Forming a new habit can be tough. Whether you’re trying to build a habit related to fitness, personal finances, business or personal well-being, forcing yourself to stop your old methods and start a new habit can feel weird at first. It takes time before the new habit becomes part of your routine and starts to feel normal.
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Looking back at some of the habits I’ve adopted, there’s one habit that I’ve adopted that’s helped me when forming other new habits. And it’s this:
I’ve always been a very analytical person and I love tracking my progress on things. For example, I use PocketSmith (affiliate link) to track my personal finances and spending habits. I use Apple Health on the iPhone to track my weight, workouts, activity, sleep and fitness. I use a journal to track what I’m thinking about or working on. I use various tools like Pipedrive and a good old fashioned spreadsheet to track sales and key metrics related to my business. I use my calendar and tools like Timing (affiliate link) to track my time.Tracking your progress is one habit to get into that makes all other habits easier to adopt!Click To Tweet
So why is tracking so important? And how does tracking help you to form other habits? Let’s explore.
1. Tracking forces you to establish a baseline
Firstly, when you track your progress on a habit, it forces you to start by tracking your baseline or your starting point.
So if you’re creating a budget, you have to start by working out your current spending on different expenses. Or, when we do strength training at the gym, we start with a workout or strength test so that when we re-test by doing the same workout later, we can measure our improvement.
The point is, tracking helps you to answer the question, “where am I now?”.
By establishing a baseline you now have a metric to start improving on and it helps you to calculate a realistic goal. For example, it’s no good saying you want to meditate for 30 minutes a day if you’re starting from 0. It’s too much of a jump. The baseline helps you to realise that a realistic goal would be to start with 10 minutes a day a few days a week and then building from there.
2. Tracking helps you to measure progress
This is one of the main benefits of tracking. It helps you to measure progress. This is critically important if you want to build a new habit.
If you’re trying to sleep for a minimum of 8 hours a night. You may be able to get a rough idea of your progress by simply checking the clock each evening and morning.
But it would be far more effective to actually track your sleep so you can see your average sleep over time. You can then look back at your baseline and see how much you’ve improved.
Being able to clearly see progress is one of the best ways to make any new habit more sustainable over the long term. If you’ve ever given up on a habit because you feel like it wasn’t working, it may have simply have been that you couldn’t clearly see the progress you were making.
3. Tracking helps you to make smarter decisions about how to improve
As you start to form your new habit, tracking your progress and results helps you to identify further opportunities for improvement. This is where all the data you’ve collected can be put to use and helps you to make real improvements going forwards.
Since I started my business in 2015, I’ve been tracking my income and the sources where it comes from, my expenses, the hours I’ve worked (and what that time was spent doing) and my average hourly rate.
All this data has helped me to make better decisions about how I should be spending my time, what to say ‘no’ to, what sources of revenue to try and grow, and what I need to let go of. For example, a while ago I realised that being booked by the hour for ad-hoc work was generating less income per hour compared to other projects I was working on. This helped me to make the scary decision to stop billing by the hour and instead focus on project work or online courses where I’d also be able to have a bigger impact.
Tracking is super important especially in a business setting. Otherwise, you’re guessing at what improvements to make and hoping they work without using data to confirm your assumptions.
4. Tracking helps you to build consistency
Finally, when you start tracking your progress towards a habit and you can see that you’ve been maintaining the habit for a while, you’re less inclined to stop as you don't want to ‘break the chain’.
Here’s a funny example. If you have an Apple Watch, you can track how active you are by closing your movement, exercise and stand rings each day. Since mid-December, I’ve been closing my rings every single day, without fail. Each month that goes by, I win a ‘Perfect Month’ award in the Activity app. It’s now at the point where I make sure I close all three rings each day so I don’t break the chain and I really want to get 12 perfect months in a row. Just last week at around 9pm I had to walk down the street for 2 minutes because I hadn’t been to the gym that day and hadn’t quite closed my exercise ring for the day.
And the longer the habit streak continues, the more you want to keep going with the habit and the less you want to break the chain.
If you don’t track your progress, it’s much easier to give up and revert back to your old ways.
How do you build new habits? If you have any feedback or suggestions, please let me know in the comments below!