Why and How to Track Your Habits [+ Free Habit Tracker!]
You know that habit you once tried so diligently to keep?
The one you’ve tried to stick with in the past, but it just keeps slipping through your fingers?
I’ve been there. There were so many times when I wanted to change something in my life.
Things like starting an exercise routine, eating a healthier diet, reading more books…
Even just a routine to get to bed on time.
But every single time, I’d end up disappointed in myself for “falling off the wagon”.
I’ve been-there done-that so many times, and I still failed to keep my habits.
It was time for drastic measures, so I decided to do a deep dive on habits, and learned how they actually tick.
In fact, I found that a habit tracker was the best tool to help me sustain my habits long term!
So, those habits – the ones that you convinced yourself this time you could do it?
That habit could have used a habit tracker.
A habit tracker is the perfect, simple tool to use when you’re ready to build and actually KEEP those habits!
Even Seinfeld used a habit tracker! More on this later.
In this post, I explain why you should use a habit tracker next time you venture into habit-land.
Then, I give you a BUNCH of free habit tracker ideas, AND a free habit tracker template to get started!
Ready? Let’s go!
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What is a habit tracker?
In its basic form, it’s a simple tool you can use to track your habits, time after time. It’s an essential way of keeping yourself accountable for tasks and habits you’re trying to keep!
This could mean daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, whatever you want.
They come in digital apps and paper forms, and you can easily create one in a bullet journal. It’s easy to over complicate it, but sometimes simple is the best route.
Digital Habit Tracking
Digital habit trackers are habit tracker software apps that come in all sorts of styles for Android or iPhone phones. Here are a few of my favorite habit tracker apps if you’re not a pen and paper fan:
They show small boxes you can check off, and often show graphs so you can see your habits progress.
Paper Habit Tracker Templates
For my habit journey, I decided in 2018 I wanted to get better at building and actually keeping my new habits, so I found a simple paper habit tracker on Amazon.
It was like a calendar, but each month was a new page full of boxes, where you wrote out your habits, and filled in the box each time it was done. This page had a daily, weekly and monthly habit tracker to keep you on track with various timed habits.
I was amazed by my results!
Let me explain why it worked for me, and why it will work for you, too!
Why should we use a habit tracker?
Tracking is part of building and keeping habits
In my previous post on habits, How to Steal the Daily Habits of Successful People for Yourself, I deep dive into what makes habits stick, and how you can reverse engineer yourself into keeping your own habits on track!
I learned that you should create a habit stack if you want to make them long term.
To create a good habit stack, you’ll need:
- A trigger – Like a habit tracker placed on the fridge so you remember to do the thing – Printing out your tracker and putting it somewhere you can see it every day is going to help trigger you to complete your task for the day.
- A routine or groove that helps you get used to doing your habit daily
- A reward – something you get instantly for doing your habit (clean teeth, feeling refreshed, a fully tummy, etc. More on this in my post above)
- A habit tracker & plan – which is what we’re talking about today.
The routine and reward parts from the habit stack are covered in that other post so for now I just wanted to point out to you that having a habit tracker is essential to creating an effective habit stack!
A habit tracker keeps you motivated!
On Reddit, there’s a subreddit just for habits. In that forum, they recommend using a system where you write a big red X on a calendar or habit tracker to mark that you completed your habit for the day.
RELATED: Check out more subreddits that help with self improvement, habits, routines, and goals in my post: 9 Best Subreddits for Self-Improvement!
The point of this ‘game’ is to not break the chain, or the number of times you’ve completed the habit.
I was surprised by the number of times I used it.
It was rewarding to be able to fill in all of the bubbles for the day! I even *gasp* took vitamins.
Remember when I said Seinfield used a habit tracker?
His idea on the big red X has been gaining popularity since then!
Brad Isaac was an up-and-coming comedian who met Seinfeld one night after seeing each other in the club. Brad asked him what he would tell a young comedian such as himself, and Seinfeld told him to get a giant yearly calendar. He told him to mark the day with a big red X each day he did his writing.
He said after a while, you’ll learn to like the chain as you watch it grow longer. Your only job is to not break the chain.
Seinfeld reminded him, “Don’t break the chain!”
And thus – now you can say you’re taking advice from the successful Jerry Seinfeld, and try out a habit tracker for yourself!
You never know – it might just work for you!
You can even make it fun – add stickers, highlighters, etc, just don’t spend too much time over complicating the system.
Why this works:
Seeing physical progress gives you real feedback into how your goals are being made or broken.
The time you start really focusing on using a tracker is when you can start seeing long-term concrete progress, which helps you stay motivated to keep going!
Once you see progress towards your goals, you’re going to start actually wanting to maintain your progress, and not break that chain.
If you’re struggling with motivation, check out James Clear’s post on motivation, here!
A habit tracker can show you what you’re really working on
Have you ever had your mind secretly sabotage your success, only to find out later?
No? Just me?
Sometimes my brain will convince me that x doesn’t have to happen or I have a reason for doing something when I should be doing the opposite. Our brains are tricky this way, and we’ve got to catch it in the act!
