If you want to stick with a habit for good, one simple and effective thing you can do is keep a habit tracker.
Elite performers will often measure, quantify, and track their progress in various ways. Each little measurement provides feedback. It offers a signal of whether they are making progress or need to change course.
Gabrielle Hamilton, a chef in New York City, provides a good example. During an interview with the New York Times, she said, “The one thing I see that consistently separates the chef from the home cook is that we taste everything, all the time, before we commit it to the dish, right down to the grains of salt. We slurp-shot glasses of olive oil and aerate them in our mouths as if it were a wine we were trying to know. We taste the lamb, the fish, the butter, the milk before we use it… we chew salt to see how we like it in our teeth, on our tongues, and to know its flavour, its salinity.”
For the chef, tasting the ingredients tells them whether they are making progress toward their desired end goal. It provides the immediate feedback they need to get the recipe just right.
Like a chef improving a recipe through trial and error, we often improve our habits through trial and error. If one approach doesn’t deliver the desired effect, then we adjust—like a chef tweaking the amount of an ingredient.
However, there is an important difference between getting feedback while cooking a meal and getting feedback while building a habit. When it comes to building a habit, feedback is often delayed. It’s easy to taste an ingredient or to watch bread rise in the oven. But it can be difficult to visualize the progress you are making with your habits. Perhaps you’ve been running for a month, but you still don’t see a change in your body. Or maybe you managed to meditate for 16 straight days, but you still feel stressed and anxious at work.
Habit formation is a long race. It often takes time for the desired results to appear. And while you are waiting for the long-term rewards of your efforts to accumulate, you need a reason to stick with it in the short term. You need some immediate feedback that shows you are on the right path.
And this is where a habit tracker can help.
The Habit Tracker: What It Is and How It Works
A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit.
The most basic format is to get a calendar and cross off each day you stick with your routine. For example, if you meditate on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each of those dates gets an X. As time rolls by, the calendar becomes a record of your habit streak.