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  • Writer's pictureJessica Parsons

Do Not Resist Habit Tracking and Measuring

In continuing my journey reading "Atomic Habits" by James Clear, I found habit tracking to be on of the most important topics when discussing habits in general.

It took Clear until page 199 to talk about habit tracking. His reason?

"Many people resist the idea of tracking and measuring."

Why? Because starting and continuing a habit is work enough, let alone the habit itself of tracking progress. We might have a plan to check our to-do list every day, or cross off a day on the calendar we went to the gym. But how many times do we stick to doing even that? I personally am pretty bad with it. We forget to check our list, so we set a reminder that we also might forget about.

For example, I wear bi-weekly contact lenses. It is important that I change these and swap out the old lens for a new one every other week so my eyes don't dry up and I can see efficiently. To remind myself to do so, I have my calendar on my phone notify me every Sunday that I need to change my contacts. But the time I have it set to is "all day," which means it only notifies me once in the morning. Not a good time...

"Oh yea," I say, "I gotta do that today." But then I swipe it away and sometimes I don't. I don't put my contacts in as soon as I wake up, otherwise it'd be a different story. So it's not enough to set a reminder. It's not enough to put a sticky note right in front of your face on the mirror. Setting reminders don't work unless you act on them when you see them.

But when they are acted upon, eventually these little actions become, well, atomic habits! And tracking those habits becomes satisfying, otherwise, what's in it for us, right?

"Habit tracking (1) creates a visual cue that can remind you to act, (2) is inherently motivating because you see the progress you are making and don't want to lose it, and (3) feels satisfying whenever you record another successful instance of your habit, (page 198).

Clear explains furthermore that, by habit tracking, we are providing visual proof, not even to others, but to ourselves that we are putting effort into becoming the type of person that:

  • exercises every day,

  • eats a clean and balanced diet, or

  • whatever else you want to be known for.

In Chapter 5, Clear introduces the habit stacking method, first created by BJ Fogg's "Tiny Habits" program:

"After I [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]."

Here are examples of what I personally have incorporated into my life by following this method, except I like to add onto the tail end a third component:

  • After I set my coffee to brew under the Keurig, I will put away the dishes in the drying rack before I enjoy my cup of coffee.

  • After I am done preparing breakfast, I will wash the pan I used to cook breakfast in before I enjoy my breakfast.

Adding the third element "before I," helps to motivate me because there's something to look forward to after. While I may be starving and my breakfast is sitting right there on the table ready to go, I do not allow myself to indulge until I've cleaned up my mess first, which really only takes a few minutes, usually. And, since I freed up room in the drying rack when I made my coffee that morning, now I have a clean workspace to do dishes at.

Also, by doing the dishes real quick before I sit down to eat my breakfast, I feel less overwhelmed when I bring my breakfast plate back over to be cleaned as well. That's the joy in habit stacking.

P.S., the contact lenses I'm currently wearing are fresh.

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