The Dawn of New Habits
It’s January, the magical time when a wave of anticipation and motivation sweeps across the globe. Resolutions are carefully crafted, goals are set, and the scent of new beginnings hangs in the air. With unwavering enthusiasm, we declare our intentions to those we trust and respect knowing that the mere act of sharing them with others increases our odds of success. This year will be different! Yet, as the weeks unfold many find themselves caught in the whirlwind of life, grappling with the challenge of translating those resolutions into tangible, sustainable actions. The second Friday of every year has the dubious honour of being nicknamed “Quitters Day”, the day most resolutions fall flat. This is where the magic of habit tracking steps into the spotlight because it’s not just about setting resolutions; it’s about equipping ourselves with the tools to turn those resolutions into lasting change.
The Power of Habit Tracking: All Winners Are Trackers
Darren Hardy, author of “The Compound Effect: Jump Start Your Income, Your Life, Your Success” once said, “Track every action that relates to the area of your life you want to improve. All winners are trackers.”
These words may seem weighty for such a straightforward practice, but tracking is a simple yet potent tool. Its power lies in the awareness it brings to the actions you wish to cultivate, serving as a visual testament to your progress and success. Each time you tick off a tracked action, you take another step toward your desired destination.
Similar to James Clear’s “Atomic Habits”, habit tracking operates on the principle that consistent, small actions compound over time, to produce remarkable results. Noting that the outcome will be dependent on the action you are taking.
Take coral for example, with positive habits serving as the microscopic organisms that, over years, construct the intricate and delicate structure of coral reefs. Each daily action either builds or erodes this structure. Credit for this insightful analogy goes to the remarkable fashion designer and entrepreneur Karen Walker, who shared it during a keynote talk I had the privilege of attending.
Understanding the Science: Why Habits Stick
To grasp the power of habit tracking, it’s important to understand why habits form in the first place. Habits play a crucial role in streamlining our behaviour, they are our clever brains way of alleviating the daily decision burden, to free up mental energy for the more challenging tasks that await you in your day-to-day life.
However, it’s quite clear not all habits stick, otherwise we’d all be doing remarkable things rather than simply dreaming of them. Some habits seem to endure, easily becoming ingrained in our daily routines, while others fizzle out like cheap sparklers on Guy Fawkes night.
“Every action has a purpose”
To understand this, you first must know that every action has a purpose. Our evolution dictates that we are driven to seek pleasure or avoid pain, so it would make sense that the actions we take serves one of these two drives.
Even seemingly negative habits like smoking or gambling serve a benefit. Some smokers speak of the calmness that holding a cigarette brings as they no longer have the anxiety of what to do with their hands (avoiding pain), and some gamblers speak of the rush that comes with the potential of a big win (seeking pleasure).
The cue-craving-response-reward loop, a fundamental concept inspired by the insights of James Clear, is the basis of habit formation. Much like the classic Pavlovian experiment with dogs, this loop reflects the stimulus-response nature of our habits. The cue, akin to Pavlov’s bell, acts as a trigger for a craving, we respond to satisfy the craving and if we’re successful we’re rewarded, thus encouraging repetition of the response. A behaviour will only occur if there is a cue-craving and a response to the craving. A habit will only form if there is a reward to the response.
Choosing Your Battles: The Art of Selecting Habits Wisely
Not all habits are created equal, and not every resolution deserves a spot on your habit tracker. Can you imagine how tedious it would be to track every action of every day?
Instead, you have to be selective and strategic. Pinpoint your keystone habits—the habits that when cultivated, have a domino effect on other areas of our lives.
Take bedtime, for instance, a keystone habit for some of my clients. Honouring their bedtime routine lays the groundwork for the next day with heightened energy levels, facilitating exercise, nourishing food choices, and improved focus and concentration. Others find their keystone in daily morning exercise, mindfulness, or meditation. It is different for each of us. The key is finding what works for you, and then track that.
Your Habit Tracker
Now, let’s introduce the game-changer – your personalised annual habit tracker. Download it here.
Why a year? A lot can happen in a year!
Perhaps you have heard of the 1% better everyday formula? If you do 1% better every day you will be 37.8 times better at the end of a year, and it’s it’s a Leap Year like 2024 is you’ll be 38.2 times better.
This annual tracker is designed to accommodate any year (Leap Years included), ensuring that every day’s progress of every year contributes to a significant leap in your overall growth and achievement.
Fun fact: Did you know that a Leap Year does not occur every four years? My mind is blown!
Download your free Annual Habit Tracker now.
Mastering the Art: How to Effectively Use Your Habit Tracker
The habit tracker is not a mere log; it’s your ally in the pursuit of peak performance. Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.
Here are some suggestions to help you get the most out of your tracker:
Less is more
Pick just one habit to focus on (see “The art of selecting habits wisely”). It is better to build one good habit that has the power to deliver remarkable results, then build a bad habit of breaking habits by trying to do too many.
Pick a habit that is so small that you can complete it in under two minutes. Even better if you can do it in 30 seconds. That way “too busy” isn’t a valid excuse because we can all find two minutes in our day.
Consistency is key
Set a routine for performing the habit and tracking it by pairing it with another daily habit. This is called “habit stacking“. Whether it’s the morning coffee ritual or a nightly reflection, consistency reinforces the habit loop.
Reflect and refine
Regularly review your tracker. What patterns emerge? Where do challenges lie? What do you notice on the days you perform your habit versus the days you don’t. If necessary refine your routine and habit accordingly.
This is a big one, and something we often forget. Every tick on your habit tracker is a victory. Celebrate these wins, and let them fuel your journey further.
Overcoming Challenges: The Realities of Habit Formation
“One mistake is just an outlier. Two mistakes is the beginning of a pattern”
No journey is without its hurdles. The journey toward success is neither a straightforward nor a seamless path. If it were, we’d all effortlessly be living our most fulfilling lives. Instead, acknowledge that challenges are inevitable, and at some point, the road will get rough. There will be days that you may stumble and not complete your habit—these are natural hiccups along the way.
You will be in good company. Elite athletes skip workouts. Nutritionists eat fries. CEO’s miss appointments.
Better yet according to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology missing a single day doesn’t matter. It won’t alter the long-term outcome IF you find a way to get back on track. The most important thing is to avoid a hiccup two days in a row. As James Clear says “One mistake is just an outlier. Two mistakes is the beginning of a pattern.” The quicker you get back on track the better.
What are you going to do?
As we step into a new year, the prospect of positive change and growth awaits. Habits serve as the fundamental building blocks of your future, each intentional action contributing to your desired outcome. Embrace the practicality of habit tracking as both a science and an art, propelling yourself toward a year of tangible accomplishments.
So, what are you going to do?
Commit to your future. Get started today by downloading your free Annual Habit Tracker and make 2024 the year you master the strategic use of habit tracking for sustainable peak performance.
About the author
Josie Askin, CEO of Spring Coaching, is a performance and productivity coach who works with driven leaders and entrepreneurs to improve their performance and productivity.
Josie has nearly 20 years working in government, in a range of advisory roles. She became interested in the gaps between workplace performance and wellbeing, gradually building analogies between sport and business performance while gaining several coaching qualifications. Now she deals with clients under pressure from all walks of life offering tailored leadership performance coaching, workplace wellbeing programmes, workshops, speaking and facilitation.