Today, I am excited to share a guest post with you by a friend of mine, Carrie Williard. Carrie has lots to say about habits and self-discipline.
At a business conference over a decade ago, an extremely successful real estate salesman I admired said these words: “Anything that can be measured can be improved”. That statement has stuck with me ever since. I’ve learned that tracking things – whether it be what I eat, what I spend money on, my activities – has many benefits and helps me create the life I truly desire.
I’m a self-confessed geek, so tracking is fun for me. You may be different. The idea of tracking may make you want to run away from your computer monitor screaming. But bear with me for a moment. Even the “free spirit” can get the benefits of tracking without getting bogged down in minutiae. My habits tracker, for instance, is not a complicated spreadsheet. It’s a simple printable worksheet with the habits I’m working on listed on the left, and boxes for the days of the month on the right. At the end of the day, I simply check off the ones I successfully completed. More on this later.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned by tracking my habits.
1) Tracking my habits means it’s far more likely I’ll accomplish them. In other words, tracking creates habits in the truest sense of the word: something you do automatically, without thinking too much. Pretty self-evident, but still shocking to me. You mean checking the box that says “Floss” means I’ll actually DO it each night? Mind-blowing, but true.
The act of tracking something becomes a reward in itself, which tends to perpetuate the behavior. If you’ve ever handed your energetic, easily distracted child a checklist before they cleaned their room, you know that it can work wonders to them on track. It works great for adults too!
2) Tracking shows up areas where I’m weak (and strong). If I say I want to (insert good habit here), but I don’t consistently do that, then I know I need to create some better systems, or get clear with myself as to whether that’s truly a valuable activity for me. Perhaps I need to: create a specific time of day for that habit, or attach the habit to another thing I am consistently doing, or make it more fun, or reward myself appropriately, create accountability, or what have you.
Tracking also helps you celebrate your successes. For example, at the moment one of my goals is to learn French. I realize this is a Big, Hairy Goal that will take years to accomplish – which could be discouraging. However, when I recount that I practiced over 20 days out of 30 last month, I get to pat myself on the back.
3) Tracking helps you know yourself. After tracking my eating for a few weeks, I noticed that drinking even a tiny glass of wine at night made me sleep poorly and feel terrible the next morning. If I hadn’t tracked my diet, I doubt I would have made that connection. But knowledge is power. Now, I make sure I have wine with my meal, and I suffer no ill effects.
Tracking my spending helped me realize what my “triggers” are, and how I can avoid those in order to make better choices with my money in the future. I’m sure you could come up with similar benefits in various areas of your life.
Tracking can take many forms. Some people prefer phone apps or websites such as Lift.do. A whiteboard in a prominent place in your home (with dry-erase markers in your favorite colors!) might float your boat better. Even a simple notebook kept handy will do. Find what works for your personality. If you can’t stick with it, try something else.
And don’t think you have to track yourself forever. I’ve found that in some areas (such as eating habits), tracking for a specific period of time is enough to help me get the insight I’m looking for. On the other hand, tracking my spending has been so beneficial to me that I’ll likely do that indefinitely.
Have you done any tracking of your habits? What benefits did you notice?
You can visit her blog, http://www.CarrieWillard.com, to pick up her free tracking printables and spreadsheets.