I grew up spending hours in bookstores, and I distinctly remember the aisle of our local bookshop that held the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. It was the “Self-Help” section, a section that seemed, at least to my adolescent self, embarrassing to spend time in. But I loved those books, with their titles designed to speak to who we saw ourselves as at our core (predictably, my go-to was Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, which conveniently debuted the year I turned thirteen).
Times have changed (or maybe I’ve just matured), and not only are self-help books nothing to be shy about, but they've become something to be proud of, even to wear as badges of honor as we quote them on our social media accounts and reference them in business meetings. I’m surprised the genre is still called “self-help,” but either way, self-improvement is now something to be proud of for so many.
One such “self-help” book that has been an inspiration for us at Inhabit Brands is Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear. Carylyne wrote a great post with some of her takeaways, and in this post I'll explain how you can set up a habit tracker to guide your own efforts to improve.
As Carylyne summarized, tracking our habits can motivate us not to "break the streak" of the behaviors we're trying to build or break. By taking note of our actions in a simple grid, we can keep ourselves accountable and watch our progress day after day. The act of keeping a habit journal can also help us avoid missing a habit twice in a row (a potential sign that a bad habit — skipping the habit! — is being built).
How to Set Up a Habit Journal
1. Choose your system. I like a paper habit tracker that I can keep in a convenient place, like on my kitchen table, desk, or night stand. But a digital version is also great. The most important thing is that you'll use it, so choose a system that works for you.
2. Set up your grid. On the left-hand side of your page, create space to list the habits you're working on (I usually track 5-10 at a time), with a separate row for each habit. Across the top, list out the days of the week or month. (This can also be reversed so that you're tracking the days down the lefthand column and the habits across the top — it's up to you.) Here's an example:
3. Write down your habits. In Atomic Habits, James Clear suggests listing habits that you can complete in two minutes or less, which can be a great way to start to build a new habit, like journaling, flossing, or doing sit-ups. You may find you want to track habits that take longer, like exercising for thirty minutes, reading a chapter of a book, or spending a certain amount of time away from digital devices. Here's how it might look with the habits filled out:
4. Tailor your system to you. Maybe some of your habits aren't performed daily, and that's okay. You can adjust your system to indicate when each task should be done, and you can even have separate trackers for weekly or monthly activities if you prefer.
5. Start tracking! Take a quick minute during each day to review your tracker and mark off your progress. You may want to revisit the tracker before you go to bed each night to do a recap on the day's habits and set an intention for the following day. Feel free to get creative (colorful pens! mini doodles!) or stick with a checkmark or dot to note your progress.
Here are some print and digital habit trackers that you may like:
Print-outs and notebooks:
The Clear Habit Journal - Created by James Clear in partnership with Baronfig, this is a beautiful physical notebook with thoughtful details designed to make it easy to track habits, record notes, and more.
Ink+Volt Progress Pad - This handy pad of paper serves as a guide to planning and recording weekly habits by category, and also encourages taking a daily pulse.
Habit Tracker 2020 built on Google Sheets - If you prefer keeping track of your habits in the cloud, this template allows you to do just that, with clickable check boxes and the ability to look back at your progress every day for an entire year.
Apps - There are many mobile apps, twenty-two of which you can read about in this handy guide!