Why tracking your habits works

This is my first monthly review of my goal for 2016 – to create space in my life for creativity and calm. Each month I will update my progress in detail on one of the habits I am trying to build and a brief summary on the other four. This month is is all about simplifying my wardrobe!

You may have heard from people that it takes 21 days to make a habit. I have certainly heard that, but never new its origin until recently:

The 21 day myth may well come from a book published in 1960 by a plastic surgeon. Dr Maxwell Maltz noticed that amputees took, on average, 21 days to adjust to the loss of a limb and he argued that people take 21 days to adjust to any major life changes. {source}

New research however tells a different story on how long it takes to make a habit:

Although the average was 66 days, there was marked variation in how long habits took to form, anywhere from 18 days up to 254 days in the habits examined in this study. {source}

It appears consistency is the key in creating a new or breaking an old habit. With this knowledge in mind, I set myself five key habits I wanted to establish over this year to help me achieve my goal. Some are weekly based habits but for those that I knew I would find hard, I deliberate chose daily frequency and set myself a target of consecutive days for the habit as I thought this would be the best way for me to achieve change.

What this study reveals is that when we want to develop a relatively simple habit like eating a piece of fruit each day or taking a 10 minute walk, it could take us over two months of daily repetitions before the behaviour becomes a habit. And, while this research suggests that skipping single days isn’t detrimental in the long-term, it’s those early repetitions that give us the greatest boost in automaticity.{source


I am still in the early days with some of my habits and one thing that is absolutely clear to me is that I am having greater success where I am trying to build a daily habit.

Why tracking your habits works

Tracking habits is essential to success. I think having a physical representation of your tracking works in two key ways:

  • Tracking the habit makes it top of mind.
  • Once you get a streak of consecutive days, you really don’t want to break it.

Many people advocate the X on the calendar approach which I wrote about here. But like most things there is an app for that!

I have been using The Way Of Life App which I absolutely love and would highly recommend. There is a free version, but I paid the $US7.99 for the premium version and think it is worth every cent. (It is iOS only and I am not sure if there is something similar for Android – if you know of an Android app that does this please leave in the comments below as I am sure readers would love to hear about it.)

Hat tip to Kevin Rose who I heard talk about this app on The Tim Ferris Podcast.

The screen shot below shows how I am tracking with my habits. As well as the five key habits to achieve my goals I have a few others I am tracking as well:

habit tracking app62 days into the year and my best consecutive total for not complaining is 13 which is where I am currently am at the moment. What I found was that when I broke the chain, I would tend to have few days in a row where I would complain because I thought “stuff it there is no chain to hold on to”. I am now holding on for dear life to my 13 days and I really want to make the 33 days on this streak. habit tracking complaining chart

Meditation I made my 33 consecutive days and have dropped only a few days since that. I still want to meditate every day though, setting the 33 consecutive days goal was to get me started so I could really feel the benefits of meditation. I will talk more about that next month.

habit tracking mediation chart

The weekly tasks you will see I am not doing so well on. Last week I missed decluttering 33 items from the house. However I did make up for it yesterday as I madly scrambled to get as much out of the house as I could and onto our pile for the hard rubbish collection.

It is my creativity habit which I am struggling with the most. My plan for allocating time for creativity which you can see here, is to have 3 x 1 hour blocks of creativity time across the week. This just is not working for me and I am going to change the way I approach allocating my time. At this point 1 hour blocks just seem too hard and I am overwhelmed by the one hour block. Instead of doing it, I let other things and other people’s priorities crowd it out.

I am going to revisit my schedule and just like I did with meditation, I am going to aim for short bursts daily. I think that will be more manageable.

The Way Of Life App gives you lots of graphs to look at and entering my efforts and the end of each day takes me less than a minute. I feel it is really helping me stay on track in a much better way than if I didn’t have it.

Monthly progress review

Here is the summary of how I am tracking with my goals to help me achieve my goal in 2016 to create space in my life for creativity and calm:

HabitConnection to goalMonthly progress
37 pieces of clothing per season
Decision fatigue is a real thing - less clothes to choose from will free up mental energy! I am going to simplify my wardrobe to make choosing what to wear easier and having less items in my wardrobe will give me back needed physical space. It is hard to write how happy this change has made me feel. I have no issue finding something to wear, in fact I find it much less stressful, the wardrobe stays tidier and I have not missed any of the clothes I took away.
33 consecutive complaint free daysComplaining spreads negativity and I have so much to be grateful for. It is hard to be calm or creative when your mind is full of negativity. I have half heartedly worked on complaining less before, but to become a habit I need to track and measure it.I have found a direct correlation between meditation early in the day and my success with not complaining. I think meditating every morning is the only way I am going to achieve this goal!
33 consecutive days of meditationI have dabbled a little with meditation and it makes a huge difference to the noise in my head. It makes me feel calmer, but I am yet to do this regularly. Doing so will help create an inner calm in my life regardless of the chaos around me.Meditation is having a huge impact on my life. I am still on training wheels and using guided meditations, but if I don't meditate now I miss it, which is a great sign that it is becoming a habit.
33 items decluttered from the house each weekOn the surface our house looks relatively clutter free, but there are over flowing cupboards and drawers. Decluttering will give me a greater feeling of space and calm.I am now having to work much harder to find 33 items per week as I have undertaken some major decluttering. I love the lightness it brings though, so am going to work hard to meet this target every week.
3 hours a week for creativityTime for creativity never made it to the top of my to do list as I didn't give it the value it deserved. If you want something to happen you have to schedule it. As noted above I am really struggling with this and have to completely change my current approach to achieve some level of success.

Check in time! Tell me how you are progressing with your goal for the year.