Almost everyone I’ve ever met has a desire to adopt new healthy habits, whether it’s establishing a regular exercise routine, eating healthier, meditating or quitting smoking, reducing drinking, minimizing TV/Internet use, etc. It is readily accepted that it takes at least 30 days to establish a new healthy habit or remove a negative one. Here is a TedTalk discussing how 30-day challenges can change your life:
Matt Cutts says that if you really want something badly enough, you can do anything for 30 days. I believe this is true, as I discussed in my blog post How to Move Past Excuses & Start Living the Life You Choose, but in wanting it, you might have to find ways that make you stick to it, ones that are personal to you.
Habit Tracking Made Easy
There have been a number of habits I’ve tried to adopt that I know I’m perfectly capable of doing, but sometimes I would just forget in the busyness of my day. And when I forget it once, I am more likely to forget it for multiple days. I decided that I needed a system for tracking whatever habits I wanted to add to my life. Some people use a calendar on the wall. Others keep a diary. I’m on the move quite a bit, so I decided to try and find a way that uses the one thing that goes with me everywhere, my smart phone.
I explored a number of different habit tracking apps in the iTunes app store, weighing their various features and benefits. There wasn’t any one single app that had absolutely everything I wanted, but Habit List came closest. I created a number of different habits for myself, such as cardio training 2x a week, practicing fight reactions for stunt work 4x a week, drinking 2500ml of water/tea every day, practicing handstands once a day, and a few more besides. The app costs $2.99, but it’s a small price to pay for living happier and healthier.
Each day when I open the app, it highlights which habits still need to be done for that day/week. Once I do it, a strike is put through it and it drops to the bottom of the list. Each time I successfully do the habit, the number of successes goes up by one, showing me the length of my streak of successes. If I miss a day, it turns red and goes back to -1. The app also has an optional reminder that you can set to go off at a particular time of day. This is great for me in case I forget to do the habit over the course of a busy day. I like to check in with my habit list at the end of the day to make sure I’ve done everything. This sometimes leads to my doing handstand practice late in the night before going to bed, but at least I get it done.
As I write this, I note that my habit of stretching once a day is at -2 after getting caught up in finishing a bunch of work items before leaving on a trip for 6 days. The app has the option of pausing certain habits for special circumstances where the habit isn’t practical to accomplish for whatever reason. I’ve used this feature before, but I won’t this time around because it really was my own fault for not working my stretches into my day.
A Few Extra Words of Advice
Finding your own way of tracking your habit is good, but there are other things that can help.
- Establish a trigger time/activity. It’s easier to remember to do a habit if you attach it to something you do regularly. I meditate every day right when I get up, making it easier to remember to do. You might decide to take a daily multivitamin right after brushing your teeth. You get the idea.
- Find an accountability buddy. Choose a friend or family member that you can talk to about your habit. If they too are engaging in the habit, it is particularly helpful because you can motivate each other, exchange items or even do the habit together, making it more fun.
- Celebrate milestones. Choose a particular milestone you’re working towards and when you achieve it, reward yourself in some way. Go to spa. Take a vacation. Buy something special (perhaps related to your new habit).
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up over it. Look back at what you were able to accomplish so far and remind yourself that you have it in you to reach your goal. Also consider what made you falter so you can avoid those circumstances in the future. Or you might simply give yourself a by if it was a truly exceptional situation. Don’t get in the habit of giving yourself too may bys either though as it can be a slippery slope.
Over to you. Have you successfully added new healthy habits or removed negative habits from your life? What methods worked best for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.