By using a habit tracker, you have a visual representation on what you need to work on, and what is actually going well. Often we think we’re doing well in our heads, and by seeing our real actions on a visual map we’re able to see, “oh wait, I thought I actually did better than that last week” or “wow, I’m actually proud of myself, that was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be!”.
Having a habit tracker is what helps us map out where we are to where we really want to be.
Those are my three reasons you should be using a habit tracker, but how long should you use it once you start?
How long to use your habit tracker
The whole “21 days to build a habit” thing is a total lie…so that’s out.
I say, until it feels completely easy, but no less than 60 days.
The whole reason you’re doing this is to make your chore into..well..less of a chore. So if you’re accomplishing that, and it’s easy to remember and you’re doing it as automatically as brushing your teeth every morning, you’re good to stop using it. That is, if you’d like.
Just keep in mind that the harder and bigger the habit is, the more difficult and longer it will be to build the habit. Hey, we never said it would be easy to change, right?
But I have faith in you – you’ve got this! Keep your eye on the prize!
So what to do when you skip your habits on the habit tracker?
What do you do if you skip a few days on your calendar, you take a trip and forgot it, or you’re simply just not in the mood?
Well…James Clear has a fantastic rule he sticks by. His rule is that he never skips 2 times in a row.
So simple, yet incredibly effective, this helps push you from “ugh, it’ll be fine, I’ll start again later” to “ugh, fiiiiine I’ll just do it today.”
Any step in the right direction over time will build compound results.
Speaking of compound results – I wrote a blog post talking about compound results combined with the best free habit tracker apps for Android and Iphone you can use to make huge changes in your life!
The post is based off of Darren Hardy’s book, The Compound Effect which was fantastic, and using a digital habit tracking app can be pretty cool if you’re not a pen and paper fan.
To really hone in on why habits are effective, especially when you implement the 2 day rule, check out that post!
But back to what you should do if you skip a day.
Don’t beat yourself up.
There’s always tomorrow.
Or as Aaliyah says, “Dust yourself off and try again”.
Or, if you’re feeling especially guilty – DO IT NOW.
Take a page out of the numerous success gurus of the self-improvement world, and just…DO it!
It’s always harder coming up to it, than it is actually doing the thing.
And then try to be better tomorrow.
What should I put in my habit tracker and how do I get started with it?
There are so many great ideas that you can put in your habit tracker!
Things such as health and fitness goals, to monetary goals, the sky is the limit – even if you count each box in your habit tracker as 100 feet high, you’ll eventually get there as long as you keep going!
The first thing I recommend is picking just one or two habits to start tracking. If you decide you’re going to change your life with 5+ habits, it’s going to be MUCH harder, and you may end up quitting halfway through.
Start with one or two habits, and build on them effectively. It’s much easier this way!
Once you know what habits you want to track, it’s time to choose what metrics you’ll actually be tracking in it.
Do you want to do something with your creativity, such as write 500 words per day, or write in a gratitude log for 5 minutes?
Or maybe you want to focus on health, like drinking your 8 glasses per day.
Or perhaps you simply want to track how many days you’ve gone without spending, that’s always a fun challenge!
Either way, you need to choose a very specific metric in which you can track, not just the habit itself.
If you drank 4 glasses that day, then you don’t get to X mark the spot.
Below you can see my list of habit tracker ideas for a place to start!
Remember, only choose one or two to start with. You can always change them up next month, or add more later.
The Best Habit Tracker Ideas
So, now that you’ve chosen your habits and you know why it’s important to use a habit tracker, are you ready to dive into habit tracking with a free template?
Download your free habit tracker template here, when you join my mailing list! You’re also gaining access to The Vault, my resource library for entrepreneurs and those who want to improve their lives with productivity and self-improvement tips!
Free habit tracker template download
Habit Trackers Can Change Your Life – You Just Need to Choose It
At this point, you’re armed and ready to tackle the next habit you want to go up against!
We covered the key points you need to fight against your current habits, so you can break them down and build them up into the habits of the person you long to be.
And I have faith in you! Anyone can change as long as they have the desire to, and even moreso now that you’ve gained the knowledge on one of the best methods to keep your habits.
You’re more than ready!
First, decide if you want a digital or a paper habit tracker. I recommend paper, because you can stick it on your fridge or somewhere you see it multiple times per day versus forgetting about the app on your phone.
Next, fill out only one or two habits to tackle for now.
Then, decide on a trigger for that habit, such as “after I shower, I will wash my face”.
Or something like “After I do this, I will do this.”
Make sure it’s a super tiny habit to begin with (see the Atomic Habits book by James Clear, it’s fantastic) and you’re well on your way to gaining complete control of that habit!
If you’re feeling procrastinator-y and you don’t want to start building your habits, read this post by James Clear on procrastination!
So, do you feel ready to take on your habit with your habit tracker?
What is ONE habit that you’d like to change?
Let me know, and then download the free habit tracker template right now!