From Principals to Practice: Habit Tracking for Success

In the post Hacking Habits, I discuss the principals of how habits are formed and how to strategically use tracking and rewards to game the system. This post will dive into the specifics of setting up and using my favorite habit tracking app, Way of Life.

Once you download the app, click the plus sign to create your first habit “journal”. Way of Life shows you some ideas — I generally do not recommend using these out-of-the-box, because they are not specific enough to encompass the ‘cue’ part of the habit loop.

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To go deeper, you can create custom journals for each individual aspect of a morning routine you want to build. Or, you can create a journal you call ‘Morning Routine’ and use the description field to delineate your expectations.

However you list your habits, make sure you have a semi-clear idea of when you’ll log them and what will qualify as green, red, or neutral. Example:

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Add as many more habits as you like (though you might want to start with just a few), and then add a final journal for ‘Way of Life’. Use that journal to track your habit of logging in the app each day, rather than backfilling later on. And, this part is huge…

Prioritize this ‘Way of Life’ journal above the rest.

Remember, the act of tracking is in itself a habit; one that pays dividends for everything else you want to achieve. And building any habit is hard.* So feel proud of yourself when you track, regardless of what else you did that day!

Tricks of the Trade

If you stop there, you will already be well on your way to aligning your behavior and your goals. But if you want to speed up the process and make it stick, here are a few more tips:

  1. Arrange your journals in line with the flow of your day, so that you are more mindful of what you ‘ought’ to be doing (according to your higher self) before you run on autopilot; i.e. morning routines should be listed first, evening routines should be listed last.
  2. Manage your expectations by building in Skip Days. I skip pretty much all of my journals on the weekend, or at least on Saturdays. I.e. I have no expectation that I will read at night, eat healthy meals, etc. This helps keep me sane and also makes me more likely to stick to my habits during the week, since I have skip days to look forward to.
  3. Don’t worry about traveling. Similarly, do not expect to maintain your habits when you travel or have other interruptions to your normal routine. Think of the habits you are building as “home court habits,” and focus your determination on winning the home games.
  4. Layer on rewards. As discussed at length in Hacking Habits, use Way of Life as a reminder to consciously reward yourself.

Please share what works for you in the comments!

* Until it becomes a habit, and then it’s the easiest thing in the world! Note that how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. So much so that I find the reported numbers meaningless. But I’d love to compare our individualized experiences!

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