharma —author of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari— says success lies in a masterful consistency around the fundamentals. He encourages us to work hard, relentlessly optimize and to stick to those fundamentals no matter what.
Ask personal growth guru Brian Johnson if he thinks you have what it takes to achieve success and he’ll respond with the same question every time: “How are your fundamentals?”
Fundamentals provide the foundation for success. Without them, your big goals won’t have the necessary solid ground on which to grow and flourish.
It’s these seemingly mundane daily habits (eating well, sleeping, exercising, committing to a digital sunset, etc.) that set you on the path to excellence. If those aren’t in place, success will be hard to come by.
Figuring Out Your Fundamentals
The habits successful people share are pretty much non-negotiable. (If you want to be successful, that is.) If you’re not already making your bed, flossing and eating a healthy breakfast, it’s time to get on that.
These things aren’t difficult to do, but they do require effort and commitment. Do them on a daily basis, however, and it won’t be long before you notice your life improving. Self-care matters, so make it a priority.
Once you’ve got the basics down, you can start adding other fundamentals, such as meditation, journalling, yoga and so on. Go ahead and experiment with different things, if it adds value, great. If not, ditch it and try something else.
Self-mastery is an ongoing process. Commit to it, and enjoy the journey. Before you head off, let’s chat about habit tracking (finally!) and the astonishing benefits you can expect from the practice.
3 Astonishing Benefits of Habit Tracking
Habit tracking can often mean the difference between succeeding and failing at what you set out to do. It’s not a given for sure, there are always going to be those unicorns for whom adopting (or leaving) a habit comes easy.
They decide they’re going to do (or not do) something and so it is. The Habit Gods have spoken. I’m happy for them, I really am. But I’m not going to lie, I am also a tad envious.
Or maybe that’s just the little ‘me’ speaking?
The little “me” is jealous. The true self is content. Maxime Lagacé
The truth is, the practice of self-mastery is rewarding in itself. Whenever I remind myself of that, my true self is content.
Enough philosophising, let’s talk about those benefits. I’ve kept you waiting long enough. (Unless you opted to make use of my new table of contents plugin and jumped ahead.)
1. Habit Tracking Builds Antifragile Self Confidence
Antifragile confidence is a deep knowing that you have the emotional stamina to do what needs to get done regardless of how you’re feeling.
It’s the ability to show up no matter what life throws at you. When you encounter obstacles, failures, challenges, etc., you push even harder. That’s antifragile confidence.
Again, there are those rare unicorns who arrive with this trait already wired into their DNA. The rest of us have to work at it. How?
By showing up and doing what you said you would do. Every time you do, your emotional stamina gets a tiny bit better. Your antifragile confidence grows just a little bit.
Day by day it might not seem like much, but over the long run the growth is exponential. As James Clear says, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”
Tracking your habits keeps you honest and holds you accountable. It also makes you oddly competitive. It’s only you in the race, but keeping score with a habit tracker greatly reduces the chances of skipping.
Competitive much? Um, YES!
2. Habit Tracking Does Wonders for Your Self Image
Every time you say you’re going to do something and you don’t, you erode your self-image. Not by much, but over time these failures add up. Remember the compound interest I mentioned earlier? It works both ways.
Habits can help you achieve certain goals, but more importantly, they help you become the person you want to be. As James Clear reminds us in Atomic Habits, your identity isn’t set in stone. You have the power to change your beliefs about yourself.
Whenever you follow through on your word, you cast a vote for the person you want to be: the athlete, the writer, the great parent or loving spouse. Tracking your habits will move you in the direction of that person.
Identity change is the North Star of habit change. —James Clear
3. Habit Tracking Uncovers Your True Potential
Ellen Langer —Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and best-selling author of a number of books, including Mindfulness and How to Become an Artist—coined the term: The Psychology of Possibility.
Small changes can make large differences, so we should open ourselves to the impossible and embrace the psychology of possibility. The psychology of possibility first requires that we begin with the assumption that we do not know what we can do or become.
There is no way of knowing what you’re capable of until you try. Not just once, but consistently, over a prolonged period of time. Those small, incremental gains add up. Aim to get 1% better every day for a year and twelve months later you’ll be 37 times better.
Keep that up for two years and guess what, you’re not 74 times better. You’re a mindblowing 1400 times better than you were when you started.
I’m no maths whizz by the way. I gleaned that from Brian Johnson’s Philosopher Note on James Clear’s book Atomic Habits.
The great thing about maths is that, like gravity, you don’t have to understand it to benefit from it. It works regardless of whether or not the ‘theory’ makes any sense to you.
How do you get 1% better? You guessed it, you track your habits.
Habitify: The Habit Tracking App We Love
Hopefully I’ve sold you on the benefits of keeping track of your habits. I’ll end off by sharing our favourite habit tracking apps.
I like pen and paper. There’s something about jotting my habits down by hand and crossing them off as I do them. If that’s you, you could go no-tech with a simple notebook and pen or you could splash out on a Clear Habit Journal.
I went with the former option, but only because Amazon’s delivery fee to South Africa is invariably more than the price of the item itself.
In stark contrast to my analogue approach, Sporty is very much a digital person. If there’s an app for something, she’s open to trying it. When I came across Habitify I knew for sure she’d love it.
Habitify’s simple interface definitely appeals to our minimalist sensibilities. But that’s not to say it’s not robust. You can group your habits by time (morning, afternoon) or by area (health, work), which makes it easier to dial into specifics.
Habitify provides a lot of feedback. Whether you’re interested in overall completion rate, habit streaks, daily performance or an overall review to date, there’s a corresponding chart or graph depicting the data you’re interested in.
The app is free to download and also free to use for your first three habits. To begin with anyway, three is plenty. You could stay on that plan forever and still make huge inroads on your habit improvement mission.
For overachievers, going premium makes sense. Along with being able to track unlimited habits, the paid version also unlocks a bunch of other features such as syncing across multiple platforms, (iOS/iPadOS, Apple Watch, Mac, and Android), habit notes for making observations about your progress, data export, a yearly calendar, the option to archive habits as you master them, and more.
For all of this you’re looking at once-of payment of $39,99 for a lifetime of Habitify. You can also opt for the monthly subscription to test the water. At $5 a month, it’s not a lot to spend to ensure it’s the right fit for you.
It’s Time to Get Habit Tracking
I’ve given you a ton of information. Now it’s up to you. Will you start tracking your habits and improving your life, or will you go back to watching Netflix and eating Oreos?
For a long time I opted for the latter. It got me nowhere except fat and lazy. Not to mention depressed. You’d think hanging around doing nothing is fun, right?.
Actually no, it’s not.
Sporty and I have a long way to go, but we’re improving for sure. We still have our “We definitely shouldn’t have done that!” days, but they’re fewer and further between.
What do you think? Will you join us on our super nerdy but oh so rewarding journey to self-improvement? It’ll be fun, pinkie swear